We’d all like to be known in the workplace for our talents alone—but, as new professionals, we rarely get that opportunity right off the bat. First, we get the fun honor of being the less-experienced newbie with a lot to learn.
At my place of work in particular, most of my co-workers and bosses have been with the organization since it was founded and have contributed to our cause in some way for a whole lot longer. For me, that meant I had to break into a pretty intricate culture, and it took a lot of work to show everyone that I, the rookie, could contribute in a positive, professional way.
While there’s nothing you can do to change your age or level of experience overnight, there are a few ways to move quickly into seasoned professional territory—and even make your age work to your advantage. Here are a few rules for getting off to a great start as the office new kid.
Know Your Role
When you land that first job, it’s easy to immediately want to jump in and prove yourself, but remember that it doesn’t need to happen all at once. In fact, it shouldn’t. While offering ideas, volunteering to take on new responsibilities, and finding ways to showcase your talents are all good things, going overboard can make you come across as being a know-it-all to your co-workers who have been around for a while. Plus, your workplace may not be willing to give you a bunch of responsibility until you’ve put in the hours and demonstrated that you’re an asset to the team.
Along similar lines, make sure you’re being respectful of your co-workers and bosses and the way things are done. In fact, the best way to get ahead in your company at first is to acknowledge the experience of the team you’re a part of and learn from them. (After all, that’s what you’re really there to do!)
Start by asking questions about how things work within the office and between levels. For example, when I first started working in my current position, I didn’t realize the intricate set of checks and balances that existed within our structure and would get annoyed by the time it took to get the approval I needed to push a project forward. But once I learned more about why those procedures were in place—and started listening to what my co-workers did to gain approval from upper management in a timely manner—I was able to better contribute as an efficient team member.
Put Extra Thought into How You Come Across
When I first started my job at a local nonprofit, I continued wearing all the outfits I wore throughout my internships in college, assuming these would continue to be appropriate. And boy, was I wrong.
About three weeks into the position, a higher-up called me into her office to explain that I needed to be dressing more conservatively. Needless to say, I was taken aback—not to mention embarrassed and confused about what to do next. So for the next few weeks, I only wore pants and sweaters—in the middle of summer in the Southwest.
Finally, my direct supervisor, only a few years older than me but already holding a director role, took me under her wing and explained to me that, while this wasn’t an attack on my clothing choices, we as young professionals need to appeal to more than just ourselves when we’re getting ready in the morning. It might not be a huge deal to you that your hem is a little on the short side, but to a client or others in the office, it makes you look unprofessional—and, well, young.
Similarly, you should watch what you say and how you say it, from in-person interactions to online communications. Notice how others within the office interact with each other and how formal the tone tends to be in meetings and within emails, and craft your messages accordingly. The more you look, act, and sound like your more seasoned co-workers, the more they’ll begin to see you that way.
Show Your Strengths—Without Being Too Much
Finally, remember that there are certain advantages to being the youngest member of your office. For example, in my job search, I was astounded by the number of potential employers who were impressed with my social media experience. Did I have years of professional experience in the social world? No, but it comes naturally to me since I use it every day. We have insights into this powerful medium that our elders don’t, simply because they didn’t grow up surrounded by it.
Millennials are also known for our ambition, enthusiasm, and passion—and these are great traits to bring to the workplace. Sharing your insight, offering your unique expertise, and being excited about the work you’re doing is a great way to stand out in the office.
However, don’t let the less admirable traits of our generation get the best of your role in the company. I am the first to admit I can be a little overly confident at times, which isn’t all bad, but it can be challenging when I receive criticism for things I need to improve on. Acknowledging this trait as both a strength and a weakness helps me keep myself in check and recognize if I’m going overboard. Know your strengths and use them to your advantage, but always consider how you’re coming across to others in the office.
As the newest young professionals, we have a great opportunity to grow ourselves and make an impact in the position we’re in—it’s just a matter of making the right moves. But if you do, you’ll to graduate from newbie status to valued team member in no time.
Photo of young employee courtesy of Shutterstock.