When your youthful appearance undermines your years of job experience
In some ways, you’re lucky that you look don’t look your age—but not when it comes to your career.
When someone misjudges you to be younger than you actually are, it can be a blessing and a curse. Coming from a new acquaintance, the mistake can be flattering, but when you’re trying to impress a client, colleague or potential employer, it can cost you (literally).
“People tend to equate youth with inexperience, and you know what?” says Sarah Vermunt, a Toronto-based career coach and founder of Careergasm. “For the most part, that’s true. So if you look young, you’re going to have to hustle a little more to highlight your experience.”
You’re a seasoned, skilled professional with years of valuable experience under your belt. These tips can make sure all of those things shine through at work—even if your gray hair doesn’t.
Talk about your career plan
Having a serious career plan and letting others in on it can boost the perception that you’re serious about your job. So make a habit of meeting with your boss to discuss your goals, more often than just at your annual performance review, suggests Jenn DeWall, a Denver-based life and career coach. Openly sharing your career goals lets people know that you’re motivated and willing to hustle, Vermunt adds.
This doesn’t mean you should start demanding promotions, but you do want to advocate for your development and paint a clear picture of your career aspirations.
Look the part
You need to present yourself as a mature professional if you want to be perceived as one. To certain employers—say buttoned-up corporations—dressing too casually can give the impression that you’re not taking your job seriously and you’re not ready to lead, DeWall says.
“Even appearing too trendy can come off as young,” Vermunt warns. Now, that doesn’t mean you have to forsake your personal style entirely, but take cues from your co-workers: If they’re not wearing emoji necklaces or drop-crotch pants, you probably shouldn’t either.
Avoid acting too cocky
While you may be tempted to flaunt your experience as a way to quickly establish your credentials and gain respect, practice restraint. If you overcompensate for your youthful looks by acting like a know-it-all and resisting directions from others, this will only reinforce your image as an inexperienced youngster.
Surprisingly, you can show yourself to be more experienced by being more flexible. “Be open, coachable and willing to learn,” says Kelly Meerbott, a leadership coach and principal of Philadelphia-based You: Loud & Clear.
Choose the right allies
Remember: There’s strength in numbers. Develop relationships with other very experienced colleagues who can advocate for you, whether that means making sure your ideas are heard in meetings or bringing you on board for an exciting new project. Even your association with these people will help people see you in the ranks of the experienced.
One way to cultivate these kinds of contacts is by showing respect for your colleagues’ tenure. Ask for feedback on your work, or ask if you can shadow them so you can better understand what they do, DeWall says.
“This will show them that you’re invested in the role and are taking your career seriously,” she says. “It will also show that you respect their knowledge, which is huge if you want people to advocate for you in the future.”
The best way to earn a reputation as a serious, seasoned worker is to do your job well, even better than expected. Don’t rest on your past achievements—always seek out new opportunities to rack up some new skills and accolades.
“If you want to be taken seriously, don’t wait for opportunities; create them,” DeWall says. “Take initiative; ask for projects that stretch your abilities and give you a greater exposure and understanding of the business. Don’t just do the day-to-day responsibilities; go above and beyond.” This sounds obvious for a good reason: It’s the truth.