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Edit: I am no longer the original user who made this post (hence the more recent questions I am asking are not related to this post).

I'm the founder of a growing IT company. I went to a university (only finished my first year and a half). I have 1 year of work experience (in an IT related field).

I started up an IT company and it's growing faster than expected.

With that said, I've got money to hire workers. The problem is, I'm only 20, and I'm interviewing / hiring workers up to twice my age and 10 times the work experience. I look like an 18 year old and my looks give away my age easily.

I fear that my own workers are not going to take me seriously because of my age and lack of work experience. I have a feeling that after hiring them, they might not like the fact that someone with 1 year of work experience is 'calling all the shots'. Will my age and lack of work experience make workers want to quit the job after the first month or so?

Am I worrying too much about the fact that I'm a young worker with not much work experience hiring a team of workers who are all older than me with a lot more work experience? Is there anything I can do to improve my situation or should I just continue as is and see what happens?

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    Comments removed. Comments are to request clarifications, not to have discussions or offer answers. Feel free to use The Workplace Chat. – Monica Cellio Oct 15 '14 at 16:08
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    Why do you need to do the in reviews yourself? I'd suggest you to use recruitment agency or recruitment professional. You are obviously an entrepreneur, not an HR specialist. You main focus would be to lead the company and grow your business, not to hire yourself. – Host Color Oct 15 '14 at 22:59
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    @LegoStormtroopr well I am the head of the start-up for sure. I am the only owner of the company and was the one who registered the company and the decision to signing a deal with other companies is made by me. I am the only one who has access to the server and source code for the app and am the Currently the only one who is allowed to hire employees. By 'how big the start-up is', employee wise, it is really small. It's just me, I am going to start hiring now. I have 6 workers who do designing and consulting but they are not official employees - I pay them in cash for the work they do. – user2719875 Oct 15 '14 at 23:54
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    @LegoStormtroopr, The head of a start-up is the CEO duh.... What else would it be? Someone among the co-founders had to be CEO if the startup has no money to hire a real CEO. – Pacerier Nov 6 '15 at 11:33
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    "I am no longer the original user who made this post" - not sure how this could be, unless the SE account has changed hands somehow (somewhy??) - but anyway, you can ask to be dissociated from this post, if you want. – AakashM Aug 11 '17 at 8:39

12 Answers 12

82

am I worrying too much about the fact that I'm a 20 year old

No. It's an important thing, and you should be the one to try and get ahead of the issues it may cause. My second real job had a 19 year old CTO. It's not exactly uncommon.

I think that my age and lack of work experience will make workers want to quit the job after the first month or so.

This is pretty unlikely. They're far more likely to not take the job at all. The only way they leave that quickly is if they get into the job and find out you have no idea what you're doing and the company's prospects are bleak because of it.

I have a feeling that my own workers are not going to take me seriously because of my age and lack of work experience.

Some won't. Don't hire them. But quite a few people will treat you seriously if you are seriously skilled. The charisma, passion, and organizational skills needed by an entrepreneur will largely be there regardless of age.

I have a feeling that after hiring them, they might not like the fact that a 20-year old with 1 year of work experience is 'calling all the shots'.

One thing to be aware of, and may help with this: Don't call all the shots.

You can't do everything well, so get into the habit early of delegating things to others who are better than you at those things. People will trust you more if you show trust in others.

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    +1 especially for not calling all the shots. This reminds me of a bunch of things Joel Spolsky has written about management style (which seem to make sense), for example this and this and this and another one that I have in mind but can't seem to find - the gist is, a good manager exists to remove distractions, not to tell their subordinates how to do their jobs. – David Z Oct 15 '14 at 19:36
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    @DavidZ - it's a well known leadership principle, Spolsky didn't say anything controvercial. Hire a great team and let them perform. – user13655 Oct 15 '14 at 20:46
  • @DVK indeed, and I never said it was controversial, or that it wasn't well known before he wrote about it. I mentioned those articles only because I'm familiar with them and I think they make the point particularly well. – David Z Oct 15 '14 at 20:53
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  1. Offer an appropriate package for the people you want to hire
  2. Put effort in to finding people who are right for the positions you need
  3. Be honest about why you are hiring them and what you expect for the company

If you offer the right people the right package to do well-defined work that helps your company achieve its goals, you will be taken far more seriously.

Offer an appropriate package

20 or not, if you are offering a good package for the work you are hiring for, the job offer itself will be taken more seriously. Regardless of what people may think about your age, if you are able to pay salaries for qualified employees that speaks volumes.

Find the right people

At the same time, I assume your resources are not limitless. When a company is small (even if it is growing fast), each employee represents a bigger portion of the company. You should look for people who have the right skills rather than settling for someone who will do in a pinch. If you know what you need, and are able to communicate that in recruiting the candidates you want, you will be taken far more seriously.

Be honest

At the end of the day you are 20, and while you are accomplishing plenty of awesome things, you are also lacking knowledge in certain areas which is why you're hiring.

Tell the candidates that.

