I recently transitioned from a staff position at Next Avenue to a freelance role and began searching for a new executive-level job. One of the many things I did to boost my chances of success was to edit the field just below my name in my LinkedIn profile to remove mention of any specific employer and to more precisely convey the services and expertise I offer.
Little did I know that this small change would sabotage my job hunting efforts: Just after I tinkered with the words in the upper field, LinkedIn sent out an automated email message to the 1,000+ members of my network encouraging them to “Congratulate Donna Sapolin on the new job” and also slammed their LinkedIn activity feeds with a "Say congrats on the new job!" message above my name and photo.
Even My Mother Wrongly Congratulated Me
Imagine my surprise when just a short while after I revised my profile my mother called to gush. “Wow! When were you going to tell me?” she asked. Hordes of congratulatory messages about “my new job” and “my promotion” began pouring in, showing up in the LinkedIn activity feed where people in my network could see them, in my private LinkedIn message box and in my personal email inbox.
Some folks lavished praise. “Your perseverance is an inspiration,” said one friend. While that may eventually prove to be the case, I had just barely begun my job search. “Fantastic news! Been thinking of u, now cause to celebrate!” wrote a former colleague who works for a company I’m quite interested in. Well, I’m always up for a party, but only when there's a real milestone to cheer. “Congrats! This is so you!” wrote a nonprofit leader. Uh, true enough — and why wouldn't it be me? After all, I had written the new description to more accurately capture what I do.
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My initial reaction was bemusement — I jokingly told myself this is a great way to get your ego stroked and some dinner dates in one fell swoop.
I'd received and seen these kinds of emails from LinkedIn in the past but hadn't paid them much mind — I considered them cheesy and a bit invasive but relatively harmless.
But I quickly realized that this time the LinkedIn message could actually wreak havoc on my job search.
Sending Out Disclaimers
I started sending out explanatory notes to those who had written (which was both demoralizing and embarrassing) and worried about all those who had received the LinkedIn message and seen others' responses but hadn't commented. The clincher came when I received a congratulatory email from a prominent editorial headhunter about "my promotion" and sent her my now classic disclaimer in return: “All I did was remove the company name and revamp my description of what I do in the top field," I wrote. "But LinkedIn automatically sent out a ‘Say congrats’ message without regard for the specific nature of my update."
The headhunter wrote back to say how "bad" this was for me, given that I am actually looking for work and don't want potential employers to think I’ve landed something. The door cannot seem as if it’s been shut, she told me emphatically.
With its simple, well-intentioned emails and activity feed messages, LinkedIn, an enterprise that's all about professionalism, is in fact doing something quite unprofessional. While I would definitely want to notify my network about a new position, I would never send a note to my network asking members to congratulate me. That would be both awkward and sophomoric.
Trying to Get LinkedIn's Help
I began exploring my options for handling the problem on LinkedIn. I found it's not easy to figure out how to reach customer support or adjust settings on the site. You gain access by hovering over your profile portrait but that's not immediately obvious. I eventually found the Help Center through Google and spotted various complaints regarding "Say congrats" and LinkedIn's other auto-generated emails. However, I detected only one way to avoid the problem: turn off all activity broadcasts.
Here's how that option reads:
By selecting this option, your activity updates will be shared in your activity feed.
(CHECKBOX) Let people know when you change your profile, make recommendations, or follow companies
Note: You may want to turn this option off if you're looking for a job and don't want your present employer to see that you're updating your profile.
I didn't see a more nuanced way to control LinkedIn’s actions — for example, a checkbox that allows you to opt out of auto-congrats notes or to send out a new job notification when that seems appropriate. I suppose that if you can even figure out how to find the setting that allows you to prevent activity updates from going public, you could turn that "global switch" on and off to synch with your goals as they change over time. But this seems to be an incredibly cumbersome solution, especially considering LinkedIn’s technological sophistication.
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To probe further, I sent a message through the Contact Us area of the Help Center. Below are the responses I received.
