LinkedIn wants you to see the future. Specifically, your future. More specifically, your possible career future. Make that futures—all of them.
The professional social network is launching a new feature intended to help people plan their career paths by comparing their professional history to those of other people like them. On Wednesday, the company unveiled “Professionals Like You,” an addition to LinkedIn’s competitive How You Rank feature.
It’s a premium feature that analyzes information on your profile, compares it with others and then shows you 100 profiles of people you have jobs or skills in common with. Among other things, that sort of insight might show you various paths your career might take—a kind of Sliding Doors look into how your professional life might evolve over the course of the next five or 10 or 20 years.
Starting With Recruiting
In May 2011, LinkedIn built an algorithm it called Similar Profiles. That tool was aimed at recruiters and hiring managers; it was designed to find people with almost identical skills that fit a specific job they were looking to fill.
After LinkedIn realized the potential for its own members to see where their careers could take them, the engineering team rebuilt the algorithm to create Professionals Like You.
“Similar Profiles came about as our first attempt to use this professional data set in a meaningful way in a recruiting context,” Anmol Bhasin, director of engineering at LinkedIn, told me in an interview. “Professionals Like You is just a tweak on the Similar Profiles algorithm to make it work in the consumer space.”
The team took six to nine months to develop the initial algorithm geared toward recruiting. Broadening it for ordinary users required another year of multiple tweaks.
LinkedIn had to account for different potential matches, and help users figure out how to best display skills, careers, or education on their profiles. It does this, in part, by by using both keywords listed in profiles and generating something it calls a Similar Career Path (SCP) score.
Finding Your Job Clone
The SCP score is based on the assumption that people with similar jobs at the same kinds of companies might have similar career trajectories. Essentially, LinkedIn examined the variations between individuals’ careers, and looked at how those variations have consequences in the real world. (While the SCP is an actual number calculated by the algorithm, it’s only used internally; LinkedIn doesn’t display it next to your profile.)
LinkedIn’s approach to building the SCP score was inspired by DNA sequence algorithms used in bioinformatics, engineering manager Abhishek Gupta told me in an interview.
Of course, human genomes are largely similar. In LinkedIn’s case, there are many more variables. And because there are so many people on LinkedIn who have different job trajectories, the company will eventually have to refine the algorithm even further to display the most accurate information.
“One of the key learnings was that Similar Profiles, the way we have them right now, is largely the same across all industries across all countries,” Gupta said. “People in various countries work differently, people in various industries work differently. Our next step is to segment and customize similar profiles across these dimensions.”
In order to create the SCP score, LinkedIn looks at member profiles to pinpoint experience data on their timeline. For instance, it analyzes education, skills, job title, company, location, and any promotions a person may have received during her time at a company.
To determine similarities between two different profiles, LinkedIn measures the total number of things they have in common, and uses “dynamic programming“—a computationally efficient way of solving problems by breaking them down into more easily solved subproblems—to find matches between the individual skills or jobs and to approximate the likeness of the profile pair in its entirety.
How Do I Use This?
First, you’ll need a premium LinkedIn account, which starts at less than $10 per month for the most basic plan.
Next, you’ll need to click on the Profile item on the top menu bar and select “Who’s Viewed Your Profile.” Then click “How you rank for profile views” and select the “Professionals like you” tab. Scroll through the 100 names that it provides and marvel at the similarities and differences.
You may find your own name on that list. One of my editors discovered had access to the service Tuesday night, and promptly learned that he is the 17th professional most like himself on LinkedIn.
For young professionals, looking at Professionals Like You will help determine what opportunities are available for a particular job. People can use these tools to compare career paths with more senior workers, or peers who have been in the industry longer than they have.
Other people may use it as a way to find out what their own profile is lacking by looking at other people’s pages. Of course, it could be used as a way to grow your network, by finding new people to connect with thanks to similarities between your jobs or interests.
Update 7:44 a.m.: Updated to clarify a LinkedIn premium account starts at less than $10.
Lead image screencapped from Orphan Black by BBC America; other photos courtesy of LinkedIn