7 Ways to Be the Youngest Person at Work

Written by Melissa Anzman

Genius comes in every age – and I’m guessing that you are one of the smart ones at work. Being one of the smartest employees in the room, and also one of the youngest, can be a frustrating conundrum. You know you have value to add in the conversation, you are qualified to take on a challenge, but your perceived age is stopping others from taking you seriously.

That stops now.

Push Past Your Age and Be Taken Seriously at Work

1. Do your job really, really well.

This probably goes without saying, but unless you are delivering what they are asking at a very high level, nothing you do will change their perception about needing “more time in the job” or maturing. Deliver consistently, exceed expectations at every opportunity you get, and be reliable.

2. Stop telling people how old/young you are.

This is good advice for everyone, but there is a reason that age is a protected class. No one except for HR (and maybe your direct manager), should know how old you are. So stop going around and telling people that you’re only {enter a number in your 20s}.

If you don’t bring your age up, it’s a non-conversation. So while your accomplishments are amazing for your age, toot that horn outside of work with your friends and family… not to your coworkers.

3. Step away from any and all conversations about age.

I am always surprised when the question comes up during a meeting, but when there is one person in the room who looks young, someone always wants to figure out just how young that person is. If you are asked directly, “How old are you?” do not answer. For the love of Nancy.

Hedge around the question by changing the topic or making a self-deprecating remark such as, “I know Bob, I look young, but really, we’re both here to do a job. Come on buddy!” Regardless of the situation or fear of being “rude,” just don’t answer it. Once you respond, it will get around and you will find you will not be able to outrun your age from anyone!

4. Pop-culture references.

Lack of pop-culture knowledge is what usually “outs” people as being young. And it is also the thing that makes your older peers feel ridiculously old. What am I talking about? For example, when someone throws out a Def Leopard reference, or refers back to Spaceballs… you respond with a “what is that?” comment.

Please, don’t do that anymore. It’s extremely upsetting for the person on the other side of that question. Trust me – this is the number one “annoyance” that has been pointed out to me by managers, as being a “target” for immaturity. It’s not right, but it’s how it is.

Instead, either brush up on some 1980s and 1990s pop-culture trivia or simply be a part of the conversation instead of asking for clarification. Some resources to help you gain this knowledge: watch a lot of Pop-Up Video, Google pop culture trivia and start learning, or watch a ton of “cult classic” movies from the 1980s and 1990s.

5. Your outward appearance should match your peers’.

Appearance is everything, so make sure that your outside presentation matches that of your peers’. I’m not saying don’t be trendy, cute or styled; but instead, make sure that you are dressing the part. For example, if your female peers do not wear jeans to work – guess what, you shouldn’t either. Even if you style it amazing. If your male peers are not wearing sandals, you can’t either. See the difference?

You don’t have to be dull or blend in with your appearance, but you do need to keep the same standards that they have. Thus, eliminating the appropriateness conversation and instead shifting the discussion to one of style.

6. Be confident when you contribute, but speak up wisely.

You should absolutely contribute and speak up during group meetings and discussions. But remember that every time that you do, people will be listening – so do so wisely.

A common complaint about Gen Y’ers (hello – big generalization coming), is that they “think they know it all.” Totally NOT the case, but to help differentiate yourself from this stereotype, when you do speak-up, try and do it with care, finesse and value-add. Stand firm in your delivery, but also be engaging and inclusive with your remarks.

Make your contribution feel as though it’s from the whole team.

7. Stop referring to, “in school we did…”

Bad news here people, but school is nothing like the real working world. You have probably figured that out by now. So stop referring to all of the fabulous things that you did in school that you expect to work or resonate at work.

First, it makes your colleagues feel old – I mean, if you are still referring to school, you are giving away your age. Second, it negates all of the lessons you have learned and applied in the “real world.”

These references can creep up and maybe even deliver a good idea or two from time to time. Don’t stop using these learnings, but start positioning them differently. Present the idea without the introduction – and you’ll be awesome.

 

We’d love to hear from you below in the comments: What have you done that has helped you stand out at work, without your age being an issue?


melissa anzman

About Melissa

Melissa Anzman is the creator of Launch Your Job where she equips ambitious leaders with practical ways to grow their career. She is the author of two books: How to Land a Job and Stop Hating Your Job, and the host of the Launch Yourself Podcast. Follow her @MelissaAnzman.

  • http://twitter.com/joannamuses joanna

    Another way to not let age be an issue, is to be willing to make small talk about life stages you’re not up to yet. I don’t have kids (and probably won’t for a long time) but try to engage in the conversations on such things that happen around the office.

    • melissalywc

      Hi @twitter-18622950:disqus – Engaging in conversation is absolutely helpful! I tend to try and shy away from “kids” conversations (especially because I don’t have them either and can’t always relate), but I do think investing in the person you are connecting with is always a plus – and shows your maturity!

  • Jim Blake

    Great post Melissa,

    The age issue is a big one and its corrosive effect is felt at every age. Young people get hammered until they can be hammered by how old they are. The age issue, in one form another will always be with you. Your tips on how a young person can fight back apply equally well to an “old” person. It’s all relative. In some walks of life a 30 year old is waay over the hill, in other realms a 30 year old is too green for consideration. For an inspiring ( and extreme) case of a person not letting age get in their way, read a bio of Napoleon. He hit the ground running, kicking ass all the way up the ladder.

    • melissalywc

      Hi @14b3565dce00d3bb710a4fe90f6c430f:disqus – Great perspective (as always)… and it’s sad that age is a constant “barrier” at work, but it definitely is on each end of the spectrum and in between. Great example… never thought of Napoleon in that light. Food for thought. ;)

  • Pingback: Defying Age at Work | Life After College | Loosen Your White Collar()

  • shannon

    Hmm..I can’t say that I agree with “4. Pop culture references.” As the youngest person in my office, I almost never understand the movies or music references my superiors discuss (or try to) discuss with me. However it has lead to a great deal of bonding as they often recommend movies, music, and tv shows to me (and I do the same for them). It has lead to close relationships and open conversations with my managers, and it wouldn’t have occurred if I had not responded with a honest “What is that” comment.

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