Being a “Young” Professional

As a “young professional” it’s a common occurrence for people to focus more on the young part of my identity rather than the professional piece when they first interact with me. Often times it’s the parents, staff, and alumni who get most caught up on how I look and potentially question my role. After a recent presentation to the parents of CLAS students, I had a parent come up to me and say “you look like you could be a freshman.” I’m 27. I’ve found that students tend to be better at recognizing that I’m not one of them, but I still get the occasional “Is this a work study position?” or “How’d you get such a sweet office as a student?”

Most of my friends advise me to take my youthful looks in stride, “after all, when you’re 35 won’t it be flattering to still get carded?” And while I may still occasionally take advantage of student discounts with my old graduate school ID; it gets old (pun intended) having to constantly explain that