Take the 2-minute tour ×
The Workplace Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for members of the workforce navigating the professional setting. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I'm 25 years old but I am well aware that my appearance leads people to believe I am (easily) under 18. Unfortunately for me it's my face, not the way I dress. I can't even grow a beard to offset it.

I do not expect this to change any time soon.

People treat teenagers very differently. It's assumed, often correctly, that they are not very worldly and lack insight into business motivated decisions or that they cannot have much experience in their profession.

I don't personally have to deal with clients face to face but I am aware that there are other issues that may pertain to others, such as the possibility of clients feeling they are being viewed as less important if a "junior" employee is dealing with their issues.

I do occasionally deal with clients over the phone and I often find in person more people attempt to manipulate me or refuse to accept/listen my answers and solutions.

How can I deal with issues like this? Should I drop my age when ever I introduce myself?

How can I politely get people to stop talking down to me? Even my employer, who obviously knows how old I am, took quite a while to treat me differently to my 19 year old co-worker.

There may be no easy answer to this but I do find it a hurdle. Is there anything I can do help quickly build a rapport with clients that gets this point across?

share|improve this question
2  
You could try wearing glasses with plain lenses or even using hair coloring to add a touch of grey. –  Neuro Dec 31 '12 at 10:42
28  
As a side note, looking younger than you actually are is great once you start getting older :) –  Rachel Dec 31 '12 at 13:47
1  
Definitely, in more than just the workplace! :) –  Amicable Jan 1 '13 at 16:16
2  
This happened to me until I was about 30. Then things were cool--for 5 years. When I hit 35, I started to feel like people were talking down to me because I was too old to possibly understand. At 42, I don't give a crap... –  Amy Blankenship Feb 23 '13 at 15:56
5  
If it makes you feel any better, here's a conversation with a colleague I had not too long ago: Him - "How old are you, anyway?" Me - "24" Him - "Oh, I thought you were way older" Me - "I get that a lot" Him - "Oh, because of the balding, I assume." Me - "..............." –  mikeTheLiar Feb 25 '13 at 22:03

8 Answers 8

up vote 54 down vote accepted

Spend some serious time thinking about whether what you do is reflective of someone who is older than 30 or 18.

You want people to see you as a business professional.

First, jmort253 briefly talks about this, but it really is important to dress like a professional. This is important. Really important. You don't say what industry you are in but you will almost always be treated more seriously by wearing nicer clothing. A polo/khakis in an environment with jeans/tshirts. Perhaps even a suitcoat. A trivially easy way to demonstrate this is to go to a car dealership dressed in jeans vs business dress. Without fail, no one has ever taken me seriously while wearing jeans (just another kid looking at cars...), but 100% of the time, when wearing business casual, I get immediate attention (oh, this guy is 1. serious and 2. probably has money!).

Second, look through this list and make sure you are really aware of your personal tendencies. If you act young, and look young, people will treat you like you are young. If you act older, even if you look young, you will get taken a lot more seriously.

  • Do you say "like" or other filler words all the time? If so, stop this as soon as possible
  • Do you talk fast? Spend time concentrating on slowing down your speech (this tends to help with the above too)
  • Do you play on your phone/check it often? Stop doing this if so.
  • Do you mumble? Or speak clearly? Concentrate on speaking clearly.
  • Do you look people in the eye and practice active listening? Or do you fidget when people are talking to you?
  • Do you take notes when people are talking to you about technical subjects? Or just assume you will remember things?
  • Do you ask questions of things you can easily solve yourself? Don't be a help vampire.
  • Do you show up to work really tired? Or talk about... weekend activities?
  • Is your hair an unkept mess or combed?
  • Do you constantly deliver on projects? Coworkers are likely to take you much more seriously when they know you not only knowledge but ability to apply and execute.
  • Do you slouch or have good posture?
  • Do you get upset about little things or have troubles with authority?
  • Are you confident? Or timid/shy? People take a confident person a lot more seriously.
  • Be careful using emoticons in email/IM
  • Do you use IM (if your office has it) in a way like your older coworkers?

Don't give people reasons to think you are a teenager.

The point of all this is you want to be perceived as a professional. You cannot necessarily change your physical appearance. But you can change the whole host of mannerisms, quirks, and personality traits which will either reinforce the age your physical appearance suggests, or, counter it.


As humans, we make a lot of assumptions based on how people act and talk (in addition to simply appearance). Many of your coworkers might have teenager children. If you act similarly and look similarly to those children you should not be surprised if they treat you in that way.

