LinkedIn made two announcements Monday that mark a shift away from its approach of only going after working professionals - now it wants to add teens in the mix. It will lower its minimum user age next month to 14 in the U.S. and has already started launching college pages to prompt engagement with prospective students.
But even if your plan is to major in business and launch a Fortune 500 company after you graduate, take some time to learn the ins and outs of LinkedIn before you connect with Richard Branson or Marissa Mayer.
DON'T spam people you don't know with requests to connect.
LinkedIn's beauty is in its simplicity: Find people you've worked with, connect with them and then ask them for an introduction when you're looking for a job or business contact. But people don't want to see their inbox crowded with names and faces they don't recognize, asking to connect. If you must get in touch with someone you've never met in real life, or haven't at least talked to on the phone, send an explanation of why you want to connect and what you hope the relationship will bring for both of you.
DO follow up on in-person meetings with a LinkedIn request.
It's not always expected that college students have a LinkedIn profile, and it will probably be more of a surprise if someone in high school has one. If you meet important professionals at a school banquet, through your parents or at a summer job, shock them (in a good way) by sending a request to connect afterward. It will show them you're already ambitious enough to be thinking about your career and that you valued meeting them.
This goes without saying, but LinkedIn isn't Facebook or Twitter, where people say whatever they think will make them sound "cool." People expect you to be honest about your accomplishments, age and work history (whether it's at a lemonade stand or the local Taco Bell). Even a small lie can come back to haunt you as you're looking for a job years later.
DO list your achievements (even the small ones).
It's unlikely high schoolers will measure up to college upperclassmen or recent graduates in terms of work experience, and that's OK. People aren't expecting you to have three internships during high school, so instead keep track of all the awards you earn and throw them on your LinkedIn profile. Everything from Student of the Month to Top Great Gatsby Analysis in English class will show you're already thinking about how to market yourself. And remember, re-read and edit your profile! Nothing will ruin your English class award faster than listing it as an "English class awrad."
Again, what's appropriate for Facebook isn't always (or even most of the time) OK to put on LinkedIn. Pictures from your student government retreat? Maybe. Pictures from the homecoming dance? Absolutely not. Only your friends want to see those, and people you'll be connected with on LinkedIn have their own friends - to them, you're a professional contact.
DO tell people about yourself.
LinkedIn said in its announcement Monday that it will default teens' profiles to a setting that gives more privacy than it does for regular users, but there's still an opportunity to brand yourself as a professional while still in high school. Have a clear, professional-looking headshot as your profile picture (it will only be seen by people you connect with, but it should make you easily recognizable to them). In your summary section, write about what you're doing in life and where you want to be after graduation.
Sean McMinn, USA TODAY