Hey, MBA Students & Job Seekers: You’re Using LinkedIn Wrong

It’s quite normal amid the Covid-19 pandemic for job-seekers to feel some sense of helplessness. Searching for a job these days feels like an endless act of self-torment for many, much like Sisyphus rolling his boulder up a hill and never quite reaching the top.

It’s easy for an outside observer to throw out cliché snippets of comfort to the ailing job-seeker, such as “things will eventually pick up” and “It’s not your fault.” I am guilty of this myself sometimes when counseling MBA graduates. However, their struggle is more complex than that.

The number of long-term seekers post-graduation had no doubt increased. Out of curiosity about the effects a prolonged job search could have on one’s psyche, I spoke to several of our MBA graduates from previous years who went through such an ordeal. One in particular described his experience during his year-long search in some detail:

“It was really difficult to deal with rejection, especially later on in the job search. My confidence was hit hard, and the quality of my performance was affected as well. I was constantly second guessing myself.”

Something else he said resonated with me as well: “Online applications are a black hole.”


Ziad Moubarak

Online applications are the starting point for most job searches these days. Actually, it’s hard to imagine a time without online applications at least for my generation. The big job boards such as Monster and Indeed have effortlessly connected HR teams directly with relevant talent pools. They use Application Tracking Systems (ATSs); A filtering tool powered by artificial intelligence which has become necessary to handle the surge of incoming applications on job boards.

LinkedIn is the tool of choice nowadays, and according to their stats around 40 million people use LinkedIn to search for jobs every week. The social media platform has focused on improving a seeker’s user-experience, defined mainly by the amount of time it takes for applicants to apply to jobs. Some even require mere seconds; LinkedIn’s one-click applications for example, allows job-seekers to apply to 10 jobs in one sitting, faster than you can boil an egg!

So, what’s the problem? As much as LinkedIn’s speed and match-making algorithms have improved the job search experience, there is a downside to the quick and easy application. The unevenness of supply and demand for jobs, coupled with machine-gun job application sprints made possible by the rapid online application process, inevitably results in more rejections than successes.

Job search failure has in the past been linked to ego-depletion and a decrease of self-efficacy (i.e. One’s feelings about their ability to function in different situations), thus leading to a failure in the job search itself. A recent 2020 study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology tested these very endpoints with LinkedIn specifically, and suggested that the more time a job-seeker spent using LinkedIn as a job-search tool, the more it became depleting for the user, subsequently decreasing the chance of successfully obtaining a job. Additionally, the platform’s social dimension causes one to constantly compare him/herself to others, thus decreasing self-efficacy.


It’s important to understand why an unresearched LinkedIn application could fail before even sending the application. Online job posts are never completely transparent; applicants often are not given all the necessary details about roles, nor do they know the relevant back-stories that could potentially invalidate their applications. In my conversations with recruiters, I’ve learned the following about many online vacancies:

  • The weight of certain criteria on job descriptions is not usually detailed, and some important criteria are not even mentioned.
  • The recruitment team generally prioritizes internal candidates or has already secured a favorite for the role, but due to some internal policy or legal requirement they have to post every vacancy online, even if the vacancy never existed.
  • Companies have specific target schools prioritized for the role, which is not mentioned in the job description.
  • Candidates had already been shortlisted, or the role had already been filled, but the company, or recruitment firm in charge of the role forgets, or decides not to remove the vacancy from all job boards.

Rejection letters aren’t even sent to all applicants. Rejection letters early in the process are automated generic emails revealing very little to rejected candidates regarding their specific application. This leaves many to wonder what they did wrong.

Mind you, I do think there is immense value to the speed and resource optimization offered by LinkedIn. It has in no doubt shortened the distance between job seekers and providers. However, it is not unreasonable to claim that the business model incentivizes the service of providers more than seekers. While the aim was always to improve connections, they have in some ways dehumanized the application process, and created a mechanism of perpetual rejection — a job applications black hole.

I believe it is still an excellent tool when used correctly. Here are a number of considerations one should observe when beginning a LinkedIn job search.

1. Take steps to maintain your emotional well-being during the job search.

American Psychologists Martin Seligman and Steven Maier coined the term “Learned Helplessness” in 1967. An individual can display signs of Learned Helplessness after continuously experiencing uncontrollable negative stimuli, such as the failure to accomplish a task after multiple attempts. This consistent defeat self-conditions an individual to accept that success is impossible, causing feelings of passivity, surrender, and demotivation. It definitely fits the description of a long-term job-seeker

Seligman followed his work on Learned Helplessness by introducing the concept of Learned Optimism. The realization that you’re still In control can help reverse the damage; The activation of the prefrontal cortex, the chief executer and most evolved region of the brain can inhibit activity from the Dorsal Raphe Nucleus, the main culprit of this condition. By changing your personal narrative, you have the ability to “hack” any pervasive feelings of helplessness.

Additionally, Social support has been shown to improve job search behavior. Set up weekly scheduled check points with mentors, career coaches, and even your fellow job seekers. Seek meetings that not only provide you an outlet for built up frustrations, but which also provide you with informational support in the form of idea generation and potential leads. These conversations will help keep your momentum strong as you navigate through waves of rejection.

2. Build a system of checks and follow-ups.

Instead of simply diving into the LinkedIn job board, designing a system has to be the starting point. Job-seekers need a system the same way that sales-people need Customer Relationship Management tools. Similar to sales, applying for a job has to be a process-oriented activity to best succeed. The big difference being that job-seekers only need to make one good sale.

The system will need to incorporate a means of listing all companies targeted, prioritizing leads, and taking notes. Critically, the system should also outline and track a distinct follow-up protocol for referrals.

Why is this important? Failure to receive an offer at the final stages of an interview process is a hard pill to swallow for any job-seeker, let alone those on an extended search. Falling back to a strong sales funnel, one that lists all applications, referrals, and interview processes in their different stages of advancement will help cushion the blow.

If you’re a job-seeker looking to build a system, then I highly recommend Steve Dalton’s “2-Hour Job Search” as an excellent place to start. Eventually you will adapt your own system and process that will help you manage your job hunt and improve the quality of your applications.

3. Couple every serious online application with networking and referrals.

A study by the New York Federal Reserve reviewed recruitment data from 62,000 job applications. It found that online applications accounted for 60% of all applications and lead to 23.5% of the hires. Referrals, however, made up 6% of all applications, and accounted for 29% of all hires.

In other words, putting more effort at the start of an application tends to pay off more in the end. Instead of building a strong application that is researched, personalized, and coupled with in-company referrals and advice, many long-term applicants fall back into a cycle of quick applications followed by rejections. We have seen many long-term applicants fall into this pattern, despite knowing that this rarely produces positive results.

LinkedIn is better than all other job boards because of its social media function but only if used correctly. If anything, the Job board should be considered only as a starting point and research tool. LinkedIn’s social media platform must be used to connect to potential mentors, and to those who will champion applications across HR filters. This requires a more thoughtful and proactive process, but will bear more positive results than simply applying with one click.

Ziad Moubarak is associate director of the Career Development Center at IESE Business School in Barcelona, Spain. In 2016 he was one of Poets&Quants’ MBAs to Watch.

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