- My message (sent 11/26, 9:25 AM):
How do I prevent LinkedIn from sending "Say congrats" messages to my network when I update the top-most field of my profile to better describe myself? Editing a description is not the same thing as being promoted or landing a new job. Thank you.
- First LinkedIn Help Center response (received 11/26, 10:25 AM)
Thanks for contacting us. Someone from our support team will get back to you as soon as possible.
If you can sign in to your LinkedIn account, you can check the status of your submitted tickets any time in the Support History section of our Help Center.
Your LinkedIn Customer Experience Team
***This messages is automatically generated by our system to show we’ve received your ticket request.***
- Second LinkedIn Help Center response (received 11/26, 11:42 AM)
Thank you for contacting us. I’m sorry for not having a quick answer about "Say congrats" messages. I’ve forwarded your message to another group for additional review and advice. We’ll be in contact with you as quickly as possible, but your issue may require additional research which may extend your wait time.
You can always check the status of your ticket by moving your cursor over your profile photo at the top right of your LinkedIn homepage and then selecting “Help Center”. From there, click “Support History” in the top left to see the status of any tickets you’ve submitted.
Thanks for your patience.
Customer Experience Advocate
- Third LinkedIn Help Center response (received 11/26, 12:00 PM)
Thanks for your email.
I wish I had an immediate resolution for you. This particular issue will need to be escalated to our internal research team. I understand this may be frustrating, but as soon as I get an update, I’ll let you know.
Thanks for your patience in this matter.
Customer Experience Advocate
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I haven’t heard anything further from the Help Center. Their responses seemed to suggest that I am the first person to ask about this issue, yet it's hard to imagine that is truly the case.
Just after I wrote the LinkedIn Help Center, I sent a similar note to the LinkedIn Press Room and mentioned that I’d be writing about the matter that same day. At 2:46 PM, I received the following email from Doug Madey, corporate communications manager:
Hi Donna. You can control what activity you broadcast to your network by updating your profile settings. If you go to Privacy & Settings you'll
have the option to "Turn on/off your activity broadcasts."
His comment refers to the same blanket shutdown mechanism I had figured out on my own. When I pressed further to inquire why this is the only solution, he referred me to Julie Inouye, who heads up product communications. She called me in the late afternoon and was careful to get to the bottom of my complaint. She came to see that my issue is not with all LinkedIn auto-generated emails but specifically with “Congratulate” ones because the language of the notice is potentially sabotaging if you merely updated your description and are looking for work.
“We take member feedback very seriously,” she said. After speaking to her I had the distinct sense that they would consider my viewpoint as they further evolve the product, but a non-press person wouldn’t likely get the same level of attention.
LinkedIn Has Some Work to Do
Without question, LinkedIn has become an indispensable tool for connecting with professionals to glean advice and recommendations for potential hires and to discover job opportunities and apply for them. It’s critical to have a strong presence on the site to maximize your employment options.
I’ve used LinkedIn to great effect for all of the above purposes and, increasingly, to gain access to and consume highly interesting content — from the smart perspectives of the leaders the site deems "Influencers" to news.
This is precisely why I was perplexed when I found out that LinkedIn is thwarting its key purpose by being insensitive to the broader impact of their automatically generated "Say congrats" emails and messages.
Seeking the opinion of a publicist not affiliated with LinkedIn, I relayed the issue to Dawn Dankner Rosen, president of DDR Public Relations and an expert in managing corporate reputations. “I get those 'Congratulate X' messages all the time," she said, "and I know a lot of those people haven’t gotten new jobs. So, I haven’t touched my LinkedIn profile in years. I’m actually afraid to.”
In avidly pursuing its goal of keeping all members of a network informed and engaged, LinkedIn is ironically misinforming them and breeding distrust and non-engagement.
For the foreseeable future, unless you shut off all your activity broadcasts, any change to the profile field right under your name will signal to the LinkedIn algorithm that you’ve switched your job or title and a “Congratulate” message will go out to your network.
For that, LinkedIn, congrats are definitely not in order!