Career / Speaking Out / Work Culture

How to hold your own as the youngest in the workspace

. 6 min read . Written by Vanshika Goenka
How to hold your own as the youngest in the workspace

Fresh out of grad school with an enthusiasm that might just beat Ariel’s when she stepped out of the ocean she called home, I started looking for my first job at 21.

First day on the job I walked in, armed with a confidence, which I hoped would betray my persistent pangs of nervousness. But that aplomb façade soon watered down as I realised I am the youngest (by a far margin) in the office.

Two months later as I sit and write this, all I can think about is how I would not have had it any other way. So here’s how I was able to hold my own as the youngest in the room.

Lead with respect. Humility is the key

Now conventionally us millennials are more often than not pigeonholed into the idea that we’re born with that chip on our shoulder. It is very easy for the experienced baby boomers to write us off as a bunch of arrogant and entitled brats – don’t make this easy for them.

So to begin to break this ice, it is important that you acknowledge that you are the youngest in the room and everyone else around you has a considerably longer experience than yours. Acknowledge that your colleagues know more than you and you’re here to learn from them (especially if this is your first job). Once you enter into the work environment with this thought and with an open mind that is willing to take everything that is thrown your way head on, things will certainly be a lot easier.

Be humble. Be open. And be willing to learn.

There is no better attribute than respect that will ensure you earn higher points on the likeability scale. At least for the initial couple of weeks make humility your most striking quality.

All good things come to those who wait

The frame of mind with which you enter the workspace plays a major role in itself. In all of the conversations I have had with my parents over the past couple of months about my job and why I have fallen head over heels in love with it, the most popular answer has been my own dispositions about starting work.

As seniors in their respective fields they share stories about how they see young employees entering the workforce with their own set of definite expectations, unwilling to be susceptible to a learning curve with an eventual growth.

As important as it is to have ambitions, it is also important to understand that this is just the beginning. The work you do, the responsibilities you are assigned, and the opportunities you get to learn should most certainly take precedence over things like demanding a higher salary or expecting a raise or added benefits.

Be confident

Having emphasised on the humility aspect enough - this, in no way implies that you withhold or undermine your qualities under the guise of being crowd-pleasing.

Being liked at a new job is certainly important but this in no way must become a priority that overrules your actual work and yourself. While the environment might get intimidating at times, it is significant to uphold your confidence and be fearless in speaking up.

You’ve been hired for your skills and the knowledge that you have. Arm yourself with your expertise and be proud of it. It is your talent, your ability, and the degree of efficiency you can bring to your work that will help accelerate your brownie points with your seniors.

The first time I was invited to a meeting with the grownups in the office, I remember being appreciated for the idea that I expressed. Amidst all the back and forth meeting- induced jargon, it certainly can get intimidating to speak up – with the fear of being labeled as too outspoken or too forward. But be fearless and speak up.

“Kaabil bano. Kamyaabi toh jhak maarke peechhe aayegi”

Being forward, voicing your opinion, not holding back from postulating your ideas is the way to get yourself taken seriously. Excelling and expressing your work is the sure shot path to earning respect in the workspace. And maybe you won’t feel as small as you did in the beginning once your work starts to be recognised.

…but not cocky

Here’s where the balance becomes important. Working with an older crowd has its own challenges – the biggest one of which may be the part where you have to explain anything recent to them.

You entered this world with an Instagram handbook inherently fed into your brains but understand that it does not come as naturally for a lot of others. The obviousness of it all in your head may translate into a tone that comes off as cocky.

It is incredibly important to have that balance down – of being able to explain something or express a viewpoint contrary to theirs with the same tone of humility and respect that you started with. Remember that your seniors hail from a very different school of thought with their own set of biases and conditioning.

And the only way to break through that wall is through a show of deference. Acknowledge that while they have more experience, your contribution to the work counts because your thought process stems from the exact place they need to target and factor in while planning work. Lead them through a structured chart of your ideas, explain and elucidate why you think this will work and how your viewpoint can garner a higher success rate.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help

I’m sorry I don’t know this. Could you please explain it to me.” Trust me, it’s not that tough to say this out loud.

It’s easier to make mistakes when you’re younger. You’re more open to learning, you’re willing to take on things you’re not particularly sure of and most importantly, you’re okay with stumbling. Treat the world like your oyster that it is.

As someone who’s just starting out, no one expects you to know everything. Be proud of your vulnerabilities and ask for help whenever you’re stuck in a rut. It is your expression of this vulnerability that will go a long way in the relationships you build along the way.

You are surrounded by people whose experience has prevailed even when you didn’t. Make use of their wisdom.

I have learnt so much more about work, and life in general over the conversations I have with my boss while we’re pumping caffeine into our systems than sitting at any desk or doing endless research can ever yield.

Own your youth

Where should I go for a fancy dinner?” “Any fun suggestions for a date-night?” “How do I tag someone on Instagram?” Guess who do they come to for all of their millennial concerns?

Make use of your young experiences too. You’d be surprised how willing your seniors would be to hear about your fun weekend stories, your millennial dating experience or even your interactions with your parents (since they might just be closer to their age than yours).

There is an inherent expectation that comes with being the youngest in the room. Adhere to the anticipation of being the fun one, the one that can help bring a fresh wave of thought in the workspace and let your seniors occasionally baby you – that is when you know you’ve built a relationship that will endure post the workplace setting too. Be proud of that youthful exuberance and don’t be afraid to show it.

As the youngest in the room, there are a lot of things that you will indefinitely know more about than your seniors. In the process of proving yourself capable for the work that you’re doing, don’t forget to be proud of your youthful frivolities too.