Landing a new gig always marks a pivotal time in your career. Your smarts, personality, and work ethic got you here, and the unique perspective you bring as a young professional is an asset — until it’s not.
As a recent college grad starting out in my career, I was bubbling with new ideas. My coworkers welcomed me, but some didn’t always welcome my suggestions. When I spoke up in meetings, my ideas were regularly dismissed as “not possible,” “too ambitious,” or “not something we’ve done before.” Valid feedback, sure, and my older coworkers meant well. They were, after all, speaking from experience. Still, I felt tuned out and frustrated. What if my ideas, and the ideas and feedback of countless other young professionals, were respected and considered, despite our age? Or better yet, because of it?
If you’re the youngest person at your workplace right now, it is totally possible for you to answer this question with a resounding YES. Here’s some advice on navigating the workplace when you’re young, ambitious, and want to be heard.
Owning who you are, including the date on your driver’s license, is key to channeling confidence. At the same time, it’s important to recognize your older coworkers’ perspectives. View such perspectives as information, not emotional catalysts — don’t take it personally. Understanding the situation from all angles and with an objective focus will make it easier to address it head-on.
Turn it around
While being regularly tuned out in meetings and dismissed as too young or inexperienced by older coworkers is discouraging, you can turn the situation around. Here’s the flipside: Mentorship. “When you’re the youngest person in the office, you have the opportunity to seek out guidance from older colleagues,” said Elizabeth, an attorney. “These colleagues value growth and adaptability, and chances are they see your potential.” They have the experience, and maybe even the job title, you want someday. Seek them out when working on a project or preparing for a presentation, and bounce your ideas off them. It never hurts to refine your ideas, and who knows? As you build rapport, you may find you have an ally in the next meeting who will speak up on behalf of your ideas.
Spend time preparing for meetings by jotting down ideas and supportive data, and even thinking of potential arguments against them and how you’ll respond. Objections may stem from incomplete understanding, so do your homework and be prepared for any naysaying.
Persistence is key. “Don’t let not being heard keep you from continuing to speak up,” said Abby, who works in project management. Your supervisors will notice your effort, even if your contributions end up on the cutting room floor. Remember, too, that there’s no such thing as a bad idea. Reflect on the objections you heard and learn from them, so you’re ready for the next meeting.
Lean into what makes you truly happy in your career. Your passion will be what motivates you through these challenging situations. It will remind you that all your persistence and professionalism will pay off, and maybe someday, when the roles are reversed, you’ll have the opportunity to share these experiences with another young professional.
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