I just finished my undergrad for college, and started my new job at a tech company. Most of my co-workers are 20, 30, or 40 years older than me. It seems like my status of being a fresh college graduate and/or my young age may have an influence on the amount of respect I get when presenting ideas. Any ideas on how to approach this situation?
In any new job, you should take time to build a reputation as someone who knows what he or she is doing before starting to suggest changes. You also need to to listen first and find out why thing are done the way they are. Some things you want to change many have regulatory or legal or economic reasons why they can't be changed. Or some things may be dictated by the client. Right now you are fresh out of school, why should they listen to you? There is so much you don't know yet. You need to concentrate on building a reputation as someone who delivers good quality work on schedule to have any chance of effectively changing an organization. They have to trust your judgement before you can be effective in driving change.
When you have an age gap, then you have to work harder to prove yourself. Consider that anyone older than 5 years from your age is an alien and you won't go far wrong. Their viewpoints are very different from yours and their experience is very different. Take some time to learn about their viewpoints before charging in to change things.
And remember when you decide to start proposing changes that it is very likely you are proposing the changes to the people who set up the current system. You will get resistance to change, that is close to 100% guaranteed. So you have to know the people well enough to know what kind of arguments will sway them to change.
First hint, logical arguments never trump emotional ones and emotional arguments disguised as logical ones are the most effective. You need to find an emotional reason they can hook to in order to get people to change. They want to know what is in it for them or they want to know what pain you will take away if the change happens.
Timing helps too. Right after a major disaster that could have been avoided if you had... is one of the best times to make a suggestion. This is when people are looking for something they can change to in order to explain to higher ups how they will avoid this type of problem in the future. At the start of a new project is also a good time to suggest and implement changes. Two weeks from the delivery of a major release to prod when everyone is working overtime and tired and cranky is not a good time. especially if it will cause more work in the short-term.
Another thing that helps is not trying to change more than one thing at a time. Start small and have a track record of successful ideas implemented before tackling the big ones. And even then, do it is pieces. Most people have difficulty handling too much change at one time.
People who have held one job a long time may have seen a lot of potential changes come and go. Many of them were bad ideas and caused them more work than not changing would have. They may have even tried what you are suggesting and had it fail miserably not just once but several times. This is the attitude you are going to face going in with a new proposal. You have to give them a reason to change.
Give respect to gain respect. This applies even in scenarios where you join a company at a senior position and have reports who have been working there for a while.
As someone just out of school, accomplish what is thrown at you first and then look for additional opportunities.
In a technology company, you might have to spend 5/6 months working on something before you start coming up with ideas that others have not considered previously. Work through the idea on your own, and then present to someone who is willing to listen. Use their assistance to sell the idea and credit them appropriately.
Balance your zeal for proving yourself with the willingness to ask "why" (and sometimes, to leave things as they are). There is going to be plenty of stuff going on that your professors never taught you (and possibly never knew), and that you can only begin to understand by having to deal with under real-world constraints like time, money, and office politics.
The respect you get will depend on two things: you, and your colleagues. Some people are open-minded, happy to listen to ideas from anyone, regardless of their age, experience, or training, are able to judge those ideas on their merits, and will engage the creator constructively. Other people are less open to change. Do not expect other people to behave rationally all the time, or to be willing to evaluate your ideas objectively. Some will, and some won't. Not everyone thinks like you do.
You want to pitch your ideas to the most open-minded people first. If you aren't sure who to talk to, then it's probably best to stop talking until you figure that out. If you find that none of your colleagues are interested in your ideas, and can't provide any constructive criticism, then you may want to consider a change in situation. Some teams are perfectly happy doing what they are doing, and will shoot down any suggestions until the roof is caving in.
You may be interested in reading Driving Technical Change by Terrence Ryan.
You gain respect by earning it. You make contribution to your work to earn the respect from others, regardless they are more experienced or less experienced. You contribute to your workplace by working. You help your team and your company to succeed. You maintain the integrity at work. You follow procedures. You are not late arriving at meetings, . . . I hope you get my idea here. You keep being a good worker, others will naturally respect you.
Any ideas on how to approach this situation?
Be respectful of your peers. They have a lot of knowledge they can share with you from a technical and business perspective, and most will as long as you don't come across like a know it all. You will always have one or two folks who for one reason or another do not like to share information or help others. Do not waste your efforts on these folks.
The other thing you can do to earn respect is to work hard. Do some research on your own before seeking help from a more senior team member. This show that you are willing to put in the time necessary to be good at your job, while showing respect to your more senior member's time.
If you do these two things, you will find the respect your looking for.