It’s never too early for future leaders – even if they’re still in high school – to start thinking about their career paths.
LinkedIn has now made this much easier by lowering its minimum user age to 14. By allowing high school and younger college students to gain access to LinkedIn University Pages, they’ll be able to explore colleges, get campus updates and connect with notable alumni.
Before you jump in, however here are some steps to take in order to make the most of your LinkedIn presence:
Build a Professional Profile
As a young adult looking to enter the workforce 5 or so years from now, your profile content is going to be different from that of a professional in the corporate world – and even an experienced college student or recent college graduate. But you’ll want to build it in a similar way, starting with a professional photo. Don’t use a photo that is outdated or has to be cropped to remove someone standing next to you. Be sure your attire is professional, and use a headshot.
Next, compose an “upbeat” summary. Don’t state that you’re looking for a job. Remember, this is going to launch your personal brand. Use these descriptive sections as an opportunity to state your interests and experience.
Most important: be clear about your aspirations.
Include any work experience that you have, even if you’ve only worked at your local ice cream shop during the summer. Add volunteer work, leadership and school activities too – these show initiative. Any other skills you’ve developed should also be included. In the education section, list the courses you’re currently taking and, if decided, perhaps the major you’ll pursue in college.
Treat your LinkedIn profile like it’s your college application – make it detailed and professional. You never know who might be looking at you online!
Explore LinkedIn’s University Pages
Now that you’ve built your profile, it’s time to click around – and University Pages is a great place to start. This new feature of LinkedIn enables you to get regular updates from colleges regarding campus news and activities. You can ask questions and engage with both the campus communities and schools’ alumni.
Check out this LinkedIn tool to get started on your higher education search. Interested in undergraduate schools in California? After you’ve narrowed it down, take a look at the careers of graduates from each school to see which one will get you to your goal.
Build a Quality Network
It’s time to make connections!
Just having your profile on LinkedIn isn’t going to get you results. You have to work at building your network with key contacts that will help you reach your early professional goals. Start by adding your past and current classmates. I would also recommend connecting with teachers, mentors, club leaders, athletic coaches and volunteer coordinators you’ve worked with, especially because they’ll be able to provide a recommendation for you to add to your profile.
Check out notable alumni from the colleges you’re interested in attending, and ask them to connect with you. They may be able to provide insight into preparations you can do now for college or give you tips on what to get involved in when you get there.
It’s important to remember that your profile represents your personal brand, so constantly update your account to remain accurate. And keep it interesting. Add new skills as you learn them, update your work history as you get new jobs and internships and complete community service projects. And be sure to add new honors and awards as you receive them.
Another way to remain active is to join LinkedIn Groups. Take this opportunity to research some groups that cultivate conversation that’s relevant to your interests and goals. Consider joining groups that will aid in your search for schools or help you learn about other activities you’re interested in pursuing.
Do Not Treat LinkedIn like Facebook
Your LinkedIn profile should be representative of your professional experience and aspirations, not about your personal life. Keep Facebook for personal use (now might be a good time to consider your Facebook privacy settings and audit your Facebook profile to ensure it aligns with how you want to be viewed) and use LinkedIn for building your professional contacts. Remember: these two tools should be kept separate. Here are some other LinkedIn etiquette guidelines to keep in mind.
When I was applying to colleges, I would have appreciated looking into what professions were coming out of my choice schools. And it would have benefited me to connect with my school’s alumni for advice about which classes to take and which professors could help me reach my goals. So despite the controversy about whether LinkedIn is an appropriate site for teenagers: used properly, younger adults will have access to information that will better prepare them for college.
And that is a good thing. All students deserve to get the “inside scoop” that’ll set them up for making more informed decisions to start their career path!
About the Author: Jessica Johnson is a recruitment consultant at WilsonHCG. What she enjoys most about recruiting is being able to speak with so many different people and give advice to candidates about how to approach their job search and what to do to be more marketable within their industry. Jessica graduated from Ramapo College of New Jersey, with a bachelor’s degree in communications. Connect with Jessica on LinkedIn and Twitter!