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LinkedIn CEO Ryan Roslansky: Skills, Not Degrees, Matter Most in Hiring

By Tom Morrison posted 14 days ago

  

Ryan Roslansky, CEO of LinkedIn, estimates there are roughly 10 billion years’ worth of work experience locked up in the heads of the site’s 875 million users. It’s LinkedIn’s job, Roslansky says, to tap into that massive skills base, free the knowledge within, and improve both the global workforce and the lives of individual workers.

HBR editor in chief Adi Ignatius sat down with Roslansky in this episode of our video series “The New World of Work” to talk about:

  • Harnessing LinkedIn’s vast trove of worker data to match workers and their skills to the market’s needs.
  • Roslansky’s adaptive leadership approach in a world of inflation, possible recession, and political uncertainty.
  • Putting skills squarely at the center of hiring decisions, and de-emphasizing degree and pedigree (i.e., where someone went to school, where they worked before, or who they know).

Roles are being created and displaced at truly a record pace right now, and the pace of change is unprecedented, Roslansky says. “And even if you aren’t changing your job, your job is most likely changing on you.”

ADI IGNATIUS: 

Ryan welcome, to The New World of Work.

RYAN ROSLANSKY:

Hi, Adi. Thanks for having me.

ADI IGNATIUS: 

One question I like to ask everybody is, how did you become this person? Tell us a bit about your background, and maybe one or two pivotal moments that led you to becoming CEO of one of the most important social networks in the world.

RYAN ROSLANSKY:

It is a true honor to be the CEO of LinkedIn, especially through what’s a pretty pivotal time in the world of work. I don’t know if there’s one or two moments that I’d point to. But I would probably point to three things that have got me here.

Number one is luck. I was born at the right time to the right set of parents that were loving and caring and taught me the value of work and set me up with a great education. So that was number one. Number two is also luck. I was lucky to be a freshman in college in 1996 when the internet was just starting to get going, and meet a couple of people, and together we started a company. Taught myself how to code, and was lucky to be in that place at that time, and really learn about the internet and learn about technology.

And the number three is actually luck as well. I was lucky that as a junior product manager a long time ago at Yahoo! I had the opportunity to work with and meet a gentleman by the name of Jeff Weiner, who would go on to become the CEO of LinkedIn. I came with him as his first employee. And there’s been a lot of hard work and choices along the way. But when you take a big step back on all of it, I think luck, luck, and luck were pretty pivotal to getting me to the position that I’m in today.

ADI IGNATIUS: 

You’re being very modest. And obviously you created opportunities where then luck could work your way. I know you talk a lot about culture and values at LinkedIn. We all use those words. We know they’re important. But what does that mean to you in terms of running a successful business?

RYAN ROSLANSKY:

It’s a hot topic right now. Let me share why I think it’s a hot topic, rightfully so. You take a look at what’s happened over the last couple of years through the pandemic. Every company was thrown into this need to really rethink how the company works. Do we work remotely? Do we work hybrid? Vaccines? No vaccines? Time off, in office, etc.

And what everyone’s actually doing when you’re rethinking how your company works is you’re rethinking your culture and your values. That’s what led to a thing that we call the great talent reshuffle over the past couple of years. It’s not only companies rethinking how they work. But employees are thinking about not only why they work or where they work but how they work in general.

For us, we define culture as the collective personality of our organization. It’s who we are, but more importantly, it’s who we aspire to be. Every organization has a personality. And it’s really important, at least in my belief, to define what that culture and what those values should be at your company, in order to help this foundation be strong to make the right decisions on top of it. And I think a lot of companies right now are rightfully, as they go through this great reshuffle and this new world of work, redefining what it means to work at their company. Redefining the values that are needed to make decisions. Redefining how they want to work.

I led the company about a year ago through an exercise to rethink or to enhance our culture and values. And I have to tell you, it was a really difficult exercise for me. I’ve been at the company for over 13 years. Culture and values are embedded in everything that we do. It was the only culture and values that I’d ever known. But we found that it was a very valuable exercise, because some of the culture and values and the words that we used, they were antiquated in the new world of work. So we took a very principled approach, a very thoughtful process, involved the entire company in rethinking what’s important to us as a company. Who are we? Who do we aspire to be?

