I seem to have this knack about me for always being the youngest guy in the room. For a while, I felt insecure about it, especially out in the working world. People would ask how old I am, smile, and then — as if comforting an infant — say, “Awww, you’re still so young!”
Now I see that I seek out these situations because they are how I’m able to learn so quickly.
Here are five ways to present yourself in a way, where even if you’re the youngest guy or girl in the room, you’re still taken seriously and respected:
Especially if you’re young, the worst thing you can do is try to show what you know— even if you’re right. Why? Because the average employee older than you will feel insecure. Remember: You won’t be young forever, so during this rare and special time of learning, you are an elusive, almost invisible sponge. It is your job to listen and learn. Watch. Observe. Take in as much as you can and find ways to speak up and share what you know in non-threatening ways. The goal here is not to prove your intelligence, but to allow those older and more experienced than you to feel proud — almost excited to show how much they know. This is your opportunity.
Young or not, attire makes all the difference. You could be the most novice college intern, but if dressed well, you’ll be held to a different standard. This doesn’t mean suit and tie, nor does this mean super-edgy creative. This means clean, put together and a little above blending in (because you want to stand out in an ambitious sort of way), but not so much that you look like the young hot shot. It’s a fine line. Good luck.
3. Get to the point
When you speak, people are going to listen for approximately 8 seconds. You’re young. You haven’t earned their respect yet. And there are two huge mistakes young people make in the working world. They either compensate for their lack of knowledge by talking really fast about nothing, or they talk slowly around the point, not knowing where they are trying to end up. If you can’t say what you want to say in less than 8 seconds, it’s not worth saying. Trust me. Just keep on listening.
4. Ask questions
I cannot stress this enough. The single best way to earn the respect of others is to show interest in them and what they do. The more genuine questions you ask, the more they will see your hunger to learn and the more they will begin to see you as an extension of themselves — and thus, an investment. They’ll want to see you grow and will help make it happen.
Note: This is not to be confused with asking dumb, helpless questions. Those will ensure the opposite effect. Nobody will like you, and you won’t learn very much.
5. Take Chances
This is the final piece of advice, and goes against everything before it. Because you’re young, you are free to make mistakes. I’ve been told many times, “I don’t care if you’re wrong. I care if you doubt yourself.” Those above you will take note of your willingness to fail, as long as it’s a calculated risk. Once you take the time to listen, learn and really understand your craft, don’t be afraid to take the leap and make a difference. You’ll probably fail, and you’ll probably piss someone off in the process, but you’ll also learn an important lesson that will ultimately be valued and appreciated by a key player who will further support your learning and risk-taking.
Reposted on Fortune Magazine.