By being specific about what you expect from them, and what you expect for the company moving forward, people are far more likely to take you, your company, and your offer more seriously.

These are all great things to go over in interviews. Maybe some people aren't comfortable with that. Maybe some do have issues working for a 20 year-old. And that's fine -- those candidates probably aren't for you. If you are offering a good package then there will be more candidates willing to take the job if the one in front of you isn't.

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    +1 for choosing employees carefully. Google did the same - not only the first few but the first few hundred (at least) - and that may be one key element of their success. It is also important to know your limits and shortcomings, and to get the right people who can fill up these gaps and/or mentor you. – Péter Török Oct 15 '14 at 9:03
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Grow a mustache! :)

Seriously, if you treat people right, nobody will care for your age and nobody will leave your company. It's mostly about listening what bothers them and finding solutions, that's your job as their manager.

Leave them space to do personal stuff during the day, so flexible schedule is almost a must these days. Don't overwork them, long term extra hours are unproductive and a sign of bad planning, and so on.

Keep up to date with the latest technologies, so they can come to you for help or hire an expert, who can take care of harder problems.

You don't need to be extra friendly or try buying favors, just be nice and fair to everyone and you can even be mad when things go wrong, as long as it stays in relation to the problem.

The other part is being CEO and making the right business decissions. You need to show that their workplace is safe and you are not going into high-risk stuff. Or at least not without being properly prepared, but then it's just risk stuff. ;)

That's all things you should do independent of your age, nobody will care if you are 15 or 75 if you do your job(s) right.

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I have a feeling that my own workers are not going to take me seriously because of my age and lack of work experience. I have a feeling that after hiring them, they might not like the fact that a 20-year old with 1 year of work experience is 'calling all the shots'. I think that my age and lack of work experience will make workers want to quit the job after the first month or so.

Those that can't take you seriously will not join your company in the first place. But once someone joined, they will most likely be positive about you, to avoid cognitive dissonance if nothing else. Unless you yourself disappoint them, of course. If you introduce yourself to them like you do here, you set extremely high expectations, thus you have to be really really good to live up to your own promise.

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I went to a well known university (only finished my first year and a half) and was really good in studies and amazing when it comes to IT, business and law.

Sounds like you're great at many things, but leadership is not your core strength.

So, hire someone who is is good at it (and who is likely older, more like to be "taken seriously", and has had previous experience leading a a technology team) and delegate to him/her.

9

You have to build and maintain your image every minute of everyday. Start by dressing like a grown up. Prefer suits - a nice suit makes anyone look smart and successful. Avoid badly fitting ones, or once that are too stuffy - something a middle age trial lawyer would wear would look ridiculous on a guy in his early 20s. Dress jeans and shirt are OK too on occasion, but as tempting as it is, don't go in shorts and silly t-shirt.

Behave like a grown up. Don't get in arguments for no good reason, and if you do, state your position clearly and try to reach a compromise. Pick your battles. Be polite. If you start arguing about every little thing, people will think of you as a spoiled little brat. Try to look for solutions, not people to blame. Everyone messes up every now and then.

Be prepared. Read up on things before meetings, try to ask intelligent questions. If you don't know something, admit it, ask about. Plenty of managers try to cover their lack of knowledge but it never works. Your employees will respect you for it.

You are going to have people with 10+ years of experience - let them do their job. You can still keep tabs on things without being overbearing. Give people freedom to apply their talents.

The most difficult thing would be learning how to deal with people - this takes practice. There are plenty of people who are only good to techobabble but do not do anything productive (if you are lucky, if you are not, they cause a lot of problems). Being able to spot those and handle them properly is extremely hard. On the other hand there might be a quiet developer who gets blamed for problems caused by the said techobabbler. Then maybe person A and person B are great at what they do, but they don't work well together. And maybe person C is a complete idiot. Handling situations like those is where experience counts.

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    +1 I really like this answer, but I'd be careful on the dress code. You should dress one step above your employees, but no more. If they are wearing jeans then slacks and a golf-T will look great. If they are wearing slacks and a golf-T then a button down dress shirt will work great. If they're in jeans and you walk in wearing a full suit and tie it will come off as potentially out of touch, too concerned with appearances, trying too hard, or (worst of all) as though you think yourself better than them and "playing CEO". – Nicholas Oct 15 '14 at 14:04
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Age perception

First, read this answer and ensure you do none of the things on this list. The last thing you want to do is for your behavior to reinforce your youth. Frankly there are things you can do to minimize the appearance your youth has. My guess is you could find many things on the list in the linked answer you could easily improve on and improve your image. Read it and make it part of who you are.

Second, realize no one cares what your skills are - they care about their impression. You could be 20 and a genius or 50 and an idiot, what people you interview will think is their impression and how you make them feel about your skills.

Practice on the impression and image you have. This will make/break many people's confidences in you.

How to handle yourself during the interview

Ok, you created an app of some sort which took off and now you are starting your IT/web empire. So what? Many people have 1-hit wonder projects. Why are you special? Was your success blind luck? How will you continue your success?