And we made a couple of changes and enhancements to our set of culture and values. I think that’s really benefited us well. Because every day, there’s roughly 20,000 employees at LinkedIn. People need to make decisions. And you have to come back to something common, a common framework upon which to make those decisions. And I feel great about the culture and values that we’ve laid out. That’s going to help us move into the future right now. And a lot of companies are doing the same.

ADI IGNATIUS: 

So you’re talking about what you are. Then how important is where you are? How important is it that people are present to establish and build on these cultural definitions and values?

RYAN ROSLANSKY:

The where is interesting. I don’t care who you are or where you’re leading right now in the world. This is the question that everyone is asking themselves. This is where culture and values are really important. When you make a tough decision, like where should our company work, you don’t want it to be some subjective thing. You want it to be built on top of a foundation.

One of our values is we trust and care about each other. Because that’s the value in terms of how we make decisions in the company. We’ve got to a position of where we work that’s based on that trust and that care. We trust each other to work where it works best for us and our teams. That’s our hybrid work policy.

I’m not your dad. I’m not your babysitter. I trust you to get your job done based on where it works best for you. And we’ve seen a lot of success. Our offices are open. A lot of employees come into the office. We have great tools that help collaboration, and video conferencing makes it easy. But we’ve found that we can be successful as a company based on that work policy. Again, it’s rooted in our values. It doesn’t work for every company, but based on who we are and who we aspire to be, that’s how we operate LinkedIn.

ADI IGNATIUS: 

So that’s pretty similar to what we’re doing at Harvard Business Review, and it’s all about flexibility. But there are plenty of companies who don’t buy that. And there’s still a fear that if workers aren’t there and present, somehow they won’t be giving their all. What would be your advice to people who are thinking that way?

RYAN ROSLANSKY:

I really go back to culture and values, and there’s not a right or wrong way. It’s the type of company you want to run, the type of company you want to be. And that work style has to fit that. But I will tell you something fascinating. I was recently in London with Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadella. And we were discussing, with companies in London, this really fascinating dynamic that came out of Microsoft data.

87% of employees report that they are productive at work in a hybrid work environment right now, yet 85% of managers believe that their employees are not being productive. And it’s what Satya coined as “productivity paranoia.”

I think what’s really going on there is that when everyone was in the office years ago, the job of a manager was to walk around. That’s how you’d see if someone was productive or getting work done or being in the office. A lot of the role of the manager was just to make sure that you’re there to make sure that you’re physically present. And we moved to a hybrid world that requires a much different management and leadership style. I actually think there’s a lot of new pressure and learning and a different way of thinking that has to go for managers in this time, where you can’t just focus on someone being in the office. You can’t ground yourself in the idea that someone’s physical presence determines whether or not they’re being productive and effective. It has to be based on whether or not someone is being effective at the job.

So that requires, number one, ensuring that, if you’re a manager, you’re very clear. You have clarity on what a role entails. Why do I have this role to begin with, and what’s required for the person in this role to be successful? And then ultimately, you need to focus on outcomes. You focus on whether or not that person is being successful in the role as it’s been laid out, versus whether or not they are in or out of the office.

We’re going through this process at LinkedIn to help managers understand this and train managers on it. It’s not an easy transition for anyone. But I think in order to be successful in a hybrid world, it’s really all about managers and leaders thinking differently about their role, and really based on success based on outcomes instead of time in office.

ADI IGNATIUS: 

Beyond managing the hybrid question, this seems like a tough time to be a leader. You’ve got recession looming, maybe. You have inflation, definitely. Political uncertainty. It feels like wave after wave of social upheaval. What does it take to be a successful business leader now in this complex context?

RYAN ROSLANSKY:

You can’t only be a leader when the sun is shining. And the sun is definitely not shining these days. It’s really about uncertainty, yes—it’s challenging. But I think the right leaders that are going to really be above in all of this are the ones that see this as an opportunity. People who get good at managing through the cycles, they understand that they’re playing in the right markets. They understand what to set themselves up for success.

And it’s a phrase I’ve been using around adaptive leadership. You can be adaptive, or you can be reactive. Trust me, on a daily basis, there are 10 new decisions that you have to make right now as a CEO that you never have had to make before in your life, and no one’s had to make them before. The question is, do you try and get ahead of it in an adaptive way or do you let it happen to you?

I think adaptive leadership is really rooted in three things. Number one, you can decide to play up or play down. A lot of people, when something bad happens, they play down. They play to the lowest common denominator. I think adaptive leaders, they play up. They play to win. They stay positive. And though the plays may be different, they understand that they have to be running different plays.

