Sonya Sorich: Can high schoolers and 30-somethings peacefully coexist on LinkedIn?

ssorich@ledger-enquirer.comAugust 20, 2013 

Hide the alcohol. A bunch of teenagers are ready to crash your favorite networking party.

The folks at LinkedIn announced Monday that effective Sept. 12, students 13 and older will be allowed to join the social network for professionals. LinkedIn, commonly used for networking and job-hunting, previously had an age-18 minimum, according to Forbes. New age requirements vary by country -- in the U.S., it's now 14.

So there's an even greater chance a teenager will steal your job.

I'm only half serious. The new minimum age requirement coincides with the announcement of University Pages, which the folks at LinkedIn believe "will be especially valuable for students making their first, big decision about where to attend college."

Still, I can't help wondering if LinkedIn's recent acceptance of high schoolers is a game-changer for the digital world, and possibly the real world as well.

LinkedIn's announcement comes about a week after Mashable featured an op-ed with this headline: "I'm 13 and none of my friends use Facebook." The 13-year-old contributor writes, "In the end, Facebook has been trying too hard. Teens hate it when people try too hard; it pushes them away."

With its straightforward design, could LinkedIn become teens' new Facebook? Maybe. LinkedIn is implementing special measures for members under 18, including this precaution: "LinkedIn members who are minors will have different default settings to limit publicly viewable profile information and unwanted communications."

Amid a shaky economy and an evolving job market, teenagers' presence on LinkedIn might add more uncertainty to already dubious hiring processes.

Arguably, it's never been easier for job seekers to directly show their work to recruiters and powerful executives. That's due largely to LinkedIn. Some sources say the traditional resume is becoming obsolete, replaced by hiring managers' perusal of a candidate's digital profile that includes tweets, an online portfolio and more.

With that sometimes comes slight resentment from employees who secured their jobs in a more traditional manner. Does a series of particularly insightful social media updates really ensure professionalism? Teenagers' entry into the LinkedIn world might feed into those concerns -- or at least ignite a fear that your boss is already conversing with your younger, more marketable, less expensive replacement.

Does that sound paranoid? Probably.

Rather than viewing LinkedIn's younger users as a threat to job security, perhaps it's better to embrace the site's new minimum age as an opportunity for mentorship. Knowing how to use social media is one thing -- knowing how to use it responsibly is another.

Sonya Sorich, reporter, can be reached at ssorich@ledger-enquirer.com or 706-571-8516. Visit ledger-enquirer.com/sonya to read her columns.

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