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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Getting Ahead

How to Be The Youngest One in the Office

It’s a fact: as a young grad out of college, it can be a challenge to establish yourself in the workplace. Sure, it’ll be easier once you’ve had a few jobs and years of experience under your belt. Your work will speak for itself over time, but if you’re the newbie in a group of older pros, you can earn respect from Day One by presenting yourself professionally and minding your mannerisms.

Here are 14 tips to get you started:

1. Dress for business, not for college or clubbing

Take a cue from well-respected execs in your office. Choose your attire carefully, paying attention to every detail. Your clothes should not be too tight, too short, or too revealing. Just because the models are wearing it in the magazines—or your roommate is wearing it to her job—doesn't mean it's right for your office.

2. Perfect your posture

Stand tall, shoulders back, head up. Arms up and out above your waist when you speak. Your posture can be as important as what your attire when it comes to making an impression. And avoid any inclination to clench your fists, cross your arms, roll your eyes—or twirl your hair.

3. Lose the words "Ma’am" and "Sir"

It was a nice gesture when you were in grade school, but addressing colleagues and clients with a gentle "Yes, sir" or "No, Ma'am" sets you up to look like a novice and emphasizes your junior status. (Plus, you’ll make whomever you are talking to feel old.)

4. Make an effort to connect and interact with everyone in the office

Don’t just hang out with same-age colleagues—it’s the office equivalent of sitting at the kids table. Engage with senior execs that will take notice of your talents.

5. If you’re making a statement, make it

Don’t apologize for it, or add a verbal question mark to the end. Don’t say, "I apologize in advance if I'm overstepping my bounds, but…" or "I think we should focus this campaign on the two top performing products?"—both come across as a glaring sign of low self-confidence.

6. Speak confidently

Project and enunciate. Your brilliant point is lost if others are struggling to hear it. Don't mumble, and avoid peppering your speech with juvenile words such as “like” and “whatever.”

7. Make your youth an advantage

You’re in a great position to bring fresh ideas to the table. Odds are that you’re more in tune with technology, social media, and trends than a few of your colleagues. Maybe you can offer ideas on how to get your company noticed in the blogosphere or explain why Twitter really is a valuable social media tool when used properly (it is!).

8. But don’t criticize the way things are currently done to make your point

Saying, “our website sucks" is lot less palatable than "I've been researching different websites and I have some ideas that I feel certain would benefit our site." Focusing on what you could do—rather than what’s being done wrong—will make your colleagues much more inclined to want to hear and go along with your ideas.

9. Be one of the first to arrive and one of the last to leave at the end of the day

Sitting at your desk as others file in or out of the office is an easy way to demonstrate your dedication. It also allows you quiet time to get things done without interruptions.

10. Don’t be afraid to ask questions

It’s how you learn. When you ask, listen for the answers. No one is expected to know it all, and asking for further direction or clarification is a sign that you are taking your job seriously.

11. Make a name for yourself, but don’t name drop

If your father's brother owns the company, work extra hard to make your own mark. And same goes if you have a prestigious school on your résumé. You will get further on your own merit and dedication than you will by relying on the family name or your school’s reputation.

12. Carve out a personal niche

Build your credibility by being an expert in a particular area and sharing your knowledge with colleagues. Showing the initiative to become that go-to person and putting your talents in the spotlight will only help you.

13. Don't be afraid to fail or make mistakes

At some point, we all have made some big mistake—and it’s OK. If you never fail, it's a sure sign that you’re not taking on new challenges or stepping out of your comfort zone.

14. But do apologize

When you make a mistake, own it. Go directly to the source you offended. Explain how you plan to correct the situation and what you intend to do differently to avoid the same mistake in the future.

Remember, you got the job because you have valuable skills and qualities to contribute. So if you’re young, pay a little extra attention to your mannerisms, and you’ll set yourself up to be a respected and contributing member of the team.

Photo of young woman in office courtesy of Shutterstock.