Depending on which publications you read, millennials are either the worst generation ever to enter the job force, or are unfairly judged and underrated. Regardless of what camp your employer is in now, their mind can always be changed—even for the worse. As a result, it is up to the young professionals to prove themselves on an individual basis, and demonstrate that youth is not synonymous with immaturity.
As our cover girl, reporter Cecilia Levine, discusses, it can often be difficult to move past initial negative reactions to youth. Consistency in quality of work and professionalism are two of the best ways to reverse a negative image or expectation—if insanity is expecting a different result from the same action, it can only be insane for someone to continuously expect you to fail when you consistently deliver!
Below are some tips from our own experiences for getting taken seriously at work when you’re the youngest on the team.
In the Meeting Room
Most offices have far too many meetings, but that doesn’t mean you can take the opportunity to zone out. Everyone else will be daydreaming, so you need to be on your game. Arrive a minute or two early to every meeting—not so early that you’re waiting there killing time, but early enough that you won’t be the last person in the room. Follow Sheryl Sandberg’s advice and sit at the table, don’t relegate yourself to the sidelines. Take notes when necessary, but write them on paper. You may actually be jotting down notes on your phone or tablet, but it might also look like you’re texting and not paying attention—it’s best to just avoid that possibility altogether.
In the meeting, make sure you speak up, but don’t try to take over or outshine anyone else. There’s a medium between being silent and always being the first to answer a question—find that medium! If you have an idea or a suggestion speak up, but be sure not to overrun or interrupt any of your coworkers. If the meeting is reoccurring, or a follow up from a previous check-in, remember what happened in previous weeks. If your boss needs to know the status of something, or can’t remember a decision, it looks great for you if you’re able to help him out.
Once the meeting is over, be sure to follow up. Promptly begin any tasks that were assigned to you, or send out a summary, if that’s part of your job. This speaks to the previous point—following up means you’ll know what’s going on for the next round of meetings.
In Your Boss’s Office
Even though the opinions of your coworkers and your boss’s peers matter a great deal, the most immediate influencer of your career is often your boss—so it’s important to treat your one-on-one interactions with the same level of professionalism with which you’d treat a company-wide meeting. When speaking with your manager, be friendly and open, but not too casual. If she asks about your weekend (or some other small-talk topic) reply with an honest but brief answer. If it was a perfunctory question, she’ll appreciate the brevity and the lack of gritty details about your social life. If she’s truly interested, she’ll ask a follow-up question. Once you’ve been around longer and your relationship is less exploratory, it’s okay to volunteer details, as long as they’re work-appropriate.
If you’re interested in staying with the company and moving up the ladder, your interactions with your superiors are crucial opportunities to display that. Have a goal in mind—for instance, what you’d like your next career step to be, or what job you’d like to be doing in five years. Consistently, but respectfully, ask how to get there. It’s important not to create the perception that you think you’re too good for your current job, but managers want to know who’s interested in sticking with the company and taking on more responsibility. Plus, managers aren’t just going to hand you a promotion—you need to demonstrate that you want it.
In Your Cube
Whether you’re in your cubicle or the break room, you’re always visible in the office. Make sure anyone popping by or stopping you in the hallway comes away with a positive impression. Dress professionally, but for the office culture (that is, don’t wear a suit if everyone’s in slacks, and don’t wear slacks in a corporate suits-only environment). Speak professionally, also. You can be more casual in speaking with co-workers, but express yourself clearly and intelligently and avoid using “young” words. And make sure your cubicle reflects your work self—it has some personality but is restrained. That means pictures are in frames and are kept to a minimum, and work space is tidy but looks lived-in. Your cubicle walls are not the place for photo collages.
Finally, think carefully about your office relationships—and I don’t mean romantic ones. It’s important to have a rapport with your coworkers, but having office BFFs or engaging in office politics can be damaging to your career. Try to find a balance where you can be trusted and respected by all groups. And it should go without saying, but unfortunately can’t—you never want to be the office partier.
It sounds like a lot to keep in mind—and it is, at first. Particularly in your first job, it can be difficult to find the line between personable and professional, and demonstrate to your coworkers that you’re ready to handle the challenges of the job. But laying a foundation of professional conduct and slam-dunking assignments can quickly gain you supporters—no matter how big the age gap in the office.
What are some of your tips or experiences on being the young one in the office?