Should marketers signal they’re out of work on LinkedIn?

Debate continues to rage as to whether out-of-work marketing candidates should signal their employment status on LinkedIn, with recruiters conflicted on the pros and cons.  

Since LinkedIn introduced the ‘open to work’ (OTW) photo frame in June 2020, debate has raged over whether users should adorn their profiles with it. The ‘green banner’, as it’s otherwise known, allows people to signal their unemployment or freelance availability to wider networks in the hope it will encourage recruiters to get in touch.  

Sounds simple, right? However, accusations from desperation to it being a hiring red flag have been bandied about ever since, with candidates in flux as to whether they should be highlighting their employment status or not.  

For marketers, deciding to add the banner to their profile is complicated given the profession’s remit. Personal branding is in vogue, and marketers are under pressure to not just be marketers but thought leaders too on the platform. Should marketers be better at marketing themselves beyond sticking a green banner to their profile? It’s a complicated topic – and like many of these things, there isn’t a straight answer.  

“There are so many other things that you can do on LinkedIn to make yourself visible to potential employers, but also add value and do some healthy networking,” says Emma Archer, a senior marketing recruitment specialist with more than 20 years of experience in the field.  

It was a post on LinkedIn by Archer that prompted a flurry of posts, debates and arguments this week about the green banner. In it, she said: “What’s the one thing, as a recruiter, I wouldn’t do if I lost my job tomorrow…? Put up the open to work banner.” 

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In her post, Archer detailed her opinion on whether senior marketing talent should use the feature. “Like it or not there can still be a stigma attached to being unemployed,” she said, suggesting that using the banner can open candidates up to bias from recruiters and brands.  

It prompted a backlash, with more than 150 comments – many of which disagreed with the sentiment shared by Archer.  

“I am a huge advocate for cutting through the noise in the recruitment arena, and helping people get a job,” she tells Marketing Week, which is what led her to post in the first place. She believes many candidates don’t know if they should use the banner, and some simply don’t want to. “I’m just trying to help people avoid bias,” she says, from potential employers who judge unfairly against the banner – though, as one person on LinkedIn wrote, it’s a “litmus test” for bad companies.  

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Regardless, it’s a provocative subject, made worse by the dire state of the marketing recruitment landscape. Many highly qualified senior people have been out of work for upwards of six months – debating the pros and cons of having a green banner on their profile or not is perhaps not the more crucial argument to be having.  

It’s “muddy water,” says Archer, “But why open yourself up to potentially being dismissed by somebody because they have that bias?” she asks, comparing it to her viewpoint when it comes to people putting photographs of themselves on CVs: “At the end of the day, you’re opening yourself up to potential bias and discrimination.”  

Heightened emotions

Andy Davies, commercial director at recruitment firm Vertical Advantage thinks the backlash reflects the state of the market. “There’s a lot of sensitivity around generally at the minute, with people looking for jobs,” he says, adding that recruiters need to approach these topics with sensitivity too: “People have been unemployed for over a year, undoubtedly that means people are quite engaged with this topic.”   

“It’s difficult to cut through the noise on LinkedIn, everyone’s trying to build a personal brand and have an opinion,” he adds, “Some say you shouldn’t have the open to work banner, others say you should definitely have it – I can imagine as a job seeker, it becomes very frustrating because every day you probably see something different.”   

Rich Howell, founder of FMCG recruitment firm Marvel FMCG, says the debate gives “huge mixed signals” to candidates. “I’ve spoken to many marketing candidates who are really nervous to use it as a recruiter has told them it will have a negative effect. My view is we are in 2024 not 1984, if companies or recruiters take a negative view that someone is out of work through no fault of their own then where does that leave us?” he says.   

I’ve spoken to many marketing candidates who are really nervous to use it as a recruiter has told them it will have a negative effect. 

Rich Howell, Marvel FMCG 

“It’s tough out there,” he adds. “Candidates need all the help they can get. Raising awareness that you are actively looking can be a real benefit in a competitive market.” For Howell, it doesn’t matter if someone uses the banner, but it “matters to some recruiters or hiring companies”.   

Davies also thinks there’s a bias against candidates who use the banner and argues this shouldn’t be the case. “Really, it’s a form of bias that for some reason people feel okay with flagging. It’s just introducing bias into the process where the whole of the recruitment world at the minute is trying to remove bias wherever possible in various different ways.”   

“Some people say it’s a bad thing [using the OTW banner] because it signals some sort of desperation, but for me, that’s just introducing bias without talking to someone and giving a chance to understand who they are and their experiences,” he adds.

Archer goes the step further to suggest candidates should bolster their chances by ditching the green banner, while Davies leans towards shedding the perception all-round that there’s anything wrong with it.   

LinkedIn data suggests those using the OTW banner are on average 40% more likely to receive direct messages from recruiters, and 20% more likely to receive them from the wider LinkedIn community. Since 2020, 36 million members have used the photo frame.

LinkedIn career expert Charlotte Davies says ticking the ‘open to work’ feature on LinkedIn “discreetly” signals to recruiters that candidates are open for new opportunities, while adding the green frame to profile images “can let the broader LinkedIn community know that you’re seeking new opportunities”.

Offering advice to candidates, she says: “Be sure to include a summary, your most recent work experiences, notable accomplishments, your skills and pay special attention to including keywords relevant to the positions you’re looking for. Additionally, demonstrate your active engagement with your industry by commenting on relevant posts, regularly sharing insightful articles, and following trends and thought leaders.”

Create your own visibility 

Archer acknowledges that in less public-facing roles, such as procurement and finance, the OTW banner “has its place” in being helpful, but says marketing is different, with “people that should be able to promote themselves, market themselves, network and present in a good light among their peers”.   

“That’s my argument: there are so many other creative things for you to go out there and create visibility and attract opportunities,” she says, and the green banner isn’t it.  

The OTW banner is separate from LinkedIn settings where users can click to show themselves as ‘open to work’ to recruiters. For some recruiters, filtering candidates through this setting is the first thing they do when looking to fill a role, says Davies, so having the button turned on can be a good thing.   

For other recruiters, it comes down to networking. Archer details a senior marketing role she recently filled within a few weeks, with a shortlist for the brand built on candidates she had been in frequent contact with. These people had been “active” in staying in contact with Archer, and continuing to build their relationships. However, some job-seeking marketers are struggling to even get a response from recruiters, so this won’t be music to everyone’s ears.   

Howell urges recruiters to change their mindsets. “I’ve met some brilliant candidates who have been made redundant and are proud to have the badge. If we can shift opinions, then maybe the debate will go away.”