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Genius comes in every age – and I’m guessing that you are one of the smart ones at work. Being one of the smartest employees in the room, and also one of the youngest, can be a frustrating conundrum. You know you have value to add in the conversation, you are qualified to take on a challenge, but your perceived age is stopping others from taking you seriously.

That stops now.

Push Past Your Age and Be Taken Seriously at Work

1. Do your job really, really well.

This probably goes without saying, but unless you are delivering what they are asking at a very high level, nothing you do will change their perception about needing “more time in the job” or maturing. Deliver consistently, exceed expectations at every opportunity you get, and be reliable.

2. Stop telling people how old/young you are.

This is good advice for everyone, but there is a reason that age is a protected class. No one except for HR (and maybe your direct manager), should know how old you are. So stop going around and telling people that you’re only {enter a number in your 20s}.

If you don’t bring your age up, it’s a non-conversation. So while your accomplishments areamazing for your age, toot that horn outside of work with your friends and family… not to your coworkers.

3. Step away from any and all conversations about age.

I am always surprised when the question comes up during a meeting, but when there is one person in the room who looks young, someone always wants to figure out just how young that person is. If you are asked directly, “How old are you?” do not answer. For the love of Nancy.

Hedge around the question by changing the topic or making a self-deprecating remark such as, “I know Bob, I look young, but really, we’re both here to do a job. Come on buddy!” Regardless of the situation or fear of being “rude,” just don’t answer it. Once you respond, it will get around and you will find you will not be able to outrun your age from anyone!

4. Pop-culture references.

Lack of pop-culture knowledge is what usually “outs” people as being young. And it is also the thing that makes your older peers feel ridiculously old. What am I talking about? For example, when someone throws out a Def Leopard reference, or refers back to Spaceballs… you respond with a “what is that?” comment.

Please, don’t do that anymore. It’s extremely upsetting for the person on the other side of that question. Trust me – this is the number one “annoyance” that has been pointed out to me by managers, as being a “target” for immaturity. It’s not right, but it’s how it is.

Instead, either brush up on some 1980s and 1990s pop-culture trivia or simply be a part of the conversation instead of asking for clarification. Some resources to help you gain this knowledge: watch a lot of Pop-Up Video, Google pop culture trivia and start learning, or watch a ton of “cult classic” movies from the 1980s and 1990s.

5. Your outward appearance should match your peers’.

Appearance is everything, so make sure that your outside presentation matches that of your peers’. I’m not saying don’t be trendy, cute or styled; but instead, make sure that you are dressing the part. For example, if your female peers do not wear jeans to work – guess what, you shouldn’t either. Even if you style it amazing. If your male peers are not wearing sandals, you can’t either. See the difference?

You don’t have to be dull or blend in with your appearance, but you do need to keep the same standards that they have. Thus, eliminating the appropriateness conversation and instead shifting the discussion to one of style.

6. Be confident when you contribute, but speak up wisely.

You should absolutely contribute and speak up during group meetings and discussions. But remember that every time that you do, people will be listening – so do so wisely.

A common complaint about Gen Y’ers (hello – big generalization coming), is that they “think they know it all.” Totally NOT the case, but to help differentiate yourself from this stereotype, when you do speak-up, try and do it with care, finesse and value-add. Stand firm in your delivery, but also be engaging and inclusive with your remarks.

Make your contribution feel as though it’s from the whole team.

7. Stop referring to, “in school we did…”

Bad news here people, but school is nothing like the real working world. You have probably figured that out by now. So stop referring to all of the fabulous things that you did in school that you expect to work or resonate at work.

First, it makes your colleagues feel old – I mean, if you are still referring to school, you are giving away your age. Second, it negates all of the lessons you have learned and applied in the “real world.”

These references can creep up and maybe even deliver a good idea or two from time to time.Don’t stop using these learnings, but start positioning them differently. Present the idea without the introduction – and you’ll be awesome.


This post first appeared on LifeAfterCollege.org.