Yes, people judge at first glance based on age. But how we act and present ourselves has a much larger effect than simply what our physical appearance represents.

share|improve this answer
6  
+1, would have voted +5 if I could. To the OP, and slightly OT: take the good looks of youth while it lasts, it won't be long (on the geological scale). –  Deer Hunter Dec 30 '12 at 16:55
2  
@Amicable I added in a couple more things I thought of reading your other comment. Things like :) can come across that way too. The main thing to realize is while these are not necessarily guaranteed to prevent people from thinking you are older, they definitely can help (or hurt). Some people are and always will be... well, difficult. –  enderland Dec 31 '12 at 3:43
1  
@enderland there's a time and place for emoticons, they fill in for the lack of body language and voice tone on the internet. I'd would agree they don't have a place in professional e-mails, although think once you've already established a good rapport with someone a more casual tone can be beneficial. –  Amicable Dec 31 '12 at 3:56
2  
@Amicable, I wouild find it difficult to take anyone seriously who used emoticons in an email or any written communication other than IM. No matter how well I knew them. Emails can often end up in unexpected places. If you feel the need for an emoticon, what you really need is to reword. –  HLGEM Dec 31 '12 at 14:32
1  
@Amicable there is a time and a place for emoticons. That time and place is not for someone who is trying to appear older/professional in a professional work environment, however. I use tons of emoticons in IM/emails/messages to my friends, however I've probably used a total of 5 in work related emails over my entire life (if that). –  enderland Dec 31 '12 at 20:01

I have had a similar situation when working in Europe - although not identical.

The later age of graduation in some countries relative to the UK (especially with an MSc or PhD) can mean that when you are under about 28-30 it can be hard to establish professional credibility.

At 28, someone from the UK can have an MSc and 6 years of practical experience in their role, where in Germany or the Netherlands they might have only just started work professionally.

I found the best approach in these situations was to be extremely "hardcore" from a technical perspective in the initial project start-up meetings, and to continually refer back to situations in previous projects ("ah - that's like something I worked on five years ago...") Over a few meetings people learn to park their age-based prejudice to one side, and focus instead on what you actually have to say.

Similarly projecting an experienced, professional style will also help, as a jmort253 has commented, emulating the dress style, composure and focus of those who are significantly older that you may help.

Unfortunately none of this will prevent the prejudice you are seeing, but may help you to mitigate it more rapidly. And take heart that as jmort253 also implies, in 10-15 years time, this will be working in your favour.

share|improve this answer
1  
and that means in 25-30 years time, it will work against you once again, and you'll need to look younger. Maybe not hat-on-backwards/sideways w/baggy clothes younger, but once again targeting that mid-thirties look... young enough to have the energy, but old enough to know what you're doing. –  jmort253 Dec 30 '12 at 8:10
3  
Basically from the age of say 25 to 55, you need to look/act (more or less) like George Clooney has. If you are male, that is. Less so in some industries/companies (say Facebook) and more so in others (law, airline pilot) As in so many other things, the issues can be when you don't match the client/stakeholder/investor's expectations of how you are supposed to look... car mechanic in a smart suit, for example... –  GuyM Dec 30 '12 at 8:45

I used to have this problem. People have finally stopped asking if I'm in high school. I did mention my age (or how long I've been with the company or year of graduation) for years when a new person started on the team so they wouldn't think I was brand new.

The key is to do it in a way that doesn't sound awkward. For example "Hi. I'm Joe, I'm 25." does make you sound immature. Vs "Hi. I'm Joe and I've been in sales since I graduated in 2008. Today I'd like to discuss how our product meets your needs."

The other ways of dealing with it are to be really good at what you do or establish a relationship without being seen. (Email, phone to start - before meeting.) Granted neither of these does anything for first impressions which seems to be what you are asking about.

share|improve this answer

I agree with enderland's answer quite strongly but wanted to add a few other unrelated thoughts...

Along with making sure that you are absolutely dead on with "acting your age" - I found that my young-looking coworkers also had another trick or two. They wouldn't say "Hi I'm name and I'm 25" but they would find ways to drop indicators of their age including:

  • Role - usually in a professional environment, the role of someone who's 25 is quite different than the role of someone who's 19.
  • Certifications/credentials - having gone to college, having a professional certification is an indicator that one didn't just finish high school.
  • Life status indicators - seroius significant others, renting apartments, owning homes, buying your own car, other signs of adult living.

These are all gentle tips to the listener to hopefully get them consciously clued in that you are older than you look without having to come right out and say it. I've also seen younger-looking folks have some funny stories worked in, if they are particularly comfortable with making a joke about it (not for every collegue, every situation or every individual).

Also, once or twice I've taken on the cause as a friend and peer and when someone in my presence mentioned that a certain collegue was "young for that position" or "young for a promotion" - I'd step in an make them question why they were saying that - if it was just perception, or was there a behavior that seemed young because the individual in question has a young face.

I'm not necessarily saying motivate every colleague, but if you have a few peers you're close to, having a PR campaign can be useful.

share|improve this answer

Have you ever seen the commercial with the middle-aged looking guy who goes to a job interview? The product being sold is the Touch of Grey mens hair dye. The commercial emphasizes looking young enough to have the energy to get things done while looking old enough to know what you're doing.

The commercial shows the interview candidate both with a full head of dark hair sitting next to himself with a full head of grey hair. An attractive woman is seen in the foreground discussing with a male colleague whether or not the guy will have the energy and experience to do the job. The two versions of the guy is then seen merged together into a guy with slightly greying hair. The woman making the hiring decision walks into the room and welcomes the man into the organization. She might even be biting her glasses if memory serves.

Although this is just a commercial, there is a lot of truth to the ageism ideas presented. Men that appear young are likely to not be taken seriously while older me may be looked at as being inflexible or incapable of adapting to the organizational structure.

As much as I would like to tell you that this doesn't exist, it does, and it may be helpful for you to make changes to your hair and your dress that will make you appear older. For instance, you might consider investing in a more conservative suit or more conservative clothing.

Look at the men in your organization who are in their thirties. How do they dress? Consider adapting a similar style.

Now, don't think this is something you're doing for others; instead, this is something that you're doing for you. Consider that when you dress differently, this may make you feel more your age, and it may help you feel more confident and change your behavior. By doing things that make you feel more confident about your age, you'll notice that people will treat you differently, with more respect!

share|improve this answer
1  
A "Touch of Gray" is marked at the older gentleman to make them appear more sprightly; we came up with the idea of a product (we were going to call it "Gravitas") for younger staff to help their professional credibility. Never made if from the tea-room to an actual idea, but it is a real issue... –  GuyM Dec 30 '12 at 6:47
1  
I am by far the most smartly dressed person in my company but I do feel your last paragraph is an important point which I should take to heart. Thank you for your answer! :) –  Amicable Dec 31 '12 at 1:44

Some additional "superficial" things not mentioned in the other solutions:

  • Use accessories that are mostly linked to senior professionals: a leather case for your phone, a watch, a high quality pen and notebook
  • Chose dark colors in your clothing and accessories
  • Some tricks to make you look older: shorter hair, glasses, relaxed body movements, shirt in pants, leather belt, conservative shoes
  • If you talk privately to someone who is condescending to you, chose sophisticated topics. The book you have read, something in the news. Not your last party, the band you are playing in or the multitude of girls (or boys) you are dating.
share|improve this answer
2  
would be an even better answer if the clothing tips were not aimed exclusively at men or were labelled (for men). As it stands it implies women don't even exist or have this problem –  Kate Gregory Feb 23 '13 at 14:07

From personal experience I've found that experience can offset a youthful appearance quite well - if you know what you are talking about and speak with confidence about a given topic you will probably come across as older.

There is also an issue here of the communication channels - I would say that convincing someone of your knowledge / worth (and how it doesn't relate to perceived age) differs substantially in person than on the phone.

In person (i.e. with colleagues) - you will almost certainly have a greater scope to portray your experience and knowledge. The best way to prove the validity of your suggestions is to make note of changes / ideas you have implemented (or recommended) and the gains they resulted in. Oftentimes people perceive that length of experience is the best measure of its depth, and this is a fallacy: show people consistently that you know what you are talking about and they will start to listen (especially if you truly believe in what you are saying).

On the phone (and especially with clients) can be harder (particularly if your voice sounds particularly youthful(?)), but I would not suggest mentioning your age as it can only ever be held against you. Instead take time with what you are saying (as this adds gravitas to your point), and if necessary change your tone / words used to match more with how the clients talk, as this will make you appear to be more comparable in age even if this isn't the case!

share|improve this answer

When I was younger, a very wise man suggested that I respond by addressing my age upfront by saying something like:

I get the feeling that my youthful looks may have surprised you ...

or I have a problem that I want to share with you before we get started ... in the past my youthful appearance has been considered a distraction, but I've found that if I bring it up before I get started the distraction tends to disappear.

In other words diffuse any perceived challenges including youthful appearance before you get started.

share|improve this answer
1  
Hmmm, i can see this backfiring massively though. e.g, you meet a 60 yr old coworker for the first time 'I realise my youth may surprise you', they take that to mean youre calling them old and get offended, you then have a lot of explaining to do –  RWY Mar 13 '13 at 9:16

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.