How to Navigate Being Young in the Workplace
By Kia Robinson
Your first job out of college will be a huge learning experience. While you may have held a few internships prior, this time you’re a full-time employee and you will be treated like one. There will be higher expectations placed upon you by others and there will be higher expectations you place upon yourself. Since this is your first job out of college, there’s a big change that you’ll be one of the youngest people on your team and maybe even in the company. Being young in the workplace can be a challenge but there are ways to tackle this situation when you encounter it.
I am an Assistant Account Executive at a public relations firm. Personally, I become extremely frustrated when my colleagues underestimate my ability to handle an assignment simply because I am younger. While I may not have as much experience as my coworkers, I am confident that I can take on tough assignments and work diligently to get the job done. Additionally, I’ve never been one to shy away from asking for help or clarity on anything. My mother always told me, “If you don’t ask, you don’t know,” and it has stuck with me for years. Another thing that has worked for me is the act of being proactive in all that I do. I always try to think ahead and complete assignments before my manager even asks. When I can answer, “Already done!” to her requests, it makes her job that much easier. It also shows that I took the initiative to get something done without having to be asked.
What works for me may not necessarily work for you so I tapped some recent grads to also speak about their experiences.
Quenton Jordon, 22, is a business and technology integration analyst at Accenture, a global consulting firm in Washington, D.C. I asked him to share his challenges of being one of the youngest people in his company. “The main struggle is the learning curve. Since most people are older than I am, they have way more years of experience and more knowledge of the industry and they expect me to know as much as they do. I have to spend additional hours studying and researching just to stay up to speed with everyone else,” he explained. In addition to doing his due diligence to ensure he’s always ahead of the curve, Jordon shared a few ways he makes sure his voice is heard and his hard work is noticed. “I always volunteer to help out with smaller tasks that people don’t want to do. This helps me get my name out and puts me in front of senior level managers who need additional help. People know I’m willing to help so they recommend me for certain tasks or opportunities.”
Brianna Bradley, 22, is a second grade teacher in Newark, New Jersey. She explained that while she is the youngest teacher in her school, she looks to her older coworkers for advice. “All my coworkers have been in the education field longer than I have. As a first year teacher, I am trying to learn new techniques from them that will help me to better reach my scholars.” Bradley also took the initiative to join committees that are designed to shape the culture of the school and provide a better work environment for the faculty and staff. “I make sure my voice is heard by joining committees at work. I also make sure I attended staff meetings to gain clarity, voice my concerns and share my ideas that could possibly enhance the school. Everyone loves a great idea.”
Kyle Alfred, 22, is a retail specialist at Apple. We spoke about seeking more opportunities in the workplace as one of the youngest people in the company. “Be assertive. I always ask questions about the different opportunities that my job has to offer.” he shared. “Sometimes the answer is, ‘yes’ and sometimes the answer is, ‘no’ but I’m a firm believe that there is always a way. ‘No’ doesn’t mean ‘never’.”
Nicholas Johnson is an assistant for the Department of Veterans Affairs where he strongly believes in hustling. When you’re the youngest person in the company, you’re often expected to work early morning and late hours. “You can’t overlook hustle. I always make sure I’m the hardest working person in the office. Yes, I am the youngest but I’m also the hardest working. I always make sure I do good work. No one can ever knock good work.” Johnson went on to explain that the quality of work will always speak for itself regardless of age.
Like I previously mentioned, being young in the workplace can be tough but it can also serve as a learning experience. As you can see, people will handle this situation differently. Use the advice above as a guide but find a method that works for you. Be proactive, volunteer, speak up, ask questions and work hard. Your age has absolutely nothing to do with your ability to thrive in the workplace. Show up to your job each and every day as if you’ve been there for years. They can’t ignore confidence and a hard worker.
Kia is a recent college graduate that's simply trying to grasp the concept of "adulting". She enjoys hugs, quotes, a good book, and all things motivational. Her favorite book is The Alchemist and she can watch Girlfriends all day long.