Smart high school students know that social networks like Facebook and Twitter have become somewhat of an unspoken admissions test. Add accomplishments, connect with thought leaders, and scrub your online identity of crude photos or inappropriate remarks, and you’ll pass. But as students work to make their social media profiles college-ready, there’s a new reputation management option for the younger set: LinkedIn. Starting September 12th, users as young as 13 will be able to join the professional social network.
On LinkedIn, students now have the opportunity to establish a positive reputation arguably before it has even begun. High school teachers and college professors can write digital recommendations, classmates can endorse each other for the skills they’ve learned together. Even high school and college jobs can be added to show a student’s growth into professionalism. But in addition to reputation building, this is a great moment for teens to lay a strong networking foundation, adding hundreds of high school classmates and creating a lifeline that can be used for interaction and support throughout college and in their careers.
How can students establish a positive reputation on LinkedIn? The basics are the same whether you’re 13 or 65: fill out your profile completely, network responsibly, and become a part of the conversation. But there are specific considerations for teens who are not likely to be skilled networkers just yet.
- Connect with family, friends, classmates, teachers, and more. Though you may not consider your lunchtime buddies, Aunt Irma, or your English teacher to be professional contacts today, they may be able to introduce you to opportunities now and in the future. Don’t hesitate to invite them in to your network. But remember not to spam with connection requests: avoid connecting with people you don’t really know.
- Don’t make the mistake of believing a lack of work history means you have nothing to show. You’re likely more experienced than you think. Include extracurricular activities and leadership positions, part time jobs, internships, and volunteering. Awards, scholarships, and honors societies have a place on LinkedIn, too.
- Do keep it professional. Your profile photo should be a respectable headshot, not your dog, photos from nights out, or an inspirational message. Contacts want to connect with you, give them the real deal.
- Highlight your developing skills. Debate team members, for example, can add public speaking and research, school paper reporters can add writing. Don’t sell yourself short: professional experience is not a requirement for owning any particular skill.
- Join related groups. If Biology is your favorite class, seek out science groups. Find your high school, college picks, and even future career paths in groups. If one doesn’t exist? Create it!
- Ask for recommendations from teachers and leaders. With LinkedIn, the recommendation letter has gone digital. While you’re still likely to need hard copies, ask letter writers to go the extra mile and add their input to your LinkedIn as well. It’s a great way to share positive words from teachers, volunteer leaders, and others who can give your reputation an early boost.
- Be careful not to overshare. LinkedIn isn’t a social network, it’s a professional one. Stick to photos and updates that highlight your professional growth and accomplishments. Photos of your volunteer work and science fair award work on LinkedIn, your latest vacation or Instagrammed lunch do not.
- Connect with your future college. LinkedIn recently launched a robust Higher Education section, adding 200 top colleges and universities with plans to reach 23,000 or more schools. With this tool, you can connect with colleges, reaching out to admissions representatives, students, professors, and alumni, some of whom may already be in your network. Many colleges also show popular career paths and employers, so you can map out your potential future with any given school.
Will students actually use LinkedIn? It seems likely, as the site reports that college students and recent grads are their fastest-growing set of users. Enterprising high school students may add LinkedIn to their ever-growing checklist of tasks for getting ahead, right along with taking the SAT, applying for scholarships, and maxing out extracurricular opportunities. We encourage savvy students to join them and get a jump start on establishing a professional network and reputation.