No, I’m Not a Student- How To Be Taken Seriously As A Young Professional

How To Be Taken Seriously At Work As A Young Professional

Today’s Guest Post was written by Kelly Konevich. As a young career counselor, she’s encountered some older workers who…well…think she looks like a baby. And as a result, they often question whether or not she’s capable of doing her job. So in today’s post, Kelly offers a bit of advice on getting others to take you seriously…despite your Gen Y status.


I’ve never been much of a suit kind of gal, and as somebody who works in higher education, unless I become a dean (someday…), it is not expected that I’ll ever really have to be, aside from the occasional employer meeting or as a conference attendee.  Although I do believe in the mantra “dress for the job you want, not the job you have” I tend to prefer bright colors, blouses and ballet flats to suit jackets, button ups and heels. But I’m sure to always present myself in a professional and appropriate manner.

As Gen Y’s, we are often accused of being too casual both in attitude and in dress, and although I’m not rolling into work in my wet bathing suit, I noticed that some faculty, students (more so alumni) and staff were always surprised when they met me for the first time, “nice to meet you, gosh, you look like you could be a student!”  Thank you for the compliment (?), but I’m not.  After checking with my supervisor and confirming that I was, indeed, dressed professionally and appropriately for my office, I began to wonder if other younger professionals were getting similar responses.

The answer was an overwhelming, “yes!”  One friend of mine who works in finance said that her credibility is often questioned by older clients, and another colleague in education confessed that some parents question her experience.  As Gen Y’s we’re new(ish) to the workplace, but if we were hired, that means we’re fit for the position.  I’ve come up with these 3 tactics to crush the credibility doubters:

This goes without saying but, dress like a pro.

Take a look around your office and those who are in positions you’d eventually like to be in and see what they’re wearing. Copy them (assuming it’s appropriate).  Although I would stick out like a sore thumb in my office if I wore a suit, I always make sure I look put together and professional, and when I’m teaching or meeting with an older colleague, I kick it up a notch and throw on a blazer and some nice shoes (guys: just have a tie in your office).

Know when to speak up/know when to shut up.

If you’re extroverted (like me), you may find yourself chomping at the bit to give your opinion at staff meetings. I know with myself, it is uncomfortable and even a struggle to not speak up.  Make sure what you have to say is thoughtful and warranted.  Ask yourself, “Can I rationally back up my opinion?  How will this better my department?”  If you can articulate both those question, then speak up.  Similarly, if speaking up makes you uncomfortable, in the words of Sheryl Sandberg, Lean In!  You were hired because your manager believes you have something to contribute.  It is natural for you to be uncomfortable, but recognize the only way people are going to hear your ideas, is if you put them on the table.

If you don’t know the answer, admit it and then seek it out.

I work with a wide variety of clients ranging from undergraduates and Ph.D. candidates to alums.  I am a self-proclaimed generalist, not an expert in any industry.  When working with a client or asked a question in a class I can’t answer, I answer honestly, “that’s a great question, I am not sure, but I will find out for you and get you that information.”  Nobody likes a know-it-all and I certainly don’t know what kinds of job searching databases, if any, are out there for biophysicists, but I can certainly ask around, find out and get back to you.  People appreciate honesty, it gives you credibility.

Kelly Konevich is a twenty-something Bostonian attempting to balance work and play in a traditional college town.  Career Advisor at Northeastern University, social media enthusiast and glitter aficionado. Follow her on Twitter @kellydscott4.

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21 thoughts on “No, I’m Not a Student- How To Be Taken Seriously As A Young Professional

  1. Ashley says:

    I definitely relate to this, as I’m 25 and working at my alma mater. I often encounter different types of people, ranging from students, to professors and faculty, to other staff members. When they meet me in person for the first time, their attitudes toward me often change, as I even look much younger than I am (I was once asked which high school I’m in, as an example). They go from treating me as an equal via phone/email to treating me as an inexperienced young’in. Yes, I am still learning, but as you pointed out, I was hired for a reason. We often have to work harder to prove ourselves, and after a while, these people go back to treating me as an equal. It can be frustrating, but following the pointers you’ve listed here seem to help. Thanks for writing this!

    • Kelly says:

      What high school you’re in?! Yuck! I can totally relate, so glad you found this helpful! I work at my alma mater too, so I often see faculty/staff around that knew me when I was a student. Sometimes that helps and sometimes it doesn’t. Students however, seem to respect the fact that I did go to NU and I think it helps build my credibility and ultimately trust, hopefully that’s the same for you. At least we know that down the line we’ll be the ones in charge!

  2. Sean Breslin says:

    Great post, Kelly. The hardest one for me to learn, as an arrogant millenial, is knowing when to shut up. I’ve gotten better over time at that skill, and it’s probably kept me from getting fired a time or two.

  3. Jonny Eberle says:

    I’ve definitely run into this problem. Thankfully, I’m starting to get a few grey hairs, but people still treat me differently in person than they do on the phone or through email. To combat this, I strive to be the most professional person in the room. A strong handshake, good eye contact and making sure people know that I know what I’m doing goes a long way. Keep up the great work!

  4. samgroves90 says:

    I can relate to this! For my first full time job we were allowed to dress pretty casual so obviously I followed suit, but being a young female in an office full of people pretty much 20-35 years older than me people they kept calling me names like “kidlet” and “kiddo”. I hated it! I felt like no one took me seriously or respected me. It wasn’t until after 15 months of working there and I resigned that they realised how much work I did and decided to treat me with more respect and try to get me to stay!

  5. Mai says:

    When I was younger, back when the oldest members of Generation Y (including myself) were still in high school, I was given the advice to dress for the job you want, not the job you have. While not a hard and fast rule (I’m not looking to move up anytime soon), I stick with the classic “would my direct supervisor wear this?”

    Great post!

  6. hersilentmusings says:

    People tell me all the time that I look 16, and I’m 23. It doesn’t seem to matter how I do my makeup or what I wear or the way I fix my hair. I know that I look young, but it still really annoys me, and I’ve had customers (not often, but still) treat me like I’m stupid because of it. One of my supervisors is only about a year and a half older than me and there is a customer who always talks to us like we’re five year-olds when he needs something done with his account. He talks loudly and repeats himself and uses a condescending tone, and he never did that with our older coworkers. Yes, we dress more casually than other banks would allow, but we are told to do that based on this idea the higher ups have of us being more “relatable” to customers, so there’s this idea if we come into work too “dressed up” we’re overdressing. I think it’s just difficult for Gen-Y’s regardless of what we do. Generations before us, I think, will more often than not want to judge us harshly before really giving us a chance, and it takes a lot of effort to prove anyone differently. That’s, at least, been my experience and observation. But every generation has something they’re up against. I think the tough job market and sincerity of and commitment to labor are two of the biggest for us.

  7. Reiss says:

    Thanks so much for this. The second point is something that I sometimes struggle with so it is nice to have a reminder.

  8. loveliterally says:

    This is a great post! I experience this often, as I am a high school teacher and only a few years older than the 12th graders that I teach. When their parents come in, they can’t believe that I am the instructor. One parent refused to believe until a colleague confirmed I was actually teacher!

  9. kelliekrowe says:

    I absolutely love this! I have the biggest issue with this. I work at Michigan’s House of Representatives and I look much younger than I am. I’m constantly asked which representative I’m interning for, for which I reply: None, I’ve got health benefits, pal!

    Great post.

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