You’re young. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Millenials may get a bad rap in the media, but as the largest generation in the U.S. workforce, we’re here, and we’re going to change the way work works. Intentionally or not, here we come!
For the first time, three generations are part of the same workforce. That’s why there’s so much buzz about us entitled kids working alongside old timers who know the value of a dollar. The 2016 workforce is essentially an episode of The Brady Bunch.
I’ve always been hyperaware of being the youngest one in the room. Four years after college, I still regularly get asked if I’m an intern. But being young doesn’t mean being unprofessional. I’ve compiled some do’s and don’ts for navigating the workplace in your early twenties.
Do: Have Manners
I’m talking about showing basic signs of human respect. Give a good morning, please and thank you to everyone from the cleaning crew to your boss to the CEO. You never know who is looking for a reason to peg you as the no-manners new hire. And always be nice to people in elevators. Today could be the day you’re on Undercover CEO.
Don’t: Be a Boy in a Man’s Suit
I love to use this phrase when I’m describing a twenty-something who dresses beyond their means. You know the type: the young man with the Rolex who has no reason to be wearing a Rolex, or the young woman who wears her Louboutins to a business casual office. Of course, everyone is entitled to spend their money however they please, but know that if you look young, and your accessories are lavish, your older colleagues may mistakenly believe your parents handed you everything you’ve worked hard for.
Do: Ask Questions
Question everything. When you’re new to a workplace, and new to the workforce, you have a grace period where you can get away with asking tons of questions. Just make sure they’re useful questions (Why do we use this particular process to communicate with employees?) that prove you have a brain, and not the throwaway kind (Where’s the best bathroom in this office?).
Don’t: Forget that Work Friends are Still Colleagues
During a stint at a communications agency, I worked in an office full of millenials. This meant I was working closely with leaders only a few years older than me. Hearing them make jokes that were less-than-professional definitely made for a fun environment, but it also made it harder for me to view them as a leader. Don’t be that leader.
Do: Ask for Feedback
Most jobs have scheduled annual reviews, but regular feedback will help keep you on track throughout the year. Whether it’s proactively setting up a weekly check-in with your boss, or a quarterly meeting to track your progress, it’s good to know how well you’re meeting expectations. (Besides, everyone knows millenials were spoiled as children by receiving too much feedback from their Little League coaches.) Bonus: Harvard Business Review says “If you’re not helping people develop, you’re not management material,” so any good leader will be open to your request.
Don’t: Assume You Know Everything
Because you certainly don’t.
Do: Embrace Being the Office Millenial
Make yourself useful. Many, if not most, large corporations are realizing they need millenials on their side. If there’s an opportunity for you to offer a fresh perspective on a project, or if you’re asked to represent the younger generation in a meeting—do it. Besides, in a few years you won’t be the young one anymore. Enjoy it while it lasts.