I entered the main auditorium of the Wild Horse Pass in Phoenix, Arizona and looked around. Account Executives were spilling into the open space and filling up the room with chatter. Heads bobbed out of time to the early 2000’s music that was playing over the speakers as fake laughter erupted from every side. Alcohol was pouring freely, sometimes down people’s shirts. The Annual Sales Conference had begun.
I craned my neck to find an ally – someone at least under the age of 30 that I could commiserate with. I wanted to laugh about the creepy old men winking at me and the ridiculousness of the casino out front. But my search came up lacking.
I waded my way towards the food table and half heartedly started picking at the desserts. Discussions about the latest sales trends and what it felt like to become an empty nester were swirling around me. I became engrossed in the pastries on my plate; was I the only millennial here?
If you are a 20-something working in a company or industry primarily made up of people twice your age, you have probably been in a similar situation. You’ve experienced that weird sinking feeling in your stomach when you realize that most of your colleagues are old enough to be your parents. You glance at an average resume and find it to be either three pages long or a single line about working in a company for 25 years. It can be incredibly intimidating!
So if you are trying to see the bright side while swimming through a sea of dad jokes and stories that begin with the phrase, ‘When I was your age’, let’s identify some of the pros and cons of being young in business and how you can use both to advance your career.
Pro: The Opportunity to Learn
People that have had a lot of experience in their careers usually love to share their wisdom with younger people eager to learn. If you ask, many of your colleagues would probably be more than willing to divulge some of their mistakes, biggest triumphs, and what they would have done differently in their careers if they could do it all over again. This is incredibly valuable information that you can utilize to prevent yourself from making the same mistakes and lessen the learning curve at your current job. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to learn from your colleagues.
Con: Hard to Relate
Most of the real business happens when the ties are loosened and the talk gets less formal. Places like bars are usually where deals are closed and business relationships are made. Unfortunately, your colleagues or business partners might feel weird about loosening up and shooting the sh*t around someone your age. However, this is a perfect opportunity to learn how to adapt to your environment. Find ways to make them comfortable without stooping to any level that you are uncomfortable with. Learn how to speak their language, and figure out how best to add to the conversation. The more they see you as an equal, the more they will open up, and the stronger your rapport with them will be. This skill of adapting to your situation and making people comfortable around you is incredibly transferrable in other business and life situations. Take this time to get good at it!
Pro: You Bring a Valuable Perspective
Many businesses with older people in them are still targeting younger markets. A portion, if not a large part of their consumer market is probably made up of people around your age. Therefore you have something important to contribute, just by being who you are. If your colleagues are talking about a way to “penetrate” the millennial market, pipe up and tell them about what your experience has been with companies similar to yours. What tactics have companies used that have worked on you and your friends? Which ones have failed miserably? You basically have the inside scoop on a very valuable commodity – your peers. Use that to your advantage!
Con: It is More Difficult to Earn Respect
Being as young as you are, you understandably will have less experience then some of the veteran business people in the room. Therefore, you will probably not be the first person your boss will ask when she has a problem that needs to be solved or is looking for advice on an account. In fact, you might find that your opinion is not valued much at all in the beginning. This can be incredibly frustrating. A way to start earning the respect of your colleagues and superiors is to really know your stuff. Speak up when you have something valuable offer, not just so you have something to say. Contribute in meaningful ways and bring new things to the table without having to be asked. Go above and beyond on a daily basis. And if you are ever purposefully or accidentally excluded from something you should be a part of, respectfully insert yourself into the situation. By jumping on opportunities that are appropriate to your role, you will not only learn heaps, but will also earn your colleagues’ respect by showing that you can take initiative.
Pro: Clean Slate
In my final interview for my current job, my now-boss told me, “I’m really glad you’re not coming in with any bad business habits! It will easier to teach you.” When you are just entering business, you are entering with a clean slate, fresh eyes, and the ability to take the best of what you observe and discard the rest. You aren’t coming in with many preconceived ideas about what you’re supposed to do or how you’re supposed to act: you have to create your business methods on the spot! Though this might seem more like a con, in reality this newness will allow you to create your own best practices based on the experiences you are currently having, rather than allowing baggage or past experiences to dictate your present actions. Employers love this because they feel like you will be more teachable than some of the business veterans and their advice might actually be heeded. As long as you come in willing and ready to learn, see your inexperience as a blessing in disguise.
Con: High Learning Curve
On the flip side of the previous pro, learning how things work in a company is a process! It’s like you’re being thrown into a canoe where everyone is already rowing, and you have to pick up your oar and join them. It takes a bit to find your rhythm; your oar might hit a few people in the face every once in a while, but give yourself some grace. Don’t overplay your age to get sympathy, but still recognize that you are young and new to the industry; you need time to learn. Employers will usually understand that you are not going to know the ropes right away. It will take some time to get in the rhythm of how the company works and find your place in it. Just don’t give up, work hard, and you will be admired and respected for your tenacity to dive right in.
And because I like to end on a good note:
Pro: You Have Time!
Though joining the ‘corporate’ workforce when you’re young can feel like you’re submitting yourself to the grind, in reality it’s a fantastic way to get ahead. By getting started now, you are collecting the tools you need to rise through the the ranks of a career that you can be passionate about in the future. You can learn from those who have gone before you, try your hand at many different things, and develop best practices for yourself now instead of having to stumble through it later on. What’s amazing about being young in business is that you don’t have to have your life figured out yet! You don’t need to know what you’re going to do until you’re 65 and ready to retire. You just have to work hard where you’re at and learn as much as you can. You have a head start at getting into the work field and building up a resume that could allow you to apply for your dream job earlier than most people would be able to consider it.
Even if your job is intimidating, mundane or the opposite of your dream job, remember that there are always new things to learn and new skills to develop. Use your youth to your advantage and aspire to climb the ladder of success at your current job, even if you aren’t planning on staying. Create relationships and working habits that will benefit you in your future career. Outperform even your more experienced colleagues by using your drive to succeed and unwillingness to settle for ‘good enough’ to push you to become an MVP. As you focus on bettering yourself in your current job, you never know who could be around the bend looking for someone just like the best version of you to bring on board.
<-You climbing the ladder of success
Originally published October 24th, 2017 on bevalyouable.com