With the exception of child prodigies and spelling-bee champions, most professionals leave youthful accomplishments off their resumes. But LinkedIn’s decision to allow teenagers as young as 14 to create profiles on the site suggests that the online resume of the future may one day cover careers going all the way back to preschool (Crayons and paper cutting are already listed as skills on the site).
“Smart, ambitious students are already thinking about their futures when they step foot into high school,” wrote Eric Heath, director of legal, global privacy and public policy at LinkedIn. Some 200 colleges have begun using the new “University Pages” on the site, where high-school students can learn more about faculty and alumni, and thousands more schools are expected to join over the next few weeks. LinkedIn members under 18 will have different default settings to limit publicly available information. Their birth year will be hidden, their profile photo will only be view-able to people they are connected to, and their public profile will not appear in search engines like Google.
Some marketing experts wonder where it will all end. Larissa Faw, editor at trade publication Youth Markets Alert, says LinkedIn for kids could be a cultural milestone for social networking — albeit an absurd one: “I can see kids in first grade asking each other, ‘How many LinkedIn connections do you have? Is it enough to get me into second grade?’ and writing on their LinkedIn profiles, “I’m really good at putting together my blocks and coloring within the lines.”
Teenagers are already avid users of social media, but experts say they don’t always use it wisely. Some 90% of 13- to 17-year-olds have used some form of social media, according to a study (Social Media, Social Life, How Teens View Their Digital Lives) by Common Sense Media, a San Francisco-based nonprofit advocacy group. But the stakes are higher for minors venturing into the predominantly adult world of LinkedIn, says Colby Zintl, vice president at Common Sense Media. “This is definitely not Chat Roulette,” she says. “This is a professional site, and their reputation has to be curated in a way that benefits them. Kids often self-reveal before they self-reflect. Kids on LinkedIn is a risky proposition.”
Some psychologists also question the wisdom of letting minors join a site with 238 million adult members. “At 14 or 15, this has more to do with parents than kids,” says Kit Yarrow, a professor of psychology and marketing at Golden Gate University in San Francisco and co-author of “Gen Buy: How Teens, Tweens and Twenty-Somethings Are Revolutionizing Retail.” Parents should encourage their 14-year-old kids to have fun and live a carefree childhood, she says, “not use their kid’s success to bolster their own flagging egos.”
Of course, that is not the only reason a parent might decide to let their child join LinkedIn. As LinkedIn spokeswoman Julie Inouye points out, some high school juniors think about their careers and will now be able to make more informed decisions about where to go to college. Dan Schawbel, author of “Promote Yourself: The New Rules For Career Success” and founder of marketing consultancy Millennial Branding, adds that high-school students are starting to focus on their careers early, to gather the recommendations and skills they’ll need when applying for college admission and internships. “It sets them up for future success,” he says.
Unlike on sites such as Facebook, kids on LinkedIn will presumably be more eager to connect with adults. Grown-ups may not want to be pestered by thousands of inquisitive teenagers, though, particularly when they are busy networking themselves, says Faw. “I don’t think I would want to be spammed by dreamy teens who think reporting is simply interviewing Justin Bieber,” she says. Of course, LinkedIn isn’t the first to want to target the teen demographic with an estimated spending power of around $200 billion. Rocket21.com, a startup educational and career advice site for both tweens and teens, has adult professionals serve as mentors to members, answering questions and providing career guidance.
By Quentin Fottrell