This is what you need to communicate to any more senior person. At 20 you don't have a lot of life commitments and a steady salary is not as important as it is to someone who might have a family and kids and mortgage. But you need to realize many if not most people you interview will have those commitments. Even though as a startup you will prescreen many who significantly value stability (they won't apply) everyone else still will want assurance you have a company which will be around for more than a few months.

It sounds like you went from a single person to a company requiring many highly paid positions - DBA, lawyer, Sys Admin (and probably someone to handle the admin side, like a multipurpose HR person or office assistant/etc). You are looking at a monthly budget probably close to $500k if you pay close to market rates for only a few employees.

The necessity of this will be obvious to anyone with experience interviewing. Can your business model sustain this? Anyone interviewing better come away believing the answer is "yes." For that matter, YOU better believe it.

So does age even matter?

An observant reader will note the entire above section applies to almost all startup companies regardless of your age. It doesn't matter if you are 40 or 20, those factors are important.

It might be more important if you are younger as at least older startup founders have a "hey this guy has done this whole business thing for a while" going for them.

Frankly speaking, most people you want to hire will rather work for someone eager to learn and take advantage of the expertise on the team -- regardless of age -- than work for someone who is disrespectful. Keep this in mind (which is why perception/impression are so important).

6

From a job applicant's point of view, here's what I expect the person hiring me to know:

  1. The nature of your business, and its history, however brief
  2. Your clients
  3. Why you are hiring more people (ex. "We're expanding into a new line of business, and we need someone who is skilled at A, B, C")

If you can speak sincerely about those things to potential workers, I think they will sense your passion for the company and its future, and they will want to join you.

2

You're going to have to get over your image issue really quick. Yes you are younger than those you are hiring, yes you have a lack of real work experience. You also have another big problem, and that is lack of leadership experience.

What you need to focus on is what you do know, and that is apparently the business you run. You need to define your "Leaders Intent" what it is that you want people to do for you, and then hire those people who understand that vision.

You're going to have to come to grips that what you don't have in experience you will make up in learning OJT (on the job). You should expect adversity due to the fact that you are young, and you will have to compensate for that by being resilient when you make mistakes.

What other industry / job puts the onus of leadership on individuals barely out of High School...and with little job experience. The US Military. Specifically look at the Marine Corps...you have 20 year olds who are platoon or company leaders, who are responsible for the success of their mission, but people's lives. You're only responsible for their paychecks...and the success of your business. Study the traits of those individuals, look to that environment for your own leadership skill development and I have a feeling you'll do just fine.

Hang on...it's going to be a fun ride ;)

  • Plus, getting "fired" in the military has an entirely different meaning. Raising the stakes alters people's behavior significantly. The military long traditions, extensive training and ruthless sorting help young people lead because they're not making things up on the fly, they can't pad their resumes and they wouldn't be promoted without proof of competence. None of those apply in the private sector, so while its possible for youth to lead outside the military, its quite harder. – TechZen Oct 15 '14 at 19:37
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You have a year of IT experience and an incomplete degree. You did well in your classes and were successful in your internships. Those are the start of a career, not necessarily the start of a company. If you can form a successful company out of that then good for you.

Be aware that one year of study and one year of experience will not familiarize you with all the ins and outs of operating systems that have been under development since before you were born. You have a lot to learn if you want to be involved with the day to day work that your company does. I don't think you can sell yourself to prospective employees as the guy that knows everything. Clients might buy that line, but anyone whose done the work is going to know better. What you can sell them on is that they will see a larger part of the profit from your company than they would from where they work now. You need to convince them that the company will succeed because you are building a great team.

1

Putting your age and work experience aside, there are three things that you need to remember, (and remind your employees of, when necessary).

1) You're the expert. You created this "app" that you know more about than anyone else. Anyone that wants the job will need to help you improve/develop this app. Or else.

2) You can get the business. You "signed a deal with another company. They gave [you] a good amount of money." Not many people of any age can do that.

3) You are writing everyone's paycheck. I have a friend who is closer to 60 than 20, who's not as good as you at number 1) and 2) who reminds people of number 3) by personally handing out paychecks every month.

Basically, you're a CEO because you can do what a CEO is supposed to do. That's all that matters, not your age or "experience." And FWIW, the Marquis de Lafayette became a general (a good one) in the American army when he was your age.

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Four comments:

  • If when you said "hire" you mean "pay my salary", then I might call you "sir" ... but what exactly does "take you seriously" mean?
  • Perhaps you shouldn't be having this conversation here with us, and should instead be having it with the people you're interviewing: it's scarcely relevant whether people on the internet "take you seriously", what matters is whatever real relationship you negotiate with whoever you decide to hire (or conversely decide not to hire)
  • Whoever you hire is on a different career path than you; hopefully they'll respect you for what you do (e.g. acquiring money to pay their salaries) which they do not, just as hopefully you'll respect them for whatever it is they do which you do not
  • Whether I eventually like you calling the shots depends on things like whether I am able to hit the shots you call, whether you're friendly, and whether we benefit from hitting the shots you call (though, who knows, other employees might have other motives).

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