6 Ways to Kick Your “Too-Young” Image at Work

One of the biggest mistakes I made in the early part of my career was when my boss mentioned the year he graduated from high school.

“That’s the year I was born!” I responded.

The expression on his face should have been a clue to me that I had just made the man feel older than dirt. Never a good feeling to engender in your boss.

When you start your career, you cannot help it that you’re young. But some will use your age against you to hold you back, claiming you’re too inexperienced to work on an important project or get a promotion. That’s when you need to remember that you may be sending the wrong message to others about your capabilities.

Since people often judge you within seconds of seeing you, here are some ways to “mature” your image and help you be taken more seriously on the job.

If you don’t want to be seen as a kid at work, then consider these steps:

1. Ensure all clothes are unwrinkled.

Looking like you just emerged from the bottom of the laundry basket screams “My mom hasn’t bought me an iron yet” or “I picked this up off the floor to wear because I was told I couldn’t wear my pajamas to work.”

2. Forget wild nail color.

It’s fun to paint each of your nails a different color or go for the screaming neon orange, but not for work. Male or female, keep your nails short enough you won’t risk impaling a co-worker and stick to the sedate colors your Aunt Minnie would be comfortable sporting.

3. Take a break from the smartphone.

While it’s cool that younger workers are so proficient technologically and can take on new apps with a snap, it’s not so cool when someone asks you  “how’s the weather outside?” and you immediately consult weather.com on your iPhone. Being unable to make small talk is critical to success in the workplace, such as conversing about the weather. “It’s really cold,” is a perfectly fine answer. You don’t need to provide the latest weather update from a NASA satellite.

4. Don’t refer too often to mom/dad/nana.

“You sound just like my dad!” or “My mom has a sweater just like that!” or “Nana likes that kind of music!” is never flattering to colleagues or bosses who now feel as old as Betty White and about as cool as a senior citizen at a rave party. Such references just point out differences in experiences and age, and that can make you seem even younger.

5. Don’t always work alone.

A University of Phoenix survey finds that 36% of workers age 18-24 that know teams are important but would still rather work alone all the time. While workers of all age groups admit they’re not keen on teamwork, they understand that such relationships are required to get work done and form key workplace contacts. Don’t always huddle in the corner with your laptop and earphones attached while you ignore everyone or they’ll next expect you to stomp off to your bedroom and slam the door.

6. Learn something before 2002.

I’m not saying you have to care about “Saturday Night Fever” or Depeche Mode or who killed J.R. on “Dallas,” but you should show some awareness of popular culture beyond the last 10 years. You might be surprised how much you grow in your boss’s eyes if you know who Sam Malone is or know the 90’s boy bands that are going on a reunion tour. It’s important for your career to establish rapport beyond weekly meetings, so look for some common ground that your colleagues may enjoy discussing.

 

Finally, don’t rise to the bait if a colleague starts questioning whether you’re old enough to vote or comments on your baby face. Just keep a good sense of humor about the situation, and you’ll earn the respect of your colleagues. Keep in mind that the best thing for moving from “kid” status to qualified colleague is walking and talking with confidence and demonstrating valuable skills. That’s the best equalizer in the workplace.

What other tips can young workers use to be taken more seriously at work?

Know someone who could benefit from the opposite article? Share this blog with them, carefully: How Not to Look OLD at Work

 

Anita Bruzzese

Anita Bruzzese is a syndicated columnist for Gannett/USA Today on workplace issues and the author of “45 Things You Do That Drive Your Boss Crazy.” She has been on the Today show, and quoted in publications such as O, The Oprah Magazine, Glamour, Self.com and BusinessWeek.com. Her website, 45things.com, is listed on the Forbes top 100 websites for women.

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  • http://twitter.com/RobiRiot Robert Rosales

    I found the best way to fight the “Too Young” image at the workplace is by producing remarkable work. With that said, I’m painfully guilty of number 3! Great post Anita.

    [Reply]

    AnitaBruzzese Reply:

    Robert,
    Great work speaks volumes for your capabilities, so you’re right about that!

    [Reply]

  • http://twitter.com/MrKalebBlake GUY IN GRΞY

    Great article for us 20-somethings new to the corporate world, although I’m not sure how to conquer Rule 1 when my shirts wrinkle at the inner-elbow (accordion style) immediately after I prepared tie. Learned the hard way this morning to never try steaming the creases while my shirt is on…

    [Reply]

  • http://twitter.com/AnitaBruzzese AnitaBruzzese

    Guy,
    It may make you feel better that there was a professional baseball player who had to miss a game because tried to iron his shirt — while he was wearing it. Don’t fret so much about the elbow wrinkling…looking a little mussed shows you’re working hard!

    [Reply]

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  • Conquest

    What about those of us who follow the list and then some, yet still get made out to be the baby of the office? I’m 26 and I work with people who are 19, but somehow look older than I do. I have been asked if I was the daughter of one of the managers. When I attempt to greet new clients, they seemingly humor me until someone else makes eye contact. I am the supervisor in my department. Employees ask me how old I am all the time. When I answer, they act amazed. I actually had a doctor at an interview for a receptionist position ask me if there was anyway I could look older.

    [Reply]