I think reactive leaders, they’re aggressively cycling between playing to win or hunkering down, and not really playing up, and getting pulled down. And I think that that’s the wrong way to do it. I think adaptive leaders see these cycles as an opportunity. There’s always an opportunity in some of this, especially as there’s uncertainty and things are moving around, versus change as some kind of tax or burden to be dealt with.

I think it’s just constantly pivoting. Adaptive leaders constantly pivot. They iterate, they adjust. Reactive leaders, they over-rotate, and they thrash. In general, it’s not easy. It’s human nature to get kind of pulled into the cycle. But the more that you can stay adaptive, I think the better folks are going to be.

And one of the most important areas across the global labor market where more adaptive thinking and leadership is needed is around what I’ve been calling a “skills-first mentality.” I think companies that focus on skills as the currency, companies that shift away from more antiquated signals like only degree, or pedigree, or where someone worked, will help ensure that the right people can be in the right roles, with the right skills, doing the best work. I think it’s going to create a much more efficient, a much more equitable labor market, which then creates better opportunity for all. But that’s part of that adaptive mindset shift as well.

ADI IGNATIUS: 

Well, let’s talk about skills. What are the skills that people should be developing as they’re trying to succeed in the new world of work?

RYAN ROSLANSKY:

Be it because of Covid or digital transformation or looking at what’s going on in the AI space right now, a fourth Industrial Revolution, at LinkedIn we have really great data to see the shifts happening. Roles are being created and displaced at truly a record pace right now. Whatever your role, whatever your company, whatever your industry, you need to keep up with these really quick and big changes that are going on.

And even if you aren’t changing your job, your job is most likely changing on you. For far too long, we’ve used degrees (“Oh, this person went to this great school, so they must be good.”), or, previous company (“This person worked at is this great company, so they must know what they’re doing.”), or, networks (“I know someone that knows this person, so they must be great at it.”). We didn’t have anything better to do to assess talent.

But when the labor market is moving much quicker, we really need to figure out something to focus on. That alternative, flexible, accessible path is really going to be based on skills. And it’s not just about new entrants to the job market. One of the things we’ve been looking at recently in the LinkedIn data is the fact that if you take the same role from 2015 to 2022, roughly 25% of the skills that are required for that role have changed.

It’s pretty obvious that a lot of those are technical skills that are now needed. A lot is moving into the digital space. But that is moving.

Coming out of the pandemic, there’s one really fascinating anecdote that I saw in the data to show why this could be more valuable for the world. When the pandemic hit, on LinkedIn we saw a ton of food service workers out of work. And that makes sense. Restaurants are closing, no one’s going in, no one’s going out to eat. You have this huge pool of people that are out of work. On the flip side, the most in-demand roles that we saw get created as the pandemic kicked off were digital customer service roles. That makes a lot of sense. Things are moving more digital. People need customer service in their companies, so they have to ramp up on customer service agents inside of those roles.

What’s fascinating is if you took the average food service worker in that period, they had 70% of the skills that are needed to be an entry level customer service agent. However, what happened is a lot of these food service workers went unemployed, and stayed unemployed. And a lot of these customer service jobs went unfilled, because there wasn’t enough talent to fill them.

If we had just taken a view on what are the skills necessary, who has those skills, how can we help them acquire a couple of skills to help them become employed, we would have found ourselves in a much more efficient labor market. And if you take a big step back, that dynamic is happening across every industry, job function, geography, etc., where there’s this labor imbalance. If you were to focus more on skills, it’d be much more productive and efficient.

ADI IGNATIUS: 

Then there’s the question of retaining talent. You’re in, I assume, a very competitive market. You’re basically a tech company. You’re out in Silicon Valley and competing against other giants trying to retain top engineer talent. What’s your playbook for retaining the best people?

RYAN ROSLANSKY:

I don’t have any secrets except going back to where we started this conversation. The key for me is being intentional and authentic about our vision, which is our “why”, and our culture and values, which is our “how”. And you attract and retain people who are inspired by why we do things and what we do. I think that’s the key to all of this, which is you want to align people with what you do as a company to have the most productive workforce, to have the most retention. If people believe in what you’re doing as a company, they will stay longer. My role is to try and bring together the most talented set of individuals possible who care about building LinkedIn, care about building a platform that exists to create economic opportunity for every member of the global workforce.

