Welcome to Dear GovLoop, an occasional column where members of the GovLoop staff take your burning questions and give you advice on how to figure out answers to thorny questions and situations. We’ll be doling out advice on everything from how to advance in your government career to how to ease into telework to how to get along with a difficult coworker. Got a question you want us to answer? Shoot a note to [email protected] with your name, question, and any relevant information. All questions will be kept anonymous!
In today’s column, we’re answering this question: How do I get taken seriously at work even though I’m the youngest?
Dear GovLoop: I just started my first full-time job after college, and for the most part I really like it. My coworkers are friendly, and I’m already starting to find my place among them. But there’s one problem: I’m significantly younger than everyone else at work. Obviously, they have more experience than I do, but I know I bring something special to the table. How do I get taken seriously when I’m the youngest person in the office? – Young But Powerful
Dear Young But Powerful: I totally feel you. Being the youngest person in any environment, but especially in a professional setting, usually comes with its own challenges. First of all, you have to keep in mind that you got that job for a reason. You’re working with people who all have significantly more experience, yes, but that just means that the hiring manager saw you as being on par with the rest of the team. So own that bout of confidence.
Now, the next thing to keep in mind is why you’re there. Were you assigned a specific project from the get-go? Are you working with various partners to get the project done? Whatever your main objective is, remember that you have a specific skill set related to that goal. That skill set is what makes you special and what makes you an important part of your office.
Own it. Recognizing your own talents and know-how is important for everyone, especially millennials. There can sometimes be a disparity between older and younger generations, and the more senior members of an office may tend to have a perception of their younger colleagues as being lazy or unmotivated. But only you yourself know your true value and own personal work ethic, and making that clear to your coworkers is a great way to get them to start taking you seriously. So have confidence, work hard, stay late or come in early. Respect is earned, and by putting in 110%, you can show your coworkers just how much you deserve theirs.
Talk about yourself. Here’s something your mom probably didn’t tell you: It’s OK to brag. Seriously. You probably know that you should bring up your strengths in an interview and definitely on your resume, but it’s also OK to do the same at work. If you just wrote a killer report, bring it up. If you’re more tech savvy than your senior peers, offer to help them with a computer problem they may have. Brag about yourself and your skills —in a non-annoying way, please — and your coworkers will start picking up on the fact that you’re not just some 20-something slacker.
Engage with your coworkers. I know, I know. Everyone in your office is a parent, or grandparent, or hosts fancy dinner parties. It may seem like you have nothing in common with them. But guess what? You work at the same office, with the same people. You live in or around the same city, with the same traffic and the same weather. You have the same lunch breaks, the same boss and the same hours spent at the office. Odds are you can find something to talk about. Once you start to make connections at work, you will not only feel more serious about what you do, but your peers will think the same. They’ll see you putting in extra effort, and they won’t be able to just write you off as another young brat. So ask about their daughter’s piano recital or how they hate their commute – whatever it is, just reach out some. A little bit of effort goes a long way and will show your coworkers that you care and are in this job for the long run.
Be professional. This should really go without saying, but it’s an important aspect of getting taken seriously at the workplace. Dress to impress, while also maintaining a sense of self. Don’t take too many personal phone calls at your desk, don’t be on Facebook every other minute, and please, please, please do not talk about how hammered you got last night. Read the room and try to pick up on how your coworkers act around the office. It may be a more casual vibe, but you still need to be careful on mixing your personal business with your professional life. Preserving a polished and efficient presence at work will go far in exhibiting to your peers just how awesome you are and completely deserving of their respect.
So take your time. This is a new job, and you’re young! But don’t lose faith in yourself. I promise, in no time your coworkers will start to forget how young you actually are. Have confidence in your knowledge, don’t be shy and maintain a professional attitude. Most of all, though, take your job seriously! When people around your office start to see how hard your work, there is no way that they won’t respect you and take you seriously.