The identity construction and the young professional discourse on LinkedIn

14 minutes to read
Nataliia Vdovychenko

In a digital world LinkedIn provides tools to promote yourself as a competent professional. But what kind of literacy do the users have to acquire to make use of the platform and increase their chance of employment?

Presenting your digital self

Today's networked society has increasingly become more digitalized and therefore many aspects of the socialization have shifted toward the online realm, such as shopping, dating and schooling. Consequently, “promoting and branding the self has also become a normalized, accepted phenomenon in ordinary people’s lives” (van Dijk, 2013) when we talk about the online world. Your digital persona can have serious consequences with regards to your relations in the working environment and beyond.

Facebook and Twitter have become ‘extensions’ of our senses.

According to Kress (2005) communication and representation are highly “motivated by the social; its effects are outcomes of the economic and the political.'' Contemporary online platforms such as Facebook and Twitter have become ‘extensions’ of our senses (McLuhan, 1962) as they increasingly participate in the ways we experience and perceive reality (Lindgren, 2017). The nature of digital media is deeply situative, or occuring in relation to a specific situation, and embedded (Lindgren, 2017). According to Simon Lindgren, social media platforms increasingly employ our senses, and they do so on two fundamental levels. This paper will look closely at LinkedIn as its case in point.

Function and Design of LinkedIn

First, the colorful and multi-mediated timeline with videos and texts popping up triggers users’ auditory and visual perception, while the constant scrolling requires tactile cooperation. The designers of the platform try to predict the experiences of the users by arranging the website in a certain manner (Kress, 2005). On LinkedIn, the timeline is relatively open with new content appearing constantly (Kress, 2005). The structure of the timeline is fixed with newposts popping up and the videos playing automatically. The content of the homepage, however, is free flowing and depends on the individual settings of the user. LinkedIn provides a range of opportunities to follow companies, individuals, and specific hashtags that get displayed on the user's news feed. The construction logic of the feed is interest-driven (Kress, 2005). 

Every content creator tries to use multiple modes in their posts for more exposure. One of the LinkedIn unwritten norms is having different multimedia inserted into your post. For visibility and interactivity, having only text or only image/ video is not enough. Rather, they need to be combined in order to get other’s attention, and therefore, more exposure in line with the platform’s networking algorithms. If the post just consists of text it looks ‘plain’ and does not motivate the users to proceed with the reading. Meanwhile, if it is an image or a video, the material has to be explained in words. For higher visibility, the user is invited to add hashtags which are often offered algorithmically with the use of artificial intelligence text scan technologies. LinkedIn provides users with a set of materials they can work with in order to build a successful career, and a certain persona within the platform.

Every site operates with regard to its specific cultural codes and norms.

Secondly, by looking at the platform’s design, we could conclude that there is another level where  signs play an important role in the process of user engagement with the platform (Lindgren, 2017). Every site operates with regard to its specific cultural codes and norms. As Lindgren (2017) puts it, “there is a symbolic level, at which every medium is constituted by a certain systematic set of rules and codes in the form of vocabulary, grammar, and other conventions”. Increasingly, every social media platform requires a specific cultural format as well as user awareness and knowledge on how to apply and interpret them.

Literacy has, therefore, become increasingly multimodal and digital literacy is now vital in order to take part in modern life. According to Doug Belshaw, we have moved from elegant consumption, which is focused on reading and writing, to the age of multimedia where pictures and video come into play. There is not one digital literacy but multiple digital literacies (Belshaw, 2016). Every platform requires its own digital literacy. Without possessing these necessary digital skills one can end up marginalized from education and even the job market.

Digital skills in combination with platform culture-specific codes require literacy for their understanding. Only being able to interpret them, the users come to “understand the art of online self-presentation and the importance of SNSs as tools for (professional) self-promotion” (van Dijk, 2013). LinkedIn is one example of a popular professionalized self-representing platform out there that is used for recruiting and displaying one’s online curriculum vitae. Using it requires certain knowledge and skills (a form of digital literacy) which can tell a lot about the candidate’s profile.

Welcome to LinkedIn

LinkedIn is focused on professional growth and development in someone’s career. Self-promotion is the main focus and through this platform job seekers and professionals of all kinds share their academic and professional achievements and build networks with each other. This paper will analyze how the identity performance is done on this socio-technological platform. The research question to be answered is in what ways do young professionals construct a 'young international professional' identity on LinkedIn?

Being able to identify and work in line with the platform’s identity-building standards is a key skill when applying to international jobs. LinkedIn users require a solid spectrum of skills for one to be taken seriously by recruiters and potential business partners. However, of great importance are the affordances that the design of the platform offers to its users. LinkedIn has the power to shape public identities through the site’s interface (van Dijk, 2013).

”People are developing culturally specific, nuanced understandings of how these media shape communication and what kinds of utterances are most appropriately stated through which media” (Gershon, 2010). On LinkedIn the communication is meant to be formal and professional, which creates standards and expectations for its users, whose behaviour is influenced by the way this medium is shaped. Technological affordances in combination with the cultural codes of the platform require users to master digital literacy on multiple levels and adhere to unspoken rules.

LinkedIn as a medium for the promotion of the self 

The platform is strongly focused on helping young professionals to find their career path, however it is also very popular amongst international users as it helps them maintain a global network. The discourse of such a young professional constantly requires self-development in line with neoliberal economic values. "In this logic, workers advertise their knowledge and training as quantifiable and certified ‘skills’ , themselves turning into products to be sold on the (labour) market as a result" (Flubacher, 2020). The design of the interface of LinkedIn, consequently, “caters towards the need for professional self-promotion” (van Dijk, 2013). Thus, the platform constantly requires updates on one’s career and study successes. Users should show their motivation and skills and only talk about their failures, if they led to better self-realization and development.. All the new skills, training, and achievements are presented to the broad audience as a way of self-promotion. 

Having a profile in such a professional environment comes with a lot of care, and many rules, of which some are not explicitly expressed. Users have to have a seemingly credible and ‘serious’ profile to look professional on the platform. The first thing that gains attention is the their profile picture. Using a selfie, or a party photo (Figure 1) as a profile picture is a typical example of something to avoid. 

Figure 1: Poorly constructed LinkedIn profile, the reason for being a ‘non-professional’ profile photo.

In fact, the usage of a contextually misplaced, ‘non- professional’ picture on LinkedIn is a common mistake of those getting to know the website (Figure 2). Numerous online guidelines highlight this problem and target it while offering online courses or step-by-step guides on how to create a professional profile. Meanwhile, while many users accept this as a platform’s norm, there is no specific rule in the terms and conditions of LinkedIn which would restrict users from using their preferred pictures. 

Figure 2: Internet guidelines to what not to post on LinkedIn.

The young professionals’ discourse usually displays standard language use and a high level of literacy (Figure 3). This means being able to use the digital medium and to transmit a message in it. Thus, applying to international jobs through LinkedIn implies that young professionals should have good proficiency in English, as it is the lingua franca preferred by most international companies. Not being literate in English might mean that the applicant can be declared unable to be internationally competent (unable to have international literacy). 

Figure 3: Using low-case for a name is considered illiterate on the platform.


The networking aspect of the young professional on the platform is reinforced in LinkedIn’s design. As a user, you are supposed to add new connections and grow your network, comment and like their posts for more visibility, as well as ask for skill endorsement on your profile page. Without staying active and meeting all of these conditions, one’s profile becomes irrelevant and looks like it is not well taken care of (Figure 4). It then becomes insufficient in making you recognizable as a young professional aiming for a good international job. 

Figure 4: Summary of the things that can go wrong when making one’s profile. The user needs to be aware of every aspect to keep his/her profile relevant.

Such aspects as one’s profile picture, post contents, and language, as well as the profile performance can determine the perception of other users. Accordingly, the user is either recognized as a young professional or does not operate in line with this discourse and, thus, fails within the platform’s literacy.  All the criteria mentioned above represent the core literacy skills that one must use on the LinkedIn platform in order to be recognized as a “LinkedIn literate” user (expert user). Self-branding is dependent on the capacity of making oneself understood in this online professional environment. 

When applying to international jobs through LinkedIn one must prove that they are international enough (that they have a good level of English and the relevant international experience) but at the same time, they must know how to construct their international identity on LinkedIn. Providing a clear overview of their multilingualism in the “Languages” section, together with good command of English and experience abroad showcase the international experience of the user.

LinkedIn falls under the current digital literacy skills that are required in order to take part in modern life. Below we will give the example of one of our student’s LinkedIn profiles, which is on point with the literacy skills that are inherent on the platform. As seen in Figure 5, the user makes use of a professional picture that fits within the norms of CVs. As mentioned before, the profile picture should not be taken at a party with multiple persons, as it is the first thing that the recruiters see when they visit a candidate’s profile.

Figure 5: Example of a full and well-constructed LinkedIn profile.

Furthermore, Figure 6 shows the candidate’s knowledge of the platform as she carefully filled in all the required sections, therefore her profile can be regarded as complete and well managed. Since LinkedIn enables these functions, it also gains the opportunity to “constrain the sculpting of personal and professional persona” (van Dijk, 2013).

Figure 6: The information sections on education and background the user needs to fulfill in order to be recognized as a young international professional.

In addition, using standard English whilst interacting with others’ posts denotes the formality of LinkedIn discourse and the necessary networking which is imposed by the platform’s design (Figure 7). LinkedIn’s design encourages users to promote their recent achievements by posting them on one’s profile. Making use of these features increases the chances of getting hired as it shows that the candidate is active and passionate in their field of work. When applying online it is not enough to have a consistent CV and a lot of work experience if you do not have a complete and active LinkedIn profile. Applying to jobs through LinkedIn with a half-completed profile will most probably result in rejection.

Figure 7: Self-branding and good command of standard English.

Nataliia’s LinkedIn profile can also be regarded as a good example of a young international professional. She provides information about her multilingualism and interacts in English to reach a bigger audience. Besides having the professional experience of living abroad, she also makes use of hashtags that can bring new opportunities and new networks. By using hashtags, posts become more visible, but knowing how to use hashtags is yet another literacy skill that needs to be learned. Furthermore, Nataliia employs standard English, which is the appropriate language variety for this platform. 

Increasing chances of employment

Being able to read the platform's literacies influences users’ chances for a proper self-representation. However, an interesting effect occurs if we look at the construction of LinkedIn profiles, fulfilled in line with the platform’s affordances. Users who have a sufficient level of literacy have more chances of correctly grasping and reproducing the cultural norms and rules of the platform. Consequently, already being skilled enough for the labor market, they get even more job opportunities by creating their profile in line with LinkedIn cultural and technological norms. 

But LinkedIn does not help increase employment for everyone. Some users might not have enough knowledge on the different aspects of the platform, which can become apparent through an insufficient level of a certain language aspect in their posts, or not being able to conform to the technological aspects of the platform by uploading a certain type of picture. These users, already being disadvantaged in the labor market, get even more marginalized online on LinkedIn. The gap between the employment chances of these two types of users, therefore, remains or keeps growing depending on the level of their digital and cultural literacies (Ragnedda, et al, 2018).

These users, already being disadvantaged in the labor market, get even more marginalized online on LinkedIn.

The emergence of platforms such as LinkedIn changes the way young professionals enter the job market. These candidates not only require the traditional literacy skills that are learned in schooling systems but also need skills in digital literacy. Such platforms can boost their professionalization and open up new opportunities. However, in order to adhere to international professional discourse, the user has to master the skills necessary in building their identity on LinkedIn. These skills include: networking, making a complete profile with a lot of information, having a professional profile picture, engaging with content, using standard forms of language and interpreting specific cultural codes.

By conforming to the expected norms of what a LinkedIn page should look like, the user shows a good level of digital literacy in this online environment. Not having an adequate profile, however, will lead to marginalization and rejection from potential jobs. LinkedIn increasingly operates in line with promoting specific cultural codes and norms by reinforcing them in its design. The online medium enables features that can be read and interpreted by the users who acquire the site’s literacy and can, therefore, boost their chances in the labor market. Failing to do so and having a mediocre profile, consequently, deprives users of getting job opportunities, making the gap between the users and their chances of emplyoment even bigger (Ragnedda, et al, 2018). 


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