The Real Reason “Open to Work” Is Hurting Your Job Search On LinkedIn. It’s Not What You Think


There’s no question that your online profile can make or break your job search. In that light,  LinkedIn’s ‘Open to Work’ feature has become a bit of a hot topic, with people debating the merits of the little green profile picture frame back and forth since it was first introduced in 2020.

This CNBC article (as well as other pieces) characterizes members who use the green circle as desperate to be hired, and that this works against them with recruiters. That generated a lot of blowback from members on the platform. Many claim that the feature actually helped them get noticed and get a job. 

Note that LinkedIn also offers a more discreet option: the “open to recruiters” setting in your profile. This switch communicates your job-seeking status without broadcasting it to your entire network. This is handy if you’re currently employed but looking to switch jobs (and fingers crossed that your HR team isn’t using their LinkedIn “Recruiter” software to monitor their employees’ profile settings…).

To me, however, despite the arguable benefits of the ‘Open to Work’ feature, there’s a critical downside: it draws attention away from your value proposition and puts a spotlight on the fact that you’re unemployed.

While that may be your situation, your needing a job is not the most attractive aspect of your profile, your background, or your potential. It’s actually a distraction that can get in the way of a potential employer objectively considering you for a position.

You may not be “desperate,” but you’re also not coming across as a dynamic professional.

A sign that says we are hiring.

The Currently-Employed Bias

Ask any recruiter whether they would rather hire an employed candidate, or an unemployed candidate. 9 times out of 10, they’ll spring for the employed candidate. This bias, whether conscious or unconscious, stems from the belief that if a candidate is employed, they are a safer bet. They are ostensibly performing well and up-to-date with current industry trends and practices. 

The logic is that if another company values and employs this individual, they must have proven their worth and capability. 

In contrast, the recruiter may wonder whether an unemployed candidate has any “baggage” that could be a negative factor: how did their last job end? Are they a team player? Will it be possible to get an accurate reading on their prior performance?

The Momentum Factor

Candidates who are currently employed are seen as being on an upward or uninterrupted trajectory in their careers. Leaving their current job to start a new one preserves the momentum that the employer is looking for. They believe they’ll have to spend less time onboarding the candidate or getting them back up to speed vs. coming back to work after a period of unemployment. 

If you’re working, you’re swimming in a sea of active professionals who are all getting things done. You’re staying up-to-date with industry news, participating in professional groups, or delivering projects relevant to the potential position you would be a candidate for. 

However, If you’re unemployed, you’re out of that loop.

This may sound unfair in the wake of all the progress we’ve made in accepting personal breaks, sabbaticals, family care, etc. But that perception remains embedded in the mindsets of many people on the hiring side.

Declining Industry Currency and Connection

Your value and contributions to your industry are seen as diminished when you’re out looking for work. Every week or month you’re unemployed looks like you’re drifting farther away from the mainstream.

Networking is not just for job searching; it’s part of what you do every day on the job. Recruiters and hiring managers know this. If you’re not transacting business every day, you’re getting stale. Over time, you can begin to lose the threads that connect you to your colleagues. They may still like you, but they no longer have much if anything to say to you. Recruiters know that this is happening.

Unemployment is Stigmatized

This is one of the most unfair paradigms in the world. And yet, it effects all of us. Don’t you cringe at the thought of being unemployed? Do you have any friends currently looking for work? Do you feel bad for them? A little bit concerned? Afraid this could happen to you, too, somewhere down the road?

On top of the other specific negatives that employers ascribe to the unemployed, it’s hard to avoid the sense of, I’m going to say it, shame that comes with the territory.

‘Open to Work’ is Not a Strategy

Here’s why the LinkedIn “Open to Work” circle is so problematic. While it doesn’t necessarily identify you as desperate, and recruiters and hiring managers may indeed reach out to you, it’s a weak signal at best. 

The “Open to Work” circle doesn’t really have any inherent value to the people you’re actually trying to connect with – the people with jobs to fill. If LinkedIn is a big search engine, how many recruiters are using the search term “open to work?” As far as they’re concerned, everybody is a target for them if the person’s credentials match the job description.

They’re searching for keywords that relate to their job description. They’re looking for those keywords in your headline, your About section, and your Experience section. They want you to describe what you do, and back up your career story with solid achievements and (hopefully) some metrics to go along with them. The green circle is more of a distraction than a help.

Instead, position your profile a better way and receive more genuine interest.

A sign that is open to work: men wanted first class mechanics and good helpers of all kinds.

Never Be Unemployed

It may seem like magical thinking, but I always advise clients to embrace the mindset and the action steps associated with never appearing unemployed. I believe this plays a critical role in their job search. This is about sending the signal that you are always involved and contributing to your field, regardless of whether you are currently receiving a paycheck.

This removes the stigma, shame, or anxiety associated with your status and focuses your attention and potential employers’ attention on your value, your track record, and what you want to achieve in your career.

Close Out Your Last Position

This is your first step – and one that you may be reluctant to take. Many people are frozen like deer in the headlights on whether or not to admit that they’re no longer working at the most recent job listed on their Experience section. They believe that it’s better to fudge the question and wait until they’ve started their next job before adding an end date to the last one.

If the weeks and months pile up since they last had a job, they believe that this is going to reflect poorly on them when a recruiter reviews their Experience section – never mind the fact that the recruiter will most definitely ask this question and then do the math.

Face it: you can’t hide anything on LinkedIn. Recruiters and hiring managers do this every day. They know what you’re doing, and the fact that you’re trying to fudge your job tenure may mean there’s other stuff you’re trying to hide from them. 

It’s like putting a ten-year-old picture on your dating profile. When that person meets you, you hope to charm them into forgetting or not caring that you lied to them.

My advice: close it out. Make a clean break with the past so that you can focus everyone’s attention on the future. Be brave and take a principled stand for the value you provide in your career by taking the next step.

Don’t worry, you’re not stepping into the void. We’re going to replace that last job with something even better: a consulting shingle.

Create a Consulting “Shingle”

Once you’ve closed out your last job, add a new position to your LinkedIn Experience section (and to your resume as well): You’ve just started your own consultancy or freelance business. Congratulations!

Choose a simple name. It could be your initials – mine could be JT & Assoc. or Tarnoff & Co. –  or some other idea (don’t overthink it). You don’t have to form an LLC (unless you want to). This is simply your DBA (doing business as).

I know: you’re going to say: “But I’m not a consultant or a freelancer. I need a real job! If they see I’m a consultant, they’ll think I’m not looking for a job!”

And here’s the beauty of this idea: it works both ways.

Consulting as Your Ideal Job Description

In defining your consulting shingle, you have the opportunity to describe the work that you do for clients, including the problems you solve and the solutions you deliver. You can talk about your ideal clients and the overlap between what you do best (and have delivered in your previous jobs), and what they are looking for to support their businesses.

Not coincidentally, those clients and their challenges are going to sound an awful lot like the companies you would like to work for as a full-time employee.

In fact, the description of your prospective consulting practice is also your ideal job description. It’s the ultimate distillation of what you do best. Don’t go too broad or try to solve every problem you’ve ever learned how to solve in this description. Instead, claim the most important niche that you solve for in your field.

While this description can be read as a pitch to short-term (or long-term) professional services clients in your industry, it can also be read by recruiters and hiring managers for the kind of responsibilities that they’re looking for – and that fit the job description they are currently hiring for.

Just as in your regular resume, your consulting shingle should include the bullet points that describe the services and deliverables you are offering to potential clients. These bullet points should represent the forward-focused culmination of all of your prior experiences and address your wish list of how you would do your favorite job – if only someone would give you the green light to do so.

That entity could be an employer who is looking for exactly what you provide (or pretty close to it).

A Springboard From Your Prior Work

Just because you don’t have any clients (or have never had any clients) doesn’t mean that you’re not qualified to list yourself as a consultant. The top achievements and takeaways from your recent work in your recent job or jobs can be counted as examples of how you’ve delivered.

If you’ve spent the prior 10, 20, or more years honing your skills and mastering your business, now is the time to take off the gloves, declare your expertise, and focus on the areas where you can deliver the best results.

Rather than pursue open positions based exclusively on what you’ve done in the past, posting a consulting shingle gives you the opportunity to define more clearly and more expansively what you’d like to do going forward. Rather than simply fitting yourself into an employer’s job description and hoping that you check off all their boxes, your consulting single lets you set up some boxes of your own to check.

A Different Relationship with Employers

When a recruiter connects with you, they’ll want to know if you’re exclusively working with clients going forward, or whether you would consider a full-time position. This instantly transforms the dynamic between you.

Your consulting shingle communicates that you are not waiting around for an employer to dangle an interview (or a job offer) in your face. It communicates that you have a clear purpose and a clear set of deliverables you want to offer.

By having a consulting shingle, conversations start sooner and progress faster. You’ve stated what you do and what you want. Accordingly, that makes it easy for clients as well as employers to understand where you fit into their needs. While it may reduce the total number of job opportunities on your radar, it makes EVERY opportunity instantly an appropriate one.

You’ll stop wasting time on conversations and interviews that go nowhere. You’ll be ghosted less because you won’t be used as “candidate fodder” by recruiters looking to impress their hiring managers with how many candidates they’ve sourced (but have no intention of pursuing).

Transform Your Career

Posting a consulting shingle is a much better strategy than relying on the “Open to Work” badge on LinkedIn. Rather than hoping for the proverbial phone to ring, or hoping to get noticed like a wallflower at a mixer, make your consulting shingle the driving focus of your LinkedIn profile.

In addition to creating more parity in your relationships with recruiters and hiring managers, it opens up other conversations with professionals in your field. It lets you continue to engage with your network as a current colleague, not as someone who is waiting to get back into the workforce.

Engaging as a consultant opens up other possibilities as well, including setting up informational interviews with existing and new advisors to talk about industry trends, strategies, and advice for your new consulting business, and maybe even referrals to additional companies and other helpful professionals.

Similarly, You might also just pick up some clients while you’re waiting for the right job to come along (don’t forget to add them to your Experience section!).

What Are You Waiting For?

If you’re on the hunt for a new job and you have the green “Open to Work” circle deployed on your profile, give this approach a try. Let me know how it goes, and whether it helps energize your profile – AND your career!

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John Tarnoff is an executive and career transition coach, speaker, and author who supports mid and late-career professionals in defining, planning, and achieving more meaningful and sustainable careers.

Fired 39% during his 35 years as a film producer, studio executive and tech entrepreneur, he learned how to turn setbacks into successes in a volatile business. He reinvented his own career at 50, earning a master’s degree in counseling psychology to share his career lessons with others going through similar challenges.

Since leaving entertainment in 2010, John has coached individuals, groups, and led career workshops for university alumni, including for UCLA’s Anderson School of Management. Corporate coaching clients have included Bank of America, Bridgewater Assoc., Levi-Strauss, Softbank, TD Ameritrade, and Thrive Global.

He is the author of the best-selling Boomer Reinvention: How to Create your Dream Career Over 50 and has been named a Top Influencer in Aging by PBS/NextAvenue.


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