Over the past few months, my wife and I have been addicted to the TV Show, ‘The Office’. I know we are late to the party, but it is a hilarious show. I had never watched more than a couple episodes of the show and didn’t understand how entertaining it can be. Despite my love for the character Michael and pure enjoyment in learning of Jim’s pranks on Dwight, there is one character that stands out: Ryan. For those who don’t watch the show, Ryan is one of the youngest characters on the show and is often referred to as ‘the temp’. As a recent business school graduate, Ryan has many aspirations and even delivers on some of his potential when he lands a management position over his superiors.

While I could go on and on about this show, the thing that interests me the most is how his youth is woven into the plot of the show. In many episodes it typifies popular stereotypes in the American work force, and other ways (like getting a promotion), it defies it. Traditional American culture often looks down upon young adults for their lack of work experience. Youth, in many ways, is often associated with a weakness. Despite anti-discriminatory laws, young adults are often excluded from management positions.

However, that’s not the end of the story. Young adults have many over-looked skills and advantages that they can utilize. Not only is it possible to get jobs without experience, it is possible to use your youth to your advantage. The secret to succeeding in the work force, at any age, is playing to your strengths while downplaying your weaknesses. Being a young adult is not exception to this rule.

Being Young in the Workplace

My Work Experience as being the Youngest in My Departments

It should come to no surprise to my readers that as an author of a site titled, ’20’s Finances’, I am in my twenties. Yet, what may surprise them is the past three positions that I have held, I have always been the youngest employee in my department and that hasn’t held me back. It first started when I was a senior in college. During my last year, there was a vacancy on campus and I received a personal phone call from the Director of the department immediately after she knew of the opening. I had worked in the department before as a student worker, but she wanted to consider me for a professional position. Every other similar position was filled my someone either pursuing a master’s degree or held this position as their career. I was just a lowly 21 year old senior in college and was been asked to apply.

Fast forward a year or two later to my second position. I was hired on at a different university where I was starting my graduate studies. It was a part-time position and I soon started working with people ranging from 5 years older to me to someone who was months away from retirement. I also learned that many people who were working here were stuck in a dead end job and I refused for this to happen to me. To work with people without any motivation to move on is disheartening and draining. It wasn’t too long of working hard to complete all of my tasks in record time, assisting others with their work, that I was noticed for my hard work and was promoted. A few months after that, I accepted another position in another department that was better pay and a better work environment (which brings my to my current position).

What are the Advantages of Being Young?

Many people under-estimate young employees. Whether that be as part of an unofficial hazing policy or just plain disrespect for people younger than them. I have worked for a supervisor who was quite full of himself and would make every effort to bring up how long he has been in management. The employees that I worked with often used the phrase, “since God was a boy/girl” whenever he brought this up in order to undermine what he was doing and expose his ridiculous behavior. I believe the truth is that people under-estimate young adults until they need them to solve a problem that they are incapable of handling. Here are some of the strengths of being young.

  1. More Energy – It’s no secret that you are in your prime health of your life somewhere in your 20’s (maybe even early 30’s). While it may take me only 6-7 weeks to get in shape for a 5 or 10k race, it would take someone much older a few more months to do something comparative. Being young and having more energy is one of the many reasons that people have children at a young age. They would rather do it while they can physically handle it. Having more energy than the older employees gives you an advantage. Whether that is increased efficiency or the ability to work longer hours without complaining, it gives you an edge.
  2. More Flexibility – Many young people, at least where I live now, are not in long-term relationships. People in the NE part of the country often marry much older than the places where my wife and I grew up. Not being in a long-term relationship also gives you some advantages in the work place. It allows you to pack your bags and move for a better position much easier as well as work evenings and weekends if that’s what is needed to succeed. Use this flexibility to your advantage while you still can. While I am in a committed relationship (and wouldn’t change it for the world), it comes with it’s limitations. I know that if one of us gets an opportunity elsewhere, it would take a lot more knowing that there is two of us moving. With that said, we still have more flexibility than those with kids.
  3. Familiarity with Technology – Because my generation grew up with technology essentially in our cribs, it is easy to understand and navigate some of the more complex programs even without official training. While I only took one computer course in middle school, I have learned my way around a computer. I regularly help my department with what I would deem ‘basic’ excel functions. Not only am I known as the guy who can figure out a way to do things, but am also being asked to do some basic graphic design for publications, despite any official training. With the increasing use of technology, this advantage will only become more obvious.
  4. Commitment to Efficiency – Another unique attribute that young people hold is their distaste for inefficiency. Because young adults are increasingly busy, whether it be school work, working multiple jobs, or socializing, they know how to prioritize and make things more efficient. Their lust for multitasking gives them the drive to find the most efficient ways to do things. Instead of being stuck in their ways, young people are more likely to accept streamlined processes. Who would you rather have on your team? Someone who is going to do things without asking why or someone who is going to work to make things faster, more efficient?

How to Play to Your Strengths

Having these strengths without successfully displaying them means absolutely nothing. In order to be successful in your career and in the work place, you have to learn to display these in the best way. Coming across too strong can lead people to look to your poor relationship skills and ignore everything else, while not taking any initiative can leave you in a cubicle for the rest of your life.

  1. Produce Quality Work Consistently – When tasks are assigned to you, be intentional about producing top-quality work. Never turn in something that you are ashamed of because the quality will be associated with your name. Reputations go a long ways when it comes time to future job opportunities.
  2. Be Willing to Take on New Tasks – Every supervisor wants to have team players working for them. When new projects come up that you can handle, don’t hesitate to volunteer to be part of it. If it seems like it would be too much to handle in addition to your current responsibilities, consider having an honest conversation with your supervisor about giving up some of your other responsibilities in order to focus on the new project.
  3. Be Social – One of the most important things is to be social. It shouldn’t take away from your work, but make sure that your co-workers and supervisors get to know you. Don’t pretend to be someone else for the sole purpose of impressing others. Simply be yourself and be kind to those who work with you. The saying, ‘It’s not WHAT you know, but WHO you know‘ is true these days and this is a great way to get ahead.
  4. Stay Focused on the Long Term Goal – It can be easy enough to feel comfortable in a position, so be intentional about always doing your best. Thinking of a long term goal is a great way to keep your focus and prevent yourself from settling for being average.

While people may look down on you for being young, the times are changing and the opportunities are available to people who show the initiative and skills to succeed. Don’t let the culture of disrespect for young adults hold you back. Instead, use it as motivation to succeed.

Are there any other advantages that young people have?

How have you used your strengths to succeed in the work place?