At some point or another, every ambitious member of Generation Z will run into a professional age barrier. Whether you are a college grad seeking your first “real” job, a young professional chasing a promotion or a fresh entrepreneur developing a client base, you should be prepared to have your age and experience questioned. It will definitely happen, just as it happened to me as a Millennial entering my field a decade ago. Your response to that concern can be the difference between getting the job, promotion or client versus losing out to a seasoned competitor. The key to overcoming this obstacle is embracing your youth and inexperience by framing it as a professional advantage over your competition. Here’s how…
Make Experience Seem Overrated
Tired professionals will hang their hats on years of experience. If you try to play that game, you will lose every time. It is important to acknowledge your lack of experience early in the interaction, before the person you want to win over does, and spin it into a positive attribute. For example, here is a blurb from the cover letter that helped to secure my first job out of college:
“I am under no delusion that I am the most experienced applicant for this position, but we both know that experience alone does not make an effective [insert job title]. I am confident that I will bring a level of ambition, energy and tenacity that a tired professional cannot possibly duplicate.”
In just two sentences, I addressed the experience issue and blew it wide open. That is the mentality and verbiage you will need to dismiss the arguments from your aging adversaries vying for the same opportunity. Be confident in your talent and ability, and don’t ever get dragged into a battle over years of experience.
Highlight Your Mastery Of New Technology
Gen Z is expected to be knowledgeable about all things tech and digital. Anyone who has ever been the youngest person at a small firm knows this best, as they likely assumed the role of computer support specialist and social media expert regardless of their background, interest or expertise. It is crucial for you to actually be good at those things to increase your versatility and value to an organization – particularly when up against less savvy competition.
I embraced the professional utility of social media during college and throughout every step of my career. While none of my job descriptions ever included social media management, I assumed that role for both of the companies I worked for prior to founding my own agency while in my 20s. Nobody asked me to do it. In each instance, I went directly to management and told them I wanted to do it.
Taking that approach helps you develop skills and experience that can open up future opportunities, and it makes you more visible and indispensable to your current organization. While I typically advise folks to avoid using jargon when speaking with non-experts, it is advisable to throw some in when talking to the decision-maker you’re trying to impress on tech issues. There have been a number of times when I have received a response similar to “I don’t know what you just said, but I like it.” It is music to my ears.
Stand Out From The Crowd
Embrace your own style and personality to separate from your cookie-cutter competitors. One way to accomplish this is to invest in your personal brand. Gen Z has an edge in this area because you grew up in the social media age and should already have a presence on LinkedIn, Twitter, etc. Unless you are in the witness protection program, there is no excuse for a professional twenty-something not to be active and effective on these platforms. Spend some money if needed to get a professional photo for those sites, as a lousy photo (or worse – no photo at all) will have a negative impact on your brand. Create a unique, consistent personal brand and enjoy outshining the late adopters you are up against.
Your attire is also a crucial way to get noticed. Dress professionally, but do it in a contemporary style appropriate for your age, body type, etc. You do not ever want to show up underdressed, but you also do not want to look like you are wearing something out of your parents’ closet. Spending some time and money on your appearance will go a long way toward helping you reach your professional goals.
Another way to stand out, and probably the most important, is through results. Your youth should provide you with an energy advantage over older workers. If you feel that is not the case, examine your exercise, sleep and eating habits for opportunities to boost your vigor and overall productivity. If you want decision makers to believe that age and experience are not important, you need to prove it. Driving in superior results will make you shine no matter what experience level you are up against.
Brian Hart is the Founder & President at Flackable, an award-winning public relations agency representing financial and professional services brands nationwide. To learn more about Flackable, please visit flackable.com. Follow Brian on Twitter at @BrianHartPR.
This is an updated version of an article originally published on 10/6/14.