Hi, my name is Gloria Cavallaro. I have my own business... anddd I'm 24 years old (brace for impact).
I don't usually tell my clients my age but, sometimes, a situation comes up when I have to and every time I feel like I'm coming out with some huge secret. Reactions include, "Oh my gosh, you're a baby," "I had no idea you were so young," "Really? Wow."
The reason I keep my date of birth so close to me? I don't want anyone to underestimate my potential or ability to execute a project simply because I was able to legally drink after they were. My LinkedIn does not state my graduation date, I do not offer details on my age, and I do small but important things that help me skew older.
And you know what? It works.
How To Be The Youngest In The Room (Without Anyone Knowing)
Dress The Part.
It's simple but, honestly, half the battle. If you want clients whom are older than you to consider you on the same footing as them, you need to look the part.
To do this I made some style adjustments to my wardrobe. I don't wear dresses or skirts. I found they made me look cute and young, two words I never want used to describe myself as a business woman. Instead, I wear pants, button-downs, blazers, and never go to a meeting in a flat. I'm a petite person (5'4") and giving myself a little height makes me feel more powerful and causes others to treat me with more respect. It's a clear difference in behavior I've witnessed and know by now that if I wear a flat to a meeting, I'll have to prove my capability more than if I went in with a heel and started off a little higher in their view (literally).
Fast Forward Your Experience.
Something that puts a glaring spotlight on someone who is junior in their career is a simple lack of context and knowledge. And much of it goes without saying: you've only been working for so many years, there is only so much you could have done at this point. But if you want to be taken seriously and considered for projects that wouldn't typically go to someone of your work experience, you need to prove that you have the bandwidth to execute them superbly. How do you do this? Learn more, do more, take on more.
Early on, I made a commitment to say yes as much as I could and pick the brains of as many professionals as possible. If someone came to me with a gig I hadn't done before, I said yes and taught myself along the way. If I found myself at an event chatting with someone in an interesting position, I asked thoughtful questions about their job and career so I could learn about other industries, which usually resulted in an exchanging of business cards and a new helpful contact. I wanted to jumpstart my experience and educate myself so I could present myself as less "green" and more established. This worked, and I ended up learning about many different fields that helped inform my conversations, leading others to think I was older than I was and give me opportunities that they might not have initially offered me had they known the true amount of time I had been out of school.
Learn About Things. All The Things.
Going hand in hand with limited experience to pull from as a young person is limited knowledge but this one is much easier to remedy. To gain experience, you must do. To gain knowledge, you must seek. What can mark you as a newbie is lack of information, mainly because many young people don't care to know it.
Seek out the information, read about the different areas of your field, read about other fields, brush up on terminology useful in professional discussion, read about people whose careers you admire and want to emulate, educate yourself on business and what is occurring in the economy: read, learn, care. This way, when there is conversation going on concerning topics the typical early 20-something wouldn't know about, you can contribute and join the club, not sit quietly and hope someone will explain what they're talking about.
But... what if they do discover your age?
This fall I went to a great conference that I definitely recommend to millennials called Wisdom 2.0 NextGen. There I heard professionals and entrepreneurs speak on the incredible things they are doing in their careers and how to pursue purpose in your work. During the Q&A, I asked the question:
"How do I gain the confidence of those who may not think I'm capable of taking on a challenging project because of my age?"
- Spin Your Age to Your Advantage.
You and I are digital natives, we've grown up with this crazy online universe. Thus, dealing and optimizing interaction with it comes as second nature to us. As most of my work is in digital media, they told me to use my millennial status to my advantage. Let clients know that not only can I take on a big digital project as a young person but, because of my youth, I'm actually the best person for the job.
- Do The Thing.
The best way to dispel doubt about your ability to do something?
In the words of Nike, just do it.
What challenges do YOU face as a young person starting your career? How do you overcome them?