I think something that is important right now more than ever is just understanding that inside of your company, it’s really important to help people find their next career and their career path. Internal mobility is the really big topic for us right now. I truly believe that your next best employee is most likely your current employee in many situations. And again, this is a reason why if you focus on skills and understand the skills of your existing workforce, then where you need to go as a company, there’s just a lot of great work that can be done there to help existing employees find different roles inside of your company, as long as they’re aligned to the mission and vision.

ADI IGNATIUS: 

So I want to talk about LinkedIn a little bit. What is LinkedIn at this point? Is it a social network? Is it a job search platform? Is it a professional self-branding app? What is LinkedIn?

RYAN ROSLANSKY:

LinkedIn is a platform that exists to create opportunity for every member of the global workforce. And I know that sounds like a tagline, but that is actually the vision of the company. It’s what we aspire to every day. We believe that the really valuable way to get there—I know you’ve spoken to Reid Hoffman in the past, who’s the founder of LinkedIn—is that we can help people become more productive and successful via other people.

You can learn from other people, you can hire with other people. You can help sell or buy with other people. You can help connect and start companies with other people. So how do we create, at the core, a platform that helps professionals show who they are, and connect for a variety of purposes?

We’re on a fiscal calendar. As of Q1 FY23, which we just ended, our trailing 12 month revenue surpassed $14 billion, which is up roughly 17% year-over-year, which is a great testament, especially in this market, to how mission critical the platform has become to help professionals for all of those use cases. Right now, every single minute on LinkedIn, more than 9,000 connections are formed. Nearly 10 hires are made. More than 100 hours of learning content are consumed.

And we have a diverse set of business models throughout those different marketplaces of connecting people that align to really help companies find value, and members find value. What’s interesting about that is, and what I think is probably one of our core competitive advantages is that right now, especially in 2022, in the world of work that we see, companies that are naturally aligned with doing good and doing well, they have massive competitive advantages built in.

For companies that start just by focusing on doing well in business, doing good for the world becomes a compromise. It’s the last slide of a PowerPoint presentation, or it’s the creation of a .org website. But when you can seamlessly unify doing good for the world and doing well in business inside of the product you build, I think it’s a real strong competitive advantage. And when we build products at LinkedIn, people find jobs, they hire. They learn skills, they make deals, they start companies. It’s an ecosystem that creates value for members, customers the world and for LinkedIn. So I’m very proud of that ethos and role that we occupy right now in the world.

ADI IGNATIUS: 

I have a question from Eileen from Palo Alto: can you talk about any long term plans you may have to make LinkedIn more work-friendly? For example, could users use LinkedIn for video calls, share their screens with business presentations and negotiations, or anything else?

RYAN ROSLANSKY:

For a variety of professionals, it is in their flow of work. Absolutely for recruiters, for lab professionals, for marketers, for sellers, LinkedIn is a tool that people have open on a daily basis. As it relates to general collaboration, to general communication, we are very fortunate to be part of Microsoft. And I think that Microsoft has the best-in-breed tools through Teams and through Office, etc., to help people do that kind of general communication and collaboration. We want to help through our products whatever we can to make those products more valuable. But that’s really for Microsoft to focus on.

In terms of what we do for LinkedIn specifically, in order for the world of work to move forward, in order for labor markets to grow and continue, there are really three key things that are critical to get right. One, a more efficient labor market. We’ve talked through this interview about what we’re trying to do there in general to help match talent to opportunity at massive scale in innovative and new ways to help create a more efficient and dynamic labor force.

Number two is access to goods and services. And we’re really focusing on ensuring that we can bring B2B products and services into a much more efficient market, similar to how maybe a lot of consumer products are bought and sold. B2B is a huge market. A lot of companies are representing what they do and what they sell across LinkedIn.

But we believe we can make that a better process for everyone involved, especially for buyers, especially for sellers. Sellers don’t want to be sitting there sending out millions of emails. They want to find the right people, to have the right conversations. People are interested in buying products. We’re focused a lot there as well.

I think the biggest kind of thing that I’m focused on right now inside of the company is the third thing that is critical to get right. It’s just access to knowledge and information and skill building. And a product manager a couple of days ago went through the LinkedIn data and pulled this stat for me, that we believe there’s an estimated 10 billion years of experience on LinkedIn, from the membership on LinkedIn.

So how do we help people build their identity by sharing a lot of that knowledge and experience in new ways and in new formats, and on the flip side help people learn more through other professionals to help them become more productive and successful? There’s some real value here in us focusing on creating those professional, work-related products that can help through that knowledge exchange.

As an example, we recently built a newsletter product. And in the last six months, it’s grown to 150 million people who have subscribed to a newsletter on LinkedIn across thousands of authors who create our newsletter to share their knowledge. And we started to do podcasts. We have an editorial team that helps curate the news. But for me, if we can get this foundation of a billion professionals that have access to great knowledge that exists in the heads of other professionals to make everyone more productive and successful, I think it’s going to do a lot for the world and be able to move the world forward in a very productive way.

ADI IGNATIUS: 

I think you’ve already got my resume up on LinkedIn, but I want to hear more about this. I wonder, is developing a metaverse experience a priority for you?

RYAN ROSLANSKY:

This is another one where I feel wonderful that we are part of the Microsoft ecosystem. Microsoft sits on the bleeding edge of technology, especially metaverse technology. So we don’t need to go out and create anything on our own. We can leverage a lot of what’s being built there.

I think for the professional context, a couple of things would be interesting. Events: I recently did a customer event where a hundred people got together, and we all put on headsets and had a virtual meeting. And I gave a keynote, and we had conversations, and we’re all kind of walking around in this room, even though we’re sitting at our desks. And that was kind of cool. People don’t need to travel. They can all get together and have more of an experience like that.

I think learning’s potentially a great one as well. Especially more if the technology evolves for more front-line or hands-on learning, that’s going to be valuable for us. We have a product called LinkedIn Learning. It’s one of the largest online learning businesses. It helps people acquire skills. 100 hours of learning content are watched every minute on LinkedIn. But for some of that stuff that’s really about more hands-on, or you have to feel like you’re inside of the environment to learn, that could be valuable as well. So we’ll see how that evolves, but kind of taking a backseat to all of the great innovation that’s happening at Microsoft.

ADI IGNATIUS: 

For individuals, what’s your advice for people who want to be good at LinkedIn in terms of personal branding? Do you have any advice for how they can do that best?

RYAN ROSLANSKY:

I go back to the stat that I just dropped, and I’m still excited that this product manager found. But the fact that there’s 10 billion years of experience on LinkedIn, everyone has something valuable and unique that they know that makes them a great professional. Even if you’re just starting, or you’re an experienced professional, there’s something unique about you, and what you do, and what you know.

And when you create your LinkedIn profile, ensuring that you are sharing that information in the right way, jumping into conversations on LinkedIn where if you see that you know a lot about this topic and you see a discussion going on about, to share your advice. Not thinking about it as “I’m trying to brand myself”, but “I’m trying to help the community with access to the knowledge that I know and that I have.” And on the flip side, what’s going to happen is that’s actually going to make you show up very well and help you with branding so much.

There’s so many stories right now across LinkedIn where people are getting jobs and opportunity because they’re hopping into these conversations in groups or in the feed or in newsletters to help share just what they know. It goes back to the skills-based conversation as well, which is that no longer can it just be that I went to this school, I work at this company, I know this person. It’s really about what you actually know how to do. So the more you can share that on LinkedIn and be authentic, I think it’s going to lead to a lot of great opportunities for everyone.

ADI IGNATIUS: 

This is a time in some ways of upheaval for social networks. Facebook, I wouldn’t say is going through upheaval, but they’re kind of redefining Meta, who they are, what they are, how they want to be out there. Twitter is going through a crazy period right now. Are you trying to capitalize on that to make some of this work to LinkedIn’s advantage?

RYAN ROSLANSKY:

Not trying to capitalize on it. I mean, I think the most important thing for us is to focus on culture and values, it’s such a foundational thing for us. We focus on what we exist to do. We focus on helping connect professionals globally, helping them find access to opportunity. We have a massive runway ahead of us. We have large TAMs in all the markets that we exist in. For us, the best thing that we can do is just focus on making LinkedIn great against the vision that we have for LinkedIn. And that’s what we wake up doing every day.

ADI IGNATIUS: 

Ryan, that was fascinating. I want to thank you very much for being our guest on The New World of Work, and it was great to hear your insights.

RYAN ROSLANSKY:

Thanks for having me, Adi. Appreciate it.

 

Blog posted in the Harvard Business Review.

 

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