“So how old are you?” is the dreaded question at the watercooler or the goodbye celebration in the break room. Having to reveal your age is often followed by shocked faces and a collective murmur of, “That makes me feel old!” As interesting as a conversation about the dates all of your co-workers graduated high school is, the embarassement or discomfort that comes from the big age reveal is never worth it. We won’t be able to escape all of these awkward moments until we are older, but here are a few ways to gain respect from people at work who won’t take you seriously because you are young.
1. Dress to Impress
You’ve heard the phrase, “Dress for the job you want.” Well you’ve got the job, now dress for the age you want. As a young person, the perception you give to others is improved drastically by adding professionalism to your wardrobe. Look at how the more established people in your workplace dress and take some notes. There are small changes you can make to give off a more mature vibe. For women, a tighter updo with your hair, a mid-high heel or a subtle lipstick shade make for hints of maturity. For men, it might be a well groomed facial hair, appropriately fitted dress shirts or a watch. And here’s the truth, you don’t have to trade style for a professional appearance. You can look older while still being yourself!
2. Practice your verbiage
It is intimidating to step in to a new world of professionals who have been doing your job longer than you have. Fear, nervousness or even just lack of experience can make it hard to communicate confidently at work. One way to hack this problem is practising what you will say before that meeting or phone call. As a young person, likely being new to the field, what you do on a daily basis might not be second nature to you just yet. Mapping out important conversations in your mind can be helpful in remembering what you already know, but might easily forget. Jot down bullet points on a sticky note. Practice your word choice out loud as you drive to work in the car. You will be better prepared to communicate in a clear and precise way, which is indicative of a respectable professional.
3. Fake it ’till you make it
In order to be taken seriously, you need to take yourself seriously. Confidence goes a long way in the working world. There were many times at my first real job that I had to correct or advise another professional who was much more established than I am. I realized that many times all it takes for others to believe you are qualified, is for you to believe you are qualified. I found that if I had confidence in myself first, the quality of my work improved. I also found that if I gave off a confident vibe to my co-workers and other professionals they were less likely to ask about my age or mention it at all. From my experience, confidence makes you look like you’ve got all the answers.
4. Ask questions
Contrary to what I just wrote, you actually don’t have all the answers. A big part of maturity and healthy professionalism is being willing to ask questions. The people at work who are meant to support you will likely know that you are a fresh face in the working world. If they hired you, then they want to help you grow as a professional. Asking questions and showing interest in being a quality employee is not only a sign of maturity, but an opportunity for you to gain great insight and show people that you want to move forward. A good thing to note in this section, is to ask the right questions at the right time. Find a moment that your boss is not swamped to chat and make sure to stay informed by looking in any manuals or handbooks for your questions before you ask so you don’t waste their time.
5. Watch the time
One tactic that is very much in your control is how you manage your time at work. When you have to work a little harder to gain respect, it doesn’t hurt to turn in your reports a day in advance. Show up, ready and prepared a few minutes early to a meeting. Stay on top of returning emails and phone calls. These are subtle efforts you can make daily to boost your reputation among bosses and colleagues.
6. Use youth to your advantage
Whether others see it you or not, your age can be an asset to you. Being new to the field is both an opportunity to learn their ways and a chance to bring fresh ideas. Some people will seek out your perspective since it is likely that you have been in school more recently than all of your colleagues. Once you build rapport with colleagues you can offer your insights as a fresh and young perspective. A good company needs to evolve with the times. The best new ideas come from people who have the courage to question the old ways. If this is done tactfully and respectfully to your fellow workers, people will quickly forget any previous doubt in you due to your age.
Being a young professional is both exciting and challenging. It is a wonderful time of growth as a young adult and as a professional. It is hard to muddle through the embarrassment or doubt that people may throw your way when they find out just how young you really are. But take heart! Though we are young now – one day we will be running the companies!
Featured photo credit: Julien Belli via flickr.com