CAREER, Corporate

Overcoming Ageism in the Workplace: How to be taken seriously at your first job out of college

Disclaimer: For the purposes of this post, I would like to clarify that the term “ageism” is being defined as “not being taken seriously due to one’s age” or “feeling treated like a child due to one’s age or looks.” Counter to the traditional definition, I personally have not felt any prejudice or discrimination in the workplace due to being/looking young. 

Let me preface this post with the fact that my entire life I have looked younger than I actually am. I’ve had people ask me what high school I go to, as a college graduate. My first few months of work, someone came up to me and asked me if I was an intern. The pretty awkward conversation of “Actually…. I work here”  ensued. While I have come to look at these statements as a compliments because I’ll appreciate it later, it’s meant that first appearances matter x2, and people will make automatic assumptions about your capabilities before really getting to know you. In a few months I’ll be coming up on a year in the workplace post-college (time seriously flies), and I wanted to share with you what I’ve learned. I truly believe that these few things have really helped me excel in the workplace thus far.

1 ) D R E S S    F O R    S U C C E S S

Each industry has different expectations for dress, so there isn’t a one size fits all for attire. But what this really means is reminding yourself that 1) want to stand out against your college-grad peers and 2) don’t have the seniority of some of your co-workers. What does that look like? In tech that might mean swapping out your hoodie and running shoes for a sweater and flats. Because nothing says college like a hoodie. (Sweaters are still comfortable, but more put together). In accounting, that might mean making sure that your suit is ironed, your hair is done, and your shoes aren’t scuffed. (For more dressy attire it’s all in the details). As far as seniority goes, if you’ve been at the company 20 years, then yes, maybe it doesn’t matter that you’re shirt is wrinkled and you’re wearing a sweatshirt. But when you’re new, that all means something.

2 )  A S K   F O R    A D V I C E

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I think that this is the Number One benefit that you have as a college grad. In fact, I would say this is the one thing that can really help your career, and it’s an opportunity that you only get when you’re new and young. It’s human nature to love to help people and to talk about ourselves. And the reality is, as college grads we can be hard workers and smart, but we still don’t have the experience or knowledge of some of our co-workers. So not asking them for advice is doing yourself a disservice.

My first month of work, I scheduled meetings with every member of my team to learn more about what they do, how they got to this point in their career, and what advice they have for someone starting out. Everyone’s answer is different and and every insight helps. My company also offers a lot of speaker series’ and panel talks with senior leaders in the company to new grads. The people I found inspiring? I reached out to afterwards and asked to take them for coffee. I haven’t been rejected yet (yay!) and it’s allowed me to network outside of my business unit and continue to gather advice. Being new is the best excuse to approach someone and learn about them. Take advantage of that!

3 )  L E V E R A G E   Y O U R   S T R E N G T H S

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I was in a workshop recently where we had to take the StrengthsFinder Test to figure out our top 5 strengths. I’ve taken it throughout my different internships, but always appreciate the opportunity to take the test again because strengths can change. Usually your strengths correlate with your passions. And if you’re passionate about something, and you’re good at something, you’ll be able to excel in your role. Consider these strengths a guide to figuring out if the role you’re in is good for you, and where you should go next. Taking my Strengths-finder test and reviewing it with my manager has allowed us to discuss what tasks I would excel in.

4 )   D E V E L O P    Y O U R    B R A N D

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Whether we know it or not, we all have a personal brand that permeates a message. Abercrombie & Fitch? Fat shamer. Nike? Fashionable workout clothes. Brookes Brothers? WASP. Whether we like our brand message or not, we have one. If you don’t know what yours is, it’s a good idea to ask the people around you to see wha they think. I’ve discovered that the biggest feedback I’ve gotten shapes my brand as “Giulia is persistent. She gets things done.” Once you figure out what your message reads, then you need to figure out if you like it or not, and if not how you can improve it.

If you don’t like your message, the best thing you can do is get feedback. Ex: “Hey Bob, I know you mentioned that you think I’m a little disorganized. I would like to work on improving that, do you have any advice for how I can be more organized?” That is what in PR we call “damage control.” You may not have made any changes yet, but showing people that you’re willing to change is a step in the write direction.

If you do like your message, the best thing you can do is figure out how to maintain it. What are you specifically doing that is giving people that idea? How can you ensure that you keep up that reputation?

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| Jaleh Ruffle blouse c/o | Banana Republic pants | SHEIN mules | Rosegal Bomber jacket c/o |

If you’re new to the workplace, what tips do you have for success?

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