Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Being Taken Seriously As A Young Professional

I am well aware that most people make assumptions on you based on how you look. But I can’t tell you how frustrating it is in work situations for people to assume that because you are young (and look younger in my case) that you are somehow brain deficient. I feel that being a younger member of the workforce makes me have to exert more effort to prove my value to my older colleagues. In my experience, people don't necessarily think that having fresher ideas and a different perspective make you an asset to the team. Yes, I graduated from college less than 5 (4,3...) years ago. Yes, I was an infant, toddler, preschooler in the mid-eighties. Yes, I regularly check my Facebook profile and can send a text message faster than some people can utter a sentence. Yes, I've had my own cell phone since high school. No, I don't really remember a time without cable television. But I am also well-read, have a curious nature and am a hard worker.

I will never forget in one instance at my previous job when I was at a meeting with our client and other staff members that one person asked me if I was an intern and another just out-right asked me how old I was. I know that I would not have been asked either question if I were older, or looked older. It does not help that I am also short so just about everyone tends to tower over me. It didn’t matter to the people that asked me these (rude in my opinion) questions that I had a suit on like my other co-workers or that regardless of whether or not I was working as a regular employee or an intern, that I was indeed still working. Since I don’t anticipate growing any taller at age 24 or looking older anytime soon, I just have to deal with it, but it’s still frustrating to experience.

I appreciate that in my current job my superiors respect and welcome my ideas and opinions despite my youth. But I still run into questions about my age when I meet new colleagues such as when I attended a conference for work last week. I got asked several times during that conference if I was a student…Oh well, I guess I could have worst problems than looking young for my age.

A few things I try to do in the work place to not be treated like a professional despite my age are:

  1. Dress in a professional (yet fashionable manner).
  2. Contribute ideas and comments while in meetings.
  3. Try to do tasks before being asked.
  4. Remain friendly (and professional) at all times.

Everyone is a work in progress and these are things I still need to work on:

  1. Being more assertive.
  2. Gaining more credentials (taking courses and workshops in my field, obtaining a graduate degree).
  3. Being more proactive and gain a reputation as a problem solver at work.
The older I get, the more I learn about myself, the world and my place in it. I hope this will improve as I mature. I'm sure this will continue to make me more valuable to my current employer.

Has anyone else ever faced difficulties with youth bias as a young professional? Does anyone else have any tips on how to make yourself more of an asset at your job despite being early in your career?


Money Maus said...

As you know, I'm 4'10" without heels (aout 5'1" in heels since I wear 3" a lot!) - I only started working mid-June, but I get "you're so small!" all the time so far. Haven't had any large meetings yet, but I am sure I will probably just start getting similar comments like you did. My job mostly entails Excel, databases & phone calls - back office work. I am also trying my hardest to be taken seriously, but the company I work for is very prestigious so I feel like I am valued there... Good luck to you! :)

LAVA said...

I am considered short (5"3) and I don't like heels or makeup and I have a very youthful face.

A lot of people underestimate me because they think I am young and I get carded EVERYWHERE all the time....Walmart,clubs...it goes on and on.

I am also soft spoken so people usually think they can run over me..but I do have a sharp mind and they are surprised when I present my work.

Just keep on working hard and let your work speak for itself....let your face be the soft glove that packs the punch.