It is a much more competitive environment out there.
At what age should young people start crafting professional online profiles? Eighteen? Fifteen?
Even younger, says LinkedIn. The professional social media network recently decided to allow kids as young as 13 to create profiles on its career-minded networking site.
In what could be seen as yet another sign of the job crunch felt around the world, the lowered age requirement means that even kids are being encouraged to put their best career face forward, as early as possible.
“It is a much more competitive environment out there,” said Erin Bartley, careers adviser at Skills Development Scotland, a public programme for career development based in Glasgow.
Aside from LinkedIn, there are a number of new ways teenagers can start preparing for their careers — even if they’re unsure what, exactly, they want to do when they grow up. Career and college advisers say it’s a matter of online networking, hands-on experience and building life skills now. Here’s what the teenage set should be doing to prepare for their future careers:
Build a network online
Use LinkedIn to craft a profile, update your experience and obtain recommendations from employers and teachers. You can also use the site to research careers, industries and companies via company pages and groups dedicated to various sectors.
Twitter is also a good place to find and connect with leaders in specific industries. “Social media can give pupils that extra something that leads to a place at college, university, employment or training,” said Bartley.
It’s critical to exercise extreme caution in online interactions, however, as people can easily misrepresent themselves — and too much sharing could come back to haunt you when you are ready to launch a career.
Don’t forget in-person networks
Old-fashioned, in-person networking often is overlooked, especially among tech-savvy millennials. That’s a mistake.
“Real-life approaches are always ideal and often underutilised — by adults, too,” said Alysa Turkowitz-Lewis, career adviser and professional expert based in the New York City area.
She recommends first reaching out to your immediate circle, including teachers, family members, friends and the family of friends, to inquire about their jobs. This is a good way to see what piques your interest. People you are personally connected to are often eager to help, whether that means taking time to chat about their company or identifying a hands-on opportunity to become involved or get real work experience.
Look within your community for opportunities to try out careers, meet potential mentors and gain professional experience.
“Approaching local businesses is a good way for pupils to start networking,” Bartley said.
Reach out to business owners and ask about their career, shadow them for a day and, perhaps, inquire about ways to get more exposure to the work, whether a paid job or volunteer position.
“Sometimes companies are reluctant to take on volunteers at the high-school level,” said Turkowitz-Lewis. “Try first with smaller organisations.”
Be proactive about exploring the real-work exposure opportunities available within your school. Some schools have programmes that help arrange internships, but even schools without established programmes might be open to arranging similar experiences or to inviting professionals to campus for an industry-focussed chat.
Work or volunteer
Every tip-top chief executive officer has a tale of summers spent scooping ice cream or working as a camp counsellor. All work experience can be beneficial. Even if a gig falls outside your realm of professional interest, there are lessons and skills to be acquired.
Nervous about presenting seemingly-unrelated experience later on? Adviser Vicky Coleman at National Careers Service, a UK professional resource organisation, recommends honing in what you learned and achieved — not the actual tasks you completed at the ice cream store. Did you increase sales at the scoop shop? Reorganise receipt-collections for more efficiency? These things are often more telling than details about your specific responsibilities, she said.
“Explaining skills learned through real life experiences can really help a young person to stand out from the competition (for universities and jobs),” Coleman said.
While job opportunities might not be open to high school students, volunteering is another way in to try out a professional field. Inquire even if a job or volunteer opportunity isn’t announced publicly.
“Many organisations will try to find opportunities for students when they show initiative, connect professionally and show enthusiasm and interest in their organisation,” said Deb Little, a career leadership and student success coach based in lower mainland of Vancouver, BC.
Explore, then focus
The secondary school years should be a time for academic exploration. Find a group, activity or field you like — and then stick with it. If it is the business club at school, for example, attend regularly and try to secure a leadership position.
“Thinking and planning long-term, even if you change your mind many times, is the best preparation for finding the right college and, ultimately, the right job,” said Allison Farber Cheston, a career adviser to executives and young adults based in New York City.
Now is also the time to develop successful habits and personal skills, such as leadership and communication, advisers say. That’s one reason aiming for a leadership position and sticking to activities is important.
Join industry or interest groups
Professional meet-ups aren’t just for the suit-and-briefcase set.
Most professional associations, including journalism and medicine, offer student memberships and are welcoming to teens. Attending just a meeting or two could provide valuable insights into a particular field. These gatherings also double as a way to build contacts when you finally zero in on an industry of interest.
There are a number of creative outlets and platforms at your fingertips these days — and they can serve as more than just a way to express yourself. Many advisers encourage students to start and maintain blogs or websites that can showcase their writing and critical thinking skills, as well as perhaps web development abilities.
Blogs can be powerful, positive tools for developing communication and technical skills, as well as networking. “Blogging is a great way to deepen an interest and gain credibility in a field,” Farber Cheston said. “It also provides a platform to reach out to people in the field for interviews — a great way to make contacts.”
A blog can be used as a research platform as well as a place to develop ideas. Take cues from industry leaders on topics to cover and write about their takes on certain topics. Reach out to professionals you admire to request interviews. Blogging can also can be a productive way to get feedback about your creative work.
Be mindful about what you post, of course. Expect that anyone, at any time, could see what is published.