“We never really grow up, we only learn how to act in public.”
– Bryan White
One of the big obstacles I’ve encountered since graduating a year ago is having my status as a “20-something” and a “recent graduate” define my professional abilities.
For many clients and employers, people just out of college come off as irresponsible, inexperienced and naïve, despite the person’s experience, professionalism or drive to learn and grow professionally.
In many ways, industries like public relations and digital marketing thrive off of people from the younger generations who bring new ideas, skills and approaches to the table.
Despite this, recent grads and young 20-somethings still have to over-sell themselves and accept lower wages than older equals just to get a foot in the door.
I’ve had the pleasure of working with a very successful agency based in LA, but during my time there I’ve felt the pressure of being “younger” even more so than before.
During the initial phase of my work with clients, things usually go quite smoothly, but once they meet me or come to learn that I’m younger (just out of college a year ago!) they start to question my judgement and treat me accordingly.
Kyle Neath touches on how he faced similar problems when he was starting out in the article, Pixels Don’t Care, because he was “too young,” even though his work was better than most of his older superiors who were doing similar tasks.
In order to counter this, I’ve taken a number of precautions to guard against being categorized as one of the many “inexperienced” recent graduates in the professional world.
Here are some of the methods that I’ve learned over the last year:
- Position Yourself According: Don’t have the first thing out of your mouth be, “I recently graduated from X University.” Position yourself how you want people to see you: “I’m a PR professional that specializes in social media.”
- Be Confident: Always remember why you got into your line of work to begin with, why you love it and why you’re good at it. Don’t let someone else define your abilities. Only you can do that!
- Pay Your Dues: Part of my frustration with how I’m treated by people in my industry comes from completing 8 internships during my college career, with only the last two paying, and poorly at that. If you haven’t put in the grunt labor that’s necessary at the beginning of any career, it’s time to get out there and get some experience. Free work is at least work (and more experience)!
- Admit When You’re Wrong: The true sign of maturity is when you can accept when you’re wrong and the consequences that come along with the mistake. Don’t try to shift blame to someone else. Take responsibility. People will respect you for it and at least you’ll have some good karma coming your way for being honest from the get-go.
- Network: One of the main qualities I’ve seen in successful 20-somethings is their ability to network. They build professional and personal relationships with people of all ages, levels of success and professions. It’s important to have people who can attest to your abilities and skills, and networking is a great way to do that.
- Be Resilient: It’s totally understandable to get frustrated after a certain number of failures and stone walls. It’s something I still struggle with on a daily basis. You (and I) need to accept that certain things aren’t meant to be and move on. Don’t forget, if your current situation doesn’t pan out, it’s because you’re meant for something better!
- Ignore the Nay-Sayers: I felt this article on Thought Catalog makes our future out to be one dark and miserable experience, when it’s not at all. It’s as awful or as great as you make it, so remember to keep everything in perspective. Those who try to push you down are just angry that we’re eventually going to come in and take their jobs, anyways.
None of this is meant to discredit the importance of experience. Experience is how you grow, and it’s important to continue to grow throughout your career.
What’s important is that people learn not to discredit people based on age. While prior experience is important, drive and motivation will ultimately be the key to a extraordinary employee and a prosperous career.
~ Miss Soucie