Given how hard it is to hire qualified developers and engineers in the first place, much less in Silicon Valley, where the laws of supply and demand for tech talent have created a candidate driven market, recruiting tech talent isn’t easy.

And recruiting top engineering talent can be damned near impossible, particularly when those candidates have the luxury of choosing from so many employers of choice, all of whom are after more or less the same set of skills and experience.

On the employer side, this means beggars truly can’t be choosers, and the finite supply of competent coders means most companies have resigned to the fact that not every new hire can be a home run.

LinkedIn, though, is fighting this conventional wisdom with a strategy that’s either absolutely brilliant or a complete waste of time, resources and brand equity.

Of course, LinkedIn has the luxury of all the time int he world, all the resources those Microsoft billions can buy, and they have no need to worry about brand equity, considering they’ve more or less squandered it all already.

Which makes their newest tech hiring initiative so damned interesting.

Temporary Insanity: “You’re Hired” (Kinda).

I know what you’re thinking: “What halfway competent software engineer in the world would even consider working at LinkedIn?”

Meet LinkedIn Reach, the perfect next step in your climb up the engineering career ladder. It sounds like a perfect match if you are both ambitious and passionate about programming, but also willing to settle for a second tier Microsoft subsidiary. If you want to write kick butt code, but don’t mind keeping that code confined to a pretty boring B2B “professional network,”and you’re a big picture thinker, but also think LinkedIn is a long term career destination, then you’re in luck.

Sounds like you’re ready to reach for LinkedIn Reach, and likely want to know where to apply for what sounds like a dream job.

Not so fast, my friend. See, before you channel your passion, and before you build the future (barf) there’s a catch, and it’s kind of a big one.

Because the LinkedIn “Reach” program is a stretch, even for those guys. You see, it’s not really a recruiting initiative at all, at least not technically – because, you see, this program is not, in fact, a job. It is a paid apprenticeship. Yes. Like in the olden days of guilds and indentured servitude.

LinkedIn is apparently trying to revolutionize tech recruiting by reviving the Industrial Revolution. At least Hollywood agencies and Congress give their interns college credit in exchange for “experience” no qualified candidate probably needs to begin with.

Washing Windows: Microserfs and Wage Slaves.

Of course, in those cases, it’s a brand that looks good on a resume and one you want to be associated with.

If you’re an engineer looking to build a career, LinkedIn might not have even that minimal value exchange to offer for programming peasantry, but that’s irrelevant. They are a fully owned subsidiary of Microsoft, much like Minecraft or Bing, which is totally worth it.

Until you read the fine print:

“REACH is a six-month apprenticeship program where you will be placed on one of our functional engineering teams, learn from our managers, and develop applications at scale. 

You will gain insight into what it’s like to work as a software engineer at LinkedIn and gain experience that will be leveraged for a future career in software engineering.”

Of course, if you prove that you can cut it and successfully complete the program, you’ll be rewarded with an offer for a full time engineering role at LinkedIn. This sounds suspiciously like a standard internship, but you don’t have to be enrolled in any sort of computer science or technical program to qualify for this one.

Nope. Just desperate, willing to learn and think exploitation is a fair price to pay for experience. Roll up your sleeves and suck it up, and trust LinkedIn to recognize and reward your short term sacrifice with a long term opportunity

Because if there’s one thing that company would never do, it’s screw someone over, right?

Recruiters, you might want to take a look at LinkedIn Reach, because in addition to broadly redefining career training, professional development, college recruiting and tech talent attraction (among other disparate disciplines) through what sounds like a proprietary coding boot camp, this experiment is also noteworthy for another reason.

LinkedIn, it seems, is publicly declaring that they consider the ability to find and develop non-traditional candidates to be a viable talent strategy with the potential to create competitive advantage without the associated costs or intensive resource requirements.

By implementing Reach, in short, even LinkedIn is admitting that you can’t find the best candidates on LinkedIn alone, and that someone’s online profile might not be the best way to source, screen and slate potential hires. Which, for me, is kind of the kicker.

Even LinkedIn Doesn’t Use LinkedIn.

I mean, every day, on every freaking social network, it seems like there is some silly article talking about LinkedIn – the good, the bad, the ugly and the indifferent, if there’s one thing that they are noteworthy for, it’s notoriety.

And, of course, controversy. Love them or hate them (and there seems to be no in between in recruiting), when we talk about talent attraction today, LinkedIn is inevitably going to come up at some point in the conversation.

This makes sense, since for better or worse, no recruiter can ignore LinkedIn completely. It’s the elephant in the interview room, the 800 pound gorilla of sourcing, the SaaS version of Goldman Sachs: feared, loathed but so ubiquitous it’s inescapable.

Recruiters take note. By implementing this program, this should be enough evidence that the best candidates are not on LinkedIn. For me, this is the kicker. Every freaking day, on every social network, there is some stupid article talking about LinkedIn.

Love them or hate them, when talking recruiting, LinkedIn is bound to come up in the conversation.

That even extends to the countless conversations about hiring coders, developers, engineers and computer scientists. There aren’t many to find, obviously, and those that are out there are likely have already been found – and bombarded – by the many recruiters out there desperately hunting for anyone minimally qualified for the “opportunities” that go unfulfilled.

For some reason, though, conventional wisdom seems to suggest that LinkedIn is an actual solution to one of the toughest challenges in the talent business.

It is counterintuitive to assume that LinkedIn, a site that’s not exactly known for its cutting edge technology or killer code and innovative design, would be a place that passive tech professionals would voluntarily spend time on, much less publicly share their information with hundreds of thousands of recruiters.

LinkedIn Is For Luddites: Why “Professional Networks” Don’t Work For Techies.

If you’ve ever done tech recruiting, you know that most of these candidates intentionally avoid interacting with recruiters as a rule, much less voluntarily subject themselves to a deluge of “opportunities” that are anything but. It is naive to believe that all, or even most, IT talent will have a profile on LinkedIn, much less one that’s actually up to date.

There seems to be a belief among many recruiters that by ponying up enough money for a LinkedIn recruiter license, somehow all those missing profiles will suddenly appear, ready to be packed into your pipeline.

The fact of the matter is, LinkedIn isn’t hiding these people because you haven’t paid for premium access. They’re not hiding at all. They’re just not there. Period.

When recruiters discuss LinkedIn, inevitably, they will blame the platform for the fact that it’s hard to find tech candidates there, and that it’s an ineffective tool. If they paid money with the hopes that they’d see a significant return on their recruiting investment, however, then the fault lies largely with the employer, not the software.

Sourcing is all about research, and if you can’t do enough due diligence to prevent wasting money on a paid sourcing tool, then the tool is pretty obviously not the fundamental problem with your talent function. Of course, even its competitors aren’t really great options for uncovering potential passive candidates.

Even those sites like GitHub, Stack Overflow and, which focus exclusively on tech and attract a much more targeted, much more engaged audience of IT pros than a general “professional network” like LinkedIn or Facebook, still don’t have nearly enough candidates to come close to meeting the needs of most tech recruiters or employers. And it’s not like anyone on these sites is a “hidden gem,” given how many companies leverage these sources for their tech recruiting efforts.

GEM Recruiting AI

I get it. I’ve spent most of my career as a tech recruiter, and it can be tough. At its best, it’s never easy – and you learn to always expect the worst. You win some, you lose most, and you deal with a ton of frustration and dead ends along the way. That’s how this business has always worked, and has since well before LinkedIn was even invented.

Tech talent has always been hard to hire, even if these sites make them (marginally) easier to find.

That’s why I find the role of LinkedIn in tech recruiting so odd. If they truly have access to enough of these candidates to justify paying the high price for their premium product, then why do they have to have a program like LinkedIn Reach in the first place?

I mean, if you could truly find the proverbial diamonds in the tech rough simply by searching their platform, then this program is specious, not interesting or innovative. If the product delivered as promised, LinkedIn shouldn’t have to do a damn thing to recruit engineers. In fact, the best ones should be coming to them, since their marketing material suggests so many of them spend so much time on site.

That’s a pretty big stretch, but maybe that’s why they call their new initiative “Reach.”

Reach for the Stars: LinkedIn Looks Outside.

And it’s a similar reach to believe that this program is going to solve anything beyond a temporary talent shortage; it’s a short term fix that’s sure to backfire, no matter how optimistic the company may seem. The reason is that the existence of an apprenticeship program sounds suspiciously like it’s screwing over the same people whose only incentive is to get on at LinkedIn full time.

If they’re willing to make that sort of commitment to the company, it’s interesting that the company doesn’t seem to be reciprocating that interest. In fact, LinkedIn is clear that acceptance into this program will not necessarily equate to a full time job, even if they successfully complete the Reach program and satisfy its requirements.

Sure, they get paid a pittance, but ultimately, LinkedIn has little to no risk involved whatsoever. Unlike employees or even contractors, participating in this sort of “program” carries no protections, guarantees, workplace protections or possibility for remediation.

The reason is that these aren’t jobs at all, at least not beyond the 6 months the program lasts – essentially, a self contained probation period.. This sounds like a great deal for LinkedIn. For the “lucky” techies chosen for the program, it sounds like a Faustian bargain at best, selling their souls for a foot in the door at a place that should be opening those doors and rolling out the red carpet instead.

I am doubtful that a company with the sort of, uh, cache and reputation in tech circles as LinkedIn can ever successfully implement this sort of program, all things considered – Google might be able to get Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn to appear in a feature length employer branding video, but there’s a reason the video interviewing scenes in the film didn’t involve Skype.

Even those guys wouldn’t risk being uncool enough to be associated with Microsoft product lines.

Taking Talent For A Test Drive Is Not A Long Term Solution.

Of course, The Internship, or any internship, is governed by a completely different set of regulations and rules than those involving either employees or, in this case, “apprenticeships.” Apprentices are basically like H1B workers; those admitted are required to complete the program, but while they’re more or less captive, LinkedIn can give them the boot at any time, with or without cause.

This is important, because apprentices have a full time job, but they are not full time employees. This is ridiculous, because for the chance to maybe get W2 status at LinkedIn, they are essentially doing the same job as actual employees, only without the benefits and pay.

Those good enough to finish the program with an offer from LinkedIn, one can assume, could have skipped that whole process entirely, given the demand for tech talent and the myriad employers who often have more open jobs than qualified candidates to fill them. So, why would anyone opt to audition for LinkedIn instead of immediately joining any of its competitors as an employee instead?

Well, you might not get a job, but apprentices do get some pretty killer perks. These include:

  • Competitive compensation (but not as much as you’d make on a 6 month contract)

  • Amazing benefits (you won’t accrue PTO, but with catered food and gym memberships, you won’t need it).

  • Internal Mentoring (because those who can’t do…)

  • Professional Coaching from BetterUp (because we all know Lynda kind of sucks).

LinkedIn, of course, gets a bunch of employees who are willing to work their butts off for the “right” to work there full time. Those who make it will become employees who already know internal processes, policies and politics – they’re likely going to stick around, too, since there will be few surprises for them after they “officially” onboard.

This is the ultimate temp to perm, try-before-you-buy type of test drive, only in an industry that generally doesn’t get away with this model, considering the competition, industry norms and a perpetually hot hiring market.

But hey, LinkedIn can get away with anything, it seems.

If you can violate your own user agreement and terms of service repeatedly, you can do the same thing with employment agreements, surely. If you can arbitrarily change features, functionality and pricing to customers already under contract, surely you can do whatever the hell you want with a bunch of apprentices after they start the program.

The precedents are set. Now they’re just expanding their habitual exploitation of end users from their product to their people.

The Opportunity Cost of “Creating Economic Opportunity.”

Sure, apprentices will pick up some practical skills and marketable experience along the way. It’s just that the better they become, the more likely they’ll be to get hired by LinkedIn.

This is the goal, but it also preempts them from receiving market value for those skills and experience while eliminating their ability to negotiate or summarily decline a full time offer from LinkedIn, since the company seemingly retains the right of first refusal for program participants once they enter the job market.

I don’t know of many recruiters who would refuse that hiring process – take it or leave it, no counteroffers or competitors. That’s not leveling the playing field. That’s why it’s so offensive that LinkedIn is positioning this program as some sort of corporate altruism, designed to “create economic opportunity.”

They promise a chance at a career in tech regardless of “training or background,” but without those qualifiers, they wouldn’t have a business to begin with.

Ostensibly this apprenticeship approach will benefit underprivileged or underserved populations, but the real “economic opportunity” is to LinkedIn’s bottom line, since there’s no chance for the best candidates completing the program to market their skills and experience to other employers or develop competitive offers beyond the “competitive compensation” promised by LinkedIn.

For all the talk about “creating economic opportunity,” those opportunities seem like they’re limited to one company. The economic opportunities are readily apparent, at least for LinkedIn. For the apprentices in question, the opportunity cost seems questionable, considering the risk/reward ratio involved.

The bigger picture is this: to recruit engineering talent, LinkedIn needed to try something drastically different; while this might not be the answer, it’s clear that even they consider what someone’s done less important than what they’re capable of doing.

It’s promising that this philosophy has been adopted by one of the bigger tech players out there, and one that has long helped define the direction of the entire recruiting industry. It also means even they realize their product has some serious and systematic problems, particularly when it comes to tech recruiting. The good news is that the company appears to have a contingency plan for covering these capability gaps.

And what they’re saying with this pilot program is that top tech talent today can’t be sourced, at least not as a sustainable strategy. It has to be developed. Which means that there’s really no point in sourcing off of LinkedIn at all – especially if you’re a tech recruiter.

Because if they can’t make it work for their own hiring needs, you’re probably kidding yourself if you continue to try to make it work at your company. For the cost of a single license, you could likely fund a Reach pilot program of your own.

Only unlike sourcing on LinkedIn, there’s a chance that might actually lead to an actual hire. Remember: if you need tech talent, cutting the cord on your super pricy LinkedIn Recruiter license is the ultimate “economic opportunity.” And it’s one your company probably can’t afford to pass up.

Because if LinkedIn doesn’t need LinkedIn for recruiting, neither do you.

About the Author: Jackye Clayton is the Editor of Follow her on Twitter @JackyeClayton or connect with her on LinkedIn.

By Jackye Clayton

Jackye is an acclaimed thought leader and inspirational speaker on recruiting and DEIB topics. She brings years of experience recruiting across a variety of industries including tech, HR, legal, and finance. In her role as VP of Talent Acquisition and DEIB, she leads all related work at Textio, provides critical expertise to customers, and serves as a leading voice in the products Textio creates for the broader ecosystem. Jackye has been named one of the 9 Powerful Women in Business You Should Know by SDHR Consulting, one of the 15 Women in HR Tech to Follow by VidCruiter, and is on the Top 100 list of Human Resources Influencers by Human Resource Executive Magazine.