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We hear a lot about discrimination against older tech pros, but younger tech workers face their own challenges. It can be especially difficult for the youngest members of the team who have limited professional experience.
"It can be harder to make sure that your ideas are heard and to present yourself in a way [that] gets people to take you seriously," said Alisa Cohn, an executive coach based in New York City.
This can manifest in a number of ways:
- The youngest team member isn't invited to meetings.
- When participating in a meeting, their input isn't considered.
- They're not given the best assignments.
- Managers micromanage every task the younger team member is responsible to complete.
The good news is young tech professionals can take several steps to get their voices heard and be taken seriously. Here are some pieces of career advice for young professionals as they establish themselves in the workplace.
Solicit seasoned executives
One way to build credibility is to seek out more experienced colleagues and ask them about their career path in the company, according to Cohn, author of From Start-Up to Grown-Up and host of a podcast of the same name. This helps a young tech pro start to build a network, which can eventually lead to better assignments and new opportunities.
"Always, always, always and forever build your network -- up, down, and across inside of the workplace," Cohn said. "Your network helps you get more done and distinguish yourself. It positions you with someone in the know."
Young professionals that demonstrate they are open to feedback from more seasoned colleagues can benefit from their older team members' wisdom, noted Eugene Frazier, CEO and president of EF Choice & Associates, a business consultancy and executive coaching firm based in Houston. "You can see what they're seeing and bridge some of that experience," he said.
Improve communication skills and attitude
Good communication skills are essential if you want to be taken seriously in the workplace.
One habit to avoid is uptalk, wherein a statement sounds like a question. "Make sure that your voice goes down at the end of sentences," Cohn suggested. Also, speak clearly -- in bullet points, when appropriate -- and don't ramble on, she said.
Another tip: Prepare for meetings ahead of time, and work through what insights you could contribute. "Plan that out in advance so that, when the moment strikes, you're ready for it," she said.
Sometimes, young professionals lose credibility when they come off as entitled, knowingly or not. For example, they declare they're capable to take on more responsibility with no evidence to back up this claim. "They expect leaders and managers to trust them when they've shown no results at all," Cohn said.
Use assertive language
Choose your words in the workplace carefully -- this can make the difference between being heard or being dismissed.
Sharon Ilstrup, a leadership and career coach in Redmond, Wash., gives her clients a list of common phrases that come up during the daily course of work. The goal is to teach them to use assertive language that helps get their point across, take charge of a discussion or disagree with someone else's opinion. Consider the following examples:
- To insert your point of view in a meeting:
- "I recommend …"
- "To clarify, the critical next steps will be …"
- "What I will do next is …"
- To take charge of a discussion:
- "How did you come up with that conclusion?" (Don't ask, "Why did you come up with that conclusion?" because the word why tends to make people defensive, Ilstrup said.)
- "What else should we be thinking about here?"
- "What other concerns do you have?"
- To disagree with someone or reframe your own point of view:
- "I see this issue differently …"
- "The key differences I see are …"
- "Thank you. If this aligns with our priorities, I'll get back to you."
Ilstrup also cautioned people to avoid what she calls "weak word starters." Examples of these include the following:
- "To be honest …"
- "If I'm being honest …"
- "I guess …"
- "I think …"
- "I feel like …"
- "Just a thought …"
- "I'm sorry, this is just my opinion, but …"
- "Sorry to …"
Instead, Ilstrup suggested the following phrases:
- "How about if we …"
- "What if we do X?"
"Knowing how and when to use certain words can help you get the respect of other people," Ilstrup said.
Alisa CohnExecutive coach
Overcome the fear of asking questions
Those who already feel like they're not taken seriously may hesitate to ask questions during meetings for fear of appearing inept.
In fact, there is usually a bigger risk to not ask a question, Ilstrup pointed out. If you need additional information to execute the tasks that were outlined in the meeting but you don't ask for clarification, chances are you will need to circle back with the meeting participants. This takes up more time for everyone and may even cause you to miss a deadline.
Check in with your manager
If you feel like your fellow team members aren't taking you seriously, consider bringing this up with your manager.
Schedule a check-in with your manager after three to six months into a new position, Cohn advised. During this conversation, communicate that you have the potential to contribute more to certain projects -- with examples and evidence if possible, beyond self-confidence -- and that you perceive that your ideas are dismissed because of your lack of experience. Then, ask your manager for guidance on how you can better showcase your skills and have more of an impact on the organization.
Asking for guidance is a great way for young tech pros to advance within their organizations, Cohn said. In fact, younger workers have a lot of license to ask for mentoring because it shows initiative.
"Someone 10 years ahead of you in their career would be expected to take initiative," she said. "Coming from you, a younger person, it comes as a [pleasant] surprise."