Suggested course level
Upper level undergraduate courses
- Students will understand the context of how LinkedIn profiles are used and analyze profiles to determine what persuasive strategies are effective.
- Students will also understand how their own values/assumptions/biases influence how they evaluate people in the workplace.
- Printed LinkedIn profiles
- Stickers in two colours (stars or pricing stickers for garage sales work well)
- Whiteboard markers or chalk
- Go on LinkedIn and look for 12 – 15 LinkedIn profiles that have summaries filled out. Print them single-sided, ideally in colour. You may choose to blur the candidates’ names and photos. Depending on your class size, you may have to print duplicates so that everyone has one.
- Sit the class in a circle and give each student a LinkedIn summary (face down), 10 red stickers and 10 yellow stickers (or whatever colours you have. Avoid red/green to accommodate students with colour blindness).
- Tell students that the average recruiter spends 3 – 5 seconds looking at a LinkedIn profile before moving on and that we will be looking at these profiles under the same conditions that recruiters do.
- Tell students that when you say “go,” they will flip over their paper and make a quick decision about the profile. If they like it, put a yellow sticker on it. If they don’t, put a red sticker on it.
- Every 5 seconds, you will say “pass” and the student will have to pass the paper to their right.
- When the activity starts, set a timer and yell “pass” every 5 seconds.
- After the activity, ask the first set of debrief questions.
- Then, sort the profiles by “greatest percentage of yellow stickers” to “greatest percentage of red stickers.”
- Tape the profiles horizontally on a whiteboard or chalkboard so that they form a continuum of yellow to red.
- If you printed duplicates, arrange the duplicates above each other so that students can see how the same profile was judged by two different audiences.
- Then, ask students to walk along the line of LinkedIn profiles and look for trends. What do the most popular profiles have in common? What do the least popular profiles have in common? Why do you think the profiles in the middle sparked different reactions among students?
- When a student notices a trend, they will write a note above/around the profile in whiteboard marker. For example, someone might note that the well-ranked summaries have professional photos. Someone might draw an arrow from a part of a profile that’s off-topic and write “irrelevant.” You will likely have to model this.
- By the end of the exercise, the whiteboard should be filled with comments. Then, move along the line of profiles, linking student observations to persuasive strategies discussed in class. For example, you will likely find examples where writers have differentiated themselves by clearly showing why they’re unique, but you’ll also find examples of people trying too hard to be different and ending up being off-putting.
- This activity often reveals assumptions/biases. For example, I’ve done this activity where all female profiles were ranked lower than male profiles, or where profiles of white people were ranked higher than profiles of BIPOC people. This has led to some interesting discussions about whether our snap judgments are trustworthy and what biases may underline our snap judgements. I also ask students whether they think LinkedIn is ethical, given that in many places it’s illegal to ask candidates to submit a photo with a job application.
- You can also use the second set of questions to draw out any trends that students didn’t identify.
- To finish the exercise, ask students to freewrite for 5 minutes on the topic “How will you apply what you learned in this activity when you write your own LinkedIn profile?”
Debrief questions / activities
- How did you make a decision about the LinkedIn profiles when you had so little time?
- What did you look at first?
- What made you like a profile?
- What made you pass on a profile?
- What was the most memorable profile? (Was it memorable in a good way?)
- What was the most surprising part of this activity?
- What was the hardest part of this activity?
- How did you use your own experience when judging these profiles?
Second set of questions
- What’s your biggest takeaway from this activity?
- What do you think the writers of the profiles we liked least were trying to accomplish?
- What are the top 5 things you can do to make your profile effective?
- What assumptions do you think we’re making about the candidates?
- Are all of these assumptions fair?
- What makes a candidate “unprofessional?”
- Given that it’s illegal in many places to ask candidates to submit a photo with a job application, do you think LinkedIn is ethical?
- You can leave out the second and third steps. If students aren’t writing a LinkedIn profile, you can focus the questions more towards what persuasive strategies you’re discussing in class.
- You can also do this activity with cover letters or resumes, since recruiters also spend 3-5 seconds looking at those. The benefit of LinkedIn profiles, however, is that they have a visual component.
- If you don’t have a whiteboard, you can have students annotate the profiles using Post-It notes.
Tags: persuasive messages, employment communications, hands-on, whole class, LinkedIn profile, employment, job application, persuasion