Monday, January 25, 2016

Youngest at the Table

For better or worse, I frequently find myself the youngest at the table – whether that be the board room, the dais, the faculty club, etc.  Being an ambitious young professional can definitely be advantageous.  Fortunately, I have personally experienced that many of those in positions of power want to include the voices and perspectives of those from younger generations.  I do believe many are genuinely trying to include diverse voices.  My best advice for getting there is to fake it till you make it!

Go for it!

Yes, it’s most definitely intimidating to be the youngest person in the room. Sure, it may seem like a stretch to think you’re qualified or may actually get the position, that it’s not too far of a reach.  However, the only guaranteed way you will not get the opportunity is if you don’t even try.  Just apply! Just try! Of course it may not work out, but you never know unless you put yourself out there.

Dress and act the part

I am petite and look very young for my age.  In a previous blog post, I wrote about how I go by “Pamela,” even though I don’t really like it, and much rather prefer to go by my nickname “Pammy.”  Sadly, first impressions really do matter.  I make a sincere effort to dress up and to look and act very professional.

Do your homework

Make sure you are prepared! Take the time to do significant research and know what you are getting into.  Talk to others and listen to their opinions.  Be open to feedback.  The reality is that people may be especially judging you if you are younger, so you need to show them you know your stuff!

Own it

As a younger person, you do have a unique perspective that’s needed. Recognize the value you can add. Don’t be afraid to shamelessly promote that and even explicitly state that.  For example, you can share, “As a millennial, I add a unique perspective to the upcoming demographic shifts…”

Act as a peer

You always need to be actively networking, not just with your peers, but with those who are perhaps a level or two above you, and where you want to be going.  For example, I wanted to join the board of a nonprofit.  Quite honestly, they had a cool program for young professionals that I very much could have participated in.  I choose not to apply to it, but to rather position myself at a higher level.  Consequently, the board members and staff looked at me more as an equal.  Once I finally made it to the board, sometimes my fellow board members would send me invitations to expensive fundraisers that by no means could I afford to attend.  I laughed when I got the invites!  But it meant they saw me as a peer.  Similarly, I would think of ways to engage them and their interests.  I tried to think of opportunities they would be interested in and shared those.

Accept the risk

I’d be remiss if I didn’t share that it is much harder to take on big positions earlier on in your career.  You may get something and just not entirely be ready for it.  There may be a very steep learning curve.  But regardless, I do think it is absolutely worth it to take a great opportunity.  Even if you fall hard, it means you learned that much more earlier on in your career. You'll be that much more experienced and stronger for the next thing.

Have you been the youngest at the table? How did you get there? How did you make it work? Please share your comments below!