It’s hard in the modern workplace. For pretty much everyone. Every single category of workers you could break someone down into faces their own unique challenges in the office. Take me, for instance. I graduated college and entered the workforce a few years early, and the place I’ve been working for since has really placed a lot of responsibility on me, so I’ve ended up with a lot more job skills and experience than most my age have. Youth is definitely an asset. It’s pretty awesome being young. If you haven’t yet, you should give it a try sometime. However, inexperience is a problem, and youth and inexperience often go hand in hand. And when my organization is making use of one of their key personnel and project managers who isn’t anywhere close to reaching 30, people tend to see the latter far more than the former.
There are a couple things I could be doing about it. I could foster and make apparent a strong work ethic. I could make it clear I expect to be taken as seriously as anyone else in my position. I could start wearing masks to work so nobody could tell my real age. Or I could cry about it for a while on some out of the way blog that for whatever reason gets a lot more popular when I haven’t posted for a while. I imagine those would all have the same effect.
From what I’ve gathered, it doesn’t matter what field you’re working in; if you’re young, and in a white-collar job, people who don’t know you will always assume you’re a tech. Once, I had gone to a presentation at a major industry conference. As they were setting up, they were running into some technical issues, and all their support staff were off working on something out. The presenter looked across the crowd, singled me out, and asked me to help him out, assuming that because I was the youngest person in the room I knew how to handle computers. And that’s far from an isolated incident. It seems that at any conference or multi-group meeting I and my boss always have to keep emphasizing my job, else people just assume I’m there to talk about computers and nothing else. Sad thing is, I actually am pretty good at working with tech, but I always feel hesitant to show that publicly, for fear of getting pigeonholed into that role and having nobody take me seriously for anything else.
It’s an odd experience, having an older colleague along to such a gathering and hearing how others will interact with them in regards to me. I work in an organization that fits a couple different common non-profit subsets, and one thing I’ve noticed in the various fields I interact with is that they really tend to employ the older generation a lot more than other industries might. And the older generation seems to assume they just can’t get mine, and makes a lot of sweeping generalizations to compensate. I used to dress a bit more formally than most at industry events, thinking that’d show me as being serious about my work. I had to stop after everyone kept asking my colleagues if I was goth/alt/whatever subculture they had most recently heard of.
I have long hair. That might exacerbate my problems. Or it might not. I have no idea, because nobody’s ever talked about it with me. I kind of wish someone would, at least one of these people I’ve been interviewing with, so that at least I might be able to blame that for being the reason I’m unable to switch jobs. The local Amish community seem to love working with me, though, and if anyone would take issue with my hair, it’d probably be them. I did have one manager at a partner organization sit down with me at a dinner meeting once, and tell me all about her younger sister who is covered with tattoos and still gets high level work and how great it is that the younger generation is standing their ground and forcing companies to accept non-traditional appearances. Because apparently women haven’t been showing up at work with long hair for decades. That was a little awkward.
We host quite a few events. Which, given my role, means that I do a lot of events management, getting logistics together, arranging speakers, etc. I don’t know if this is unique to just being young, but my boss gets directly thanked and recognized for a lot of the work I do, while nobody will even mention my name. Odd thing is I know this irritates her as much as I.
Speaking of events, it’s pretty common for us to be making presentations at various occasions. I’m actually pretty experienced at getting up and giving a speech to a crowd. Absolutely nobody expects it. It’s kind of funny to see the looks on people’s faces when we’re scheduled for a presentation, and rather than the distinguished personnel they were expecting, some twenty-something shows up to speak. In fact, last week, I was at a forum that my boss was scheduled to introduce the speakers at, except nobody bothered to inform her, so she wasn’t there. I, of course, would have been the next best option, having worked with the speakers and their project on a number of occasions. But I’m young, and nobody expects young people to give a coherent speech in front of others. So they asked some other guy who had never worked with the group before to do it.
And, of course, my age definitely plays into job searching. My job really values professional development, especially in their key personnel, so I’ve got work experience most people would have to wait a few years to pick up. I’m not looking to go down a level in my job search, so when I’m applying for jobs, I’m competing against people mostly five to ten years older. In some cases, inexperience does play a factor. I’ve been pushed through training and challenging assignments, but there’s still some things you can only truly pick up by putting in the years to learn it, and in those areas, I am truly behind. But I’ve been starting to wonder if it’s truly an issue of skills. I’ve often seen people seem obviously thrown off upon seeing me for the first time in an interview, and have had quite a few organizations who seem really interested over the phone turn absolutely disengaged for the in-person interview. One of the worst was just last week. I had gone through four stages of the interview process before finally being granted an in-person interview, drove five hours to reach the place, and could just tell upon entering the room that the interviewers had already made up their minds.
Well, that’s just some random thoughts I wanted to get off my mind, and figured I’d take advantage of this forum. See you next time for some actual quality posts!