Occasionally, when I meet someone new at work, this is how the conversation usually goes:
“Nice to meet you! Is this your first job out of school?” or worse, “Are you the intern?”
It’s alllll thanks to my babyface.
Look, I know this is a #firstworldproblem. I get it! And I’m glad to show anyone my ID during happy hour. But in the workplace? It can be pretty annoying.
I try to take these comments in stride and chalk it up to generational difference. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, there are currently five generations that make up today’s workplace. To a certain extent, I understand the generational difference and the disconnect that may come with working with someone decades younger or older. However, these seemingly light-handed comments have made me make me second-guess myself at times and wonder if I’m being taken seriously at work, or dismissed as being too young to count.
Buttttt then I turn around that doubt, take a look at my babyface in the mirror, and remind myself of the following:
Ya CAN’T change your face, but you CAN make a conscious decision to present yourself in a way that shows your professionalism and capability as a young professional. Here’s how!
Dress for Success
When I was 19, during one of my first summer internships, my mom gave me this piece of fashion advice: “If you feel the need to ask whether the skirt or dress is too short, it is. Choose something else.” She also never let me leave the house with a wrinkled outfit. Really. I was late for that same internship once because she made me iron a shirt that wasn’t up to her code. (Luckily it was a fashion internship, and my boss found the entire situation hilarious.)
Don’t try to hide your age by borrowing an outfit from your mom’s closet from 1989, either. Trying to dress older will only make you look like a child playing dress up.
For real-life (and real budget!) office appropriate outfit inspiration, check out two of my favorite bloggers @itsallchictome and @themilleraffect on Instagram for their Workwear Wednesday posts. When in doubt, consult your employee handbook, ask HR for guidelines, or simply observe what others are wearing. Remember, the more conservative the industry, the more conservative the dress code.
Watch Your Body Language
Throughout the day, we give off all types of subconscious cues that tell a story about ourselves to others. Take 20 minutes to watch an amazing TedTalk by Amy Cuddy, a social psychologist, called “Your body language may shape who you are.” I had to watch it for one of my graduate classes, and the lessons have stuck with me ever since. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought of the video and adjusted my posture in a meeting or while public speaking.
Choose Your Words
Do you, like, find yourself ending your, like, sentences with an upward inclination? Even if you aren’t asking a question? That’s called upseak (AKA uptalk or rising inflection) and it’s a sure way to discredit yourself. Fair? No. Controllable? Yes—to a certain extent. You shouldn’t feel pressured to completely change the way you speak, but you can become more aware of how you end your sentences, and make an effort to speak with a more even intonation.
Additionally, try to cut the likes, ums, uhs and ya knows when speaking to a group—this goes for people of all ages, but can help bolster your professionalism at a young age. Joining a Toastmasters club is a great way to get real world practice in a friendly environment.
Don’t Second-Guess Yourself
Back when I actually was a fresh grad, I had a bad, bad habit of apologizing for things that weren’t my fault! For example, at my first job out of school, there was a mistake on one of my client’s print products. My manager was angry and demanded to know what happened. I immediately apologized profusely…without knowing any of the facts. Later, I found out that it was an error on the printer’s part, not mine! As point person on the project, I should have taken responsibility and promised to resolve the issue, instead of immediately assuming I did something wrong and apologizing repeatedly for it. I hate to admit that I’ve repeated this pattern of second-guessing myself more than once over the years.
Today, when something goes wrong at work, I’m much better at acknowledging and resolving, rather than apologizing and then trying to explain that it wasn’t my fault.
Like I said, you can’t change your face (unless you contour, but who has time for that?), but you can present the best version of you, no matter your age.