Skip to main content

Eileen Dooley is a talent and leadership development specialist, and a leadership coach, based in Calgary

A few weeks ago, I was doing what many people do every day: scanning profiles on LinkedIn. I checked out various profiles to see what people look like and where they currently or previously worked, as well as noting mutual contacts. It’s an incredibly useful tool for networking and relationship-building.

It’s also a useful tool to show your authentic self, something most us do not do, but should, on LinkedIn or other professional networking sites.

Unlike the privacy of résumés, LinkedIn has become a very public way to show off your professional side. Unfortunately, most profiles are like everyone else’s. There is the professional, stiff corporate shot, a glorious and often embellished profile paragraph, and a description of all your experience and education. It’s a résumé and Rolodex all built into one, displaying perfection and poise.

COVID-19, however, has shown the world – or at least your work colleagues and professional network – that nothing could be further from the truth. Most of us are not fully polished and put together on a regular basis. We have lives that involve not-so-clean homes, pets that bark or children that poke us during a video call, and spouses or roommates that can be seen wandering around. We are also splitting our time between caring for our career and for others.

The pandemic has forced many professionals to work from home, many of them approaching the one-year mark. Putting on a suit seems like a foreign act right now, and if it is needed for a video call, it usually comes right off when the call is over, only to be replaced by what we really wear most workdays: comfortable, loose-fitting clothes and socks or slippers. A shower is not always a daily thing anymore, or certainly not the first thing you do when you wake up. Many are sleeping longer now since there is no more commute. Admit it: You wake up at 7:30 a.m. for that 8 a.m. video call.

If there has ever been a time to be authentic, it is now.

Recently, someone I scanned on LinkedIn described her title as “Health Care Support for my Dad,” noting she was taking care of her father who was dealing with end-stage cancer. It revealed vulnerability, authenticity and a side to her that is typically not broadcast on professional platforms, such as LinkedIn and résumés.

When I asked about how people reacted to it, she told me mostly positive comments come from it. Many people can relate to it, but most do not discuss it in a professional context. She was also very clear that if being authentic hinders an employment opportunity for her, it’s just as well because it would not be a place where she would want to work.

We say that a company’s values are important to us, that they must align with our personal values. Why do we then keep those values private, hidden from view of others?

The most obvious circumstance that comes to mind is maternity or parental leave. Rarely does it appear on a LinkedIn profile, and yet it is part of so many people’s careers. The same goes for elder care and extended periods of unemployment. What is so wrong with saying on LinkedIn that for a six-month period you took time off and enjoyed it, doing things that you would not normally do such as garden or cook or travel. Instead, we try to cover up our non-professional accomplishments, making it look like we do nothing but work.

And look perfect. Last summer, a post caught my eye. Titled “Why I changed my LinkedIn Profile Pic,” the person described her authentic self – messy hair, no makeup, with an imperfect home, and a certainly imperfect home office.

She went so far as to post her “professional” and “real” photos side-by-side. The “real” photo said it all: a person who is happy, fun to be around, and likely fun to work with, no matter the messy hair and no or minimal makeup. She is someone who does not care if she looks perfect in a photo, because that is not who she is. Her previous “professional” shot said nothing, other than she dresses in a suit, with perfect hair and makeup, and is all business. She was brave enough to be transparent.

Many of us do not know where 2021 will go. But it might be a time to think about your profile and what you want people to really know about you. I have switched up my conservative business suit photo for a more relaxed, colourful and vibrant photo.

I have also included my two maternity leaves, as this was a time in my life and career that I celebrate, not try to hide. Both changes show who I am, my authentic self. If someone is uncomfortable with this, or questions my commitment to my career, so be it. This is me, and I make no apologies for it.

I encourage you to do the same.

Stay ahead in your career. We have a weekly Careers newsletter to give you guidance and tips on career management, leadership, business education and more. Sign up today.