Sunday, April 13, 2014

Is an upgraded LinkedIn account worth it?

Graphic courtesy of 
Have you ever wondered if upgrading your LinkedIn account could actually help you get a job? So did I! That's why I ponied up for the Job Seeker service to see what it could do for me.  

Let me be clear. I love LinkedIn. LinkedIn can make job searching and recruiting easier through recommendations on candidates’ profile pages. Applications can be added to profile pages, making them more visually appealing and easy to process for both sides. It’s undeniable that LinkedIn can be very useful as a starting point for job applicants, recruiters and business people looking to build connections.

And seriously, show me an individual who isn’t thrilled that they can see who has viewed their profile, and I will show you someone who either doesn’t ‘get’ social, or has so much money and so little time that they probably check their profile once every few years, if ever! I have no figures to prove it, but anecdotally this feature comes up time and again as a key drawing point when speaking with users.

BUT (there always is a 'but', isn't there?) where LinkedIn does come up short, in my view, is in offering expanded services that go beyond basic service to help job seekers. LinkedIn also offers upgraded accounts for recruiters and sales professionals, but those features are not the subject of this review. This is mainly because I am neither a recruiter or a sales professional, and therefore less able to accurately judge those services. 

The following features don’t represent everything you get with upgraded service, just that they are features I tended to use more often during my test drive.

Get featured

This might be the most useful feature of having an upgraded account. When you apply for a job on LinkedIn, you can request that your application be listed in a featured section above all the candidates who don’t have this privilege. 

The idea is that your application is more likely to be seen since other candidates’ materials won’t be ahead in line. Consider yourself to have a VIP position, while simultaneously being at the head of the line. Drink the Kool-Aid that is being at the front of the line, even though you showed up last! I think it's fair to assume that you'll be sharing that with other Premium users, but it is still better than being at the bottom of the page if you didn't get to the listing quickly enough.

I had no way of accurately measuring how effectively being featured got me interviews during my test period, but I did notice that a few employers that already had over 100 candidates apply contacted me. Then again, I’ve experienced replies when applying for positions with high candidate volumes, even without an upgraded account. These days even with an upgraded account if the number is above 50 I don’t even bother applying, mostly because the job has already been listed for awhile, but I still think I'm getting more responses for jobs with a high number of applicants than I would without the service.

My work record and my education as mentioned on my resume, as well as my LinkedIn recommendations, are usually enough to establish contact with recruiters. But I can’t deny that being listed in a special place where recruiters can see me has given me a leg up on other applicants, especially when the volume of job seekers is high. Score a point for LinkedIn Premium.

How do you stack up?

When you apply for a job, so long as 10 or more people have already applied you can see pie charts and info about the candidate pool. For example, if 20 candidates apply, you can see the percentage who have an MA or higher, the percentage who are experienced non-managers or managers, and most importantly how qualified you are as a job candidate compared to the others who have also applied.

The problem with this feature is that how you stack up compared to other candidates is only one determinant of whether or not you should apply for a job. There may be jobs that require certain qualitative skills or characteristics not picked up by LinkedIn that a flesh-and-blood recruiter would immediately recognize and value.

I did hear back from recruiters for positions that I was listed as not being as qualified as the top 50% of applicants. This also tells me that LinkedIn’s system of measuring amount of talent applying for positions does not necessarily prove that you should still not go after the job. 

I did wonder how accurate LinkedIn is in comparison to job aggregators like ZipRecruiter, which sends job listings to your inbox with percentages of how compatible you likely are for the roles. I also wondered how many of these statistics could be seen by recruiters and how much stock they put in them.

Granted, LinkedIn does not claim that it’s a waste of time to apply if you’re not ranked among the most qualified, but then that’s just another way in which upgrading my account seemed to me to either not be useful or a distraction. Personally I would rather not know how I rank then be given statistics that may not matter to the recruiter posting the job.

Get paid

LinkedIn lets you filter jobs by how much they are projected to pay. This sounds useful in theory, but in practice filtering jobs by salary was wildly inaccurate. For example, I applied for a position that LinkedIn suggested would pay $40,000. I applied not because I thought the salary was amazing, but because I recognized that the company was very innovative, well regarded and could definitely do better.

After applying, within a week I got an email from a recruiter and a follow-up conversation for an hour to see if I was interested. The recruiter brought up salary even though it was our first phone meeting.

How much do you think the company was actually offering compared to LinkedIn’s projected salary?

Around $75,000 a year plus good benefits. Benefits are not mentioned when LinkedIn projects salary.

I could understand being off by $5,000 or $10,000, but $35,000 is a huge difference, almost the yearly projected salary. It's a good thing I hadn't cared about the projected salary.

For me, LinkedIn’s filtering system was not accurate enough to be worth the monthly cost of having an upgraded LinkedIn account. If it was a free feature I might have let it slide.


LinkedIn has a neat little messaging system called InMail. It is not covered by basic membership. 

Upgraded account users receive a certain amount of InMail credit each month, depending on level of membership. With InMails, you can send a message to people on LinkedIn, even if they are not contacts, as long as you label your message with one of about 10 different intents. I'm not sure if there is even a way for people to block InMails from reaching their inbox.

Photo courtesy of Robert Ganzer on Flickr
If an InMail you’ve sent is not responded to then the credit is returned to your account. Rolled over credits stay in your account for up to 90 days for upgraded subscribers.

Although my coverage was for a job seeker account, I found that sending InMails to recruiters to underscore my interest, while not something I recommend, almost never got a response. I tried different writing styles, I tried different timings for sending InMails, I even asked for pointed questions from recruiters who had listed “job inquiry” as one of the types of messages that they are interested in responding to. Nothing, zilch.

I wouldn’t be surprised if recruiters are sick and tired of applicants sending them InMails and don’t respond the vast majority of messages they receive.

Why does this matter? Because people expect their job seeker account is going to help them get jobs. If InMails can’t help them do that with recruiters, then what is so special about them that only Job Seeker accounts can have them? This is especially troubling because LinkedIn comes out and says "send InMails to recruiters".

Maybe LinkedIn should be offering at least some limited InMail capability to everyone, even if all they have is a basic account. I think that people who are using the site deserve at least five free InMails, if not more.

Where InMail’s came in handy was when I wanted to get in touch with people other than recruiters who are not yet contacts, and who might still be useful to reach out to. I made a few connections this way with one individual even asking me unprompted if I’d like to work on a project with him. I couldn’t have done that without InMail. But it also probably wouldn’t have happened if I had approached him as a job seeker.

Connected to this service is that an upgraded account allows anyone on LinkedIn to contact you for free. There are plenty of ways around this though that don't require an upgraded account. Set up an email account and list it as the best way for people to contact you. Boom, you're done.

Show me your badge!

LinkedIn lets premium users display different badges next to their name throughout the site, indicating that the user is a “job seeker”, has a “premium account” or is an “open networker”, meaning that the user does not only establish connections with people he or she knows.

I could not see how such badges helped my chances with recruiters, except that the “job seeker” badge seemed somewhat more subtle than screaming out, “hey world, give me a job!” 

I don’t know that most people would notice the tiny badges. No one said anything to me during the time period that I displayed the job seeker badge. Interestingly a recruiter from a Fortune 500 company did reach out to me when I wasn’t using a badge, but she said that had more to do with her searching for profiles that contained certain matching information than anything I did. None of my badges got anyone to listen to me respectfully or even comment on my fine taste.

To summarize badges, they look nice but in my case they do no more than dress up my profile. I don’t understand how anyone could get anything out of this feature.

Weekly updates and expanded list of viewers

Every week LinkedIn sends a collection of numbers and statistics to show premium job seeker account holders how they’re doing, such as how many people have looked at your profile this week, how many jobs you’ve applied for, and so on. For me the problem was that much of the information being sent was something I knew anyway. I could look at my profile manually and see that I received six views one week and the following week.

One nice feature that LinkedIn likes to play up is that premium account holders can see an expanded list of who has viewed their account. However, in practice I found that it didn’t really help me with anything. Actually, being able to see everyone who looked at my account removed a considerable amount of the mystique behind that part of LinkedIn. Many viewers had toggled their accounts to not show their identities, But it was not like I was able to see through their cloak of anonymity. They might have been recruiters, but it would have been nice to see who they are.

Community access

When I upgraded my LinkedIn account I was granted access to a special locked forum called Job Seeker Premium. Think of it as a VIP lounge for very motivated job seekers to build connections.

My problem wasn’t that the forum didn’t have very smart people with good ideas. My main issue, again, was that it seemed to me that much of what could be done in the forum could be done in open groups. Being part of the group didn’t seem so much of a perk considering the amount being spent per month. I felt it needed to be more than what seemed largely to be stories of people telling each other how to use Premium accounts, or sharing good news about getting new jobs.

$ticker $hock

So this is what it all comes down to. Ready to ante up? See the screen grabs below for the current pricing (apologies for the tool bar scrolling across the grabs, that couldn't be avoided):

Some people say that starting out at $23.99 and moving up to $59.99 a month for a further upgrade is worth it if it gets you a job. I’m just not sure you need to spend that money to still get a lot out of LinkedIn.

Many of the Premium services were not very useful for me, could be replaced by free alternatives or could be figured out with a little time spent. I think that for what you get, upgraded LinkedIn Job Seeker accounts get expensive in a hurry, which for people out of work might make upgrading a luxury.

So at the end of the day LinkedIn offers a number of benefits. If you decide to upgrade and get a lot out of it, I’d be the first one to be happy for you. But do I personally think that provides such a huge leap over the basic package that it’s worth the cost?

I downgraded my account yesterday.

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