If you’ve ever been told that you have a “baby face,” you know how it feels to not be taken seriously, especially at a corporate job— but there are ways to make it work. With all the flexibility you have in life early in your career, being the young person at the office can be a source of power, not a burden. It just takes some strategy.
Make sure your job has meaning for you
Passion is powerful, so make sure your job is feeding your urge to grow and change the world. The bonus: you’re much more likely to rise faster and get more power if you are spending your time on something you actually care about.
The executive summary of the Deloitte Millennial Survey 2017 pointed to the fact that many young people want their work to make a difference.
“Millennials feel accountable for many issues in both the workplace and the wider world. However, it is primarily in and via the workplace that they feel most able to make an impact. Opportunities to be involved with “good causes” at the local level, many of which are enabled by employers, provide millennials with a greater feeling of influence,” the summary said.
When you have less seniority, you can be easily dismissed. Make that impossible by speaking up, visibly learning and sharing your ideas. The key: choose the right time and place. Instead of pretending you’re an insta-expert, ask good questions and volunteer for assignments. Your bosses will be intrigued by your confidence, and you’ll pick up skills more quickly.
If you can find some little niche that no one else has, you have the chance to be what’s called an “intrapraneur”: someone who creates something within a larger organization. If your bosses support your curiosity, you can end up being a leader in your niche
Be a leader without the title
What many people find out is that a title doesn’t make you powerful. Power comes instead from your confidence and your manner. Don’t be arrogant or try to boss your peers. Instead, learn how to pick up skills, help others, be collaborative and be a pleasure to work with. One piece of advice we like: “Make everyone feel as if there’s room on the lifeboat.”
Self-leadership is also important: before you tell others what to do, do you know how to keep yourself on deadline? How to manage your own behavior? Are you maintaining beliefs about yourself or your work that are limiting you? Good leaders lead themselves before they try to tell others what to do.
How will you know you’re there? If you become the person everyone comes to with their questions, you’re already a leader. The opportunities soon follow. If rising within a corporate structure isn’t your dream, then nurturing your natural leadership skills will make your independent efforts that much more successful, whether you’re freelancing or starting your own company.
Find mentors and sponsors, and treat them well
Especially when you’re starting out, you may need someone with experience to give you advice or point out all the corporate pitfalls.
Catalyst defines a mentor as someone who “informally or formally helps you navigate your career, providing guidance for career choices and decisions.” This person helps you figure out potential ways “to meet specific career goals.”
You could also have a sponsor: a mentor within your company, who speaks up for you, suggests you for projects, and generally has your back.
If you’re lucky enough to find someone like that, remember to treat them well and respect their time.
The care and nurturing of a mentor
Recently spoke to a group of college students about mentors. One thing surprised the class: people are not obligated to help you.
— Tanzina Vega (@tanzinavega) April 5, 2017
While the idea that millennials are entitled has certainly been thrown out there, there are also arguments for why they aren’t.
But this tweet (which is one of a stream of many) points to a larger issue— how you should approach a mentor.
While mentors are supposed to help guide you, respectfully keep in mind that they are not guaranteed.
How to find a sponsor
Catalyst defines a sponsor as “a senior leader or other person who uses strong influence to help you obtain high-visibility assignments, promotions, or jobs.”
Unlike mentorship, where “you drive the relationship,” this person advocates for you with other high-level leaders— sometimes in spaces where you’re not present.
So where to you look for a high-powered sponsor like this in your office?
Sylvia Ann Hewlett wrote about who to seek out in large and small companies in the Harvard Business Review.
“Would-be sponsors in large organizations are ideally two levels above you with line of sight to your role; in smaller firms, they’re either the founder or president or are part of his or her inner circle,” she wrote.
In terms of the type of relationship you’ll have with the sponsor, Hewlett had these words of advice: “Efficacy trumps affinity; you’re looking not for a friend but an ally.”
Bear these ideas in mind during your hunt for a career sponsor.
Use social media to your advantage
While it’s well-known that employers will probably scout out your social media profiles and you already know that what you post could hurt your career, it’s good to know just how prevalent that is.
A 2015 Jobvite survey of “1,404 recruiting and human resources professionals spanning several industries” found that 92% of recruiters use social media for their jobs, 4% don’t use it as part of their process and “4% aren’t sure.”
But in terms of knowing how seriously people take social media platforms when checking out potential candidates, you have definitely been there, done that, and heard it all before.
So if you don’t have separate social media handles for personal and work use, consider keeping things professional by using some of your platforms to promote your company’s brand in-between personal (and work-appropriate) posts.
The bright side of social media is that smart posting — and replies — could bring your thoughts to the attention of veterans in your industry who otherwise would never have noticed your unique talents.
Job-hop if you have to
In previous generations, job-hopping was frowned upon — but with the rise of gig work, permalancing and the decentralization of many companies through remote workers, many young people no longer plan their careers around being at the same company for decades. Go where the culture suits you.
Gallup reported in 2016 that “60% of millennials say they are open to a different job opportunity — 15 percentage points higher than the percentage of non-millennial workers who say the same.”
When to hop? Three major reasons: 1) when your salary won’t go up even after years of dedicated work 2) the culture isn’t a good fit — including any condescension about your age or intelligence and 3) you’re just not growing your skills. Think about fleshing out what kind of work would feel like the ultimate use of your time, and make a plan for how to get there.