I am on the job market. I started working on my LinkedIn profile last night. I didn't know much about LinkedIn, but it was something I had heard people talk about so it seemed like it was worth looking into. I understand as well as anyone the importance of social networks in channeling information and the job opportunities that may go along with that information. "It's not what you know, it's who you know", right? We've all heard the proverb. And I can tell you from personal experience that social connections help in the job search. It's part of human social behavior, and it's not that mysterious.
But there is something off about how sites like LinkedIn try to mimic those dynamics. Your "connections" can endorse you for whatever skills you might say you have: Microsoft Office, Nuclear Physics, Potatoes . . . whatever. Skills are listed on your profile in rank order by how many "endorsements" each has. The endorsement of someone I've never met is weighted equally with the endorsement of someone I have worked closely with for years. The results are more like a prom queen vote or tally of bombing missions than a useful metric of what you're good at. I think what feels strange about this is that it conflates the "what you know" with the "who you know" in a way that seems to diminish both.
If the few available jobs are being handed out based on votes for prom queen, I really need to rethink my strategy. Don't misunderstand me: the job search is serious business for me and my family. We've got three kids. We need to find stability, security, and health insurance. And we need to find those things soon. I wake up every single day thinking about the things I can do to put myself in the best position I possibly can to capitalize on whatever opportunities may come up. It isn't easy trying to figure out how best to commit resources in this fight. Each thing you do has opportunity costs, and the cost-benefit analysis is tricky. Archaeology and anthropology are fun, but the job search is not. I've placed a big bet on myself, and there is a lot at stake. What Finley Peter Dunne said politics is also true of the academic job search: it ain't bean-bag. Especially not these days. If there are things I can do to help, I want to figure out what those things are and do them.
But LinkedIn? Is fooling around with endorsements and some of other stuff on there really going to be useful for academic jobs? Does any of that count? I'm skeptical. But maybe I'm wrong. Maybe papers in AJPA and JAA don't trump four or five of my high school friends vouching for my prowess with Microsoft Office (or Nuclear Physics, or Potatoes). Maybe I'll keep my Lightsaber endorsements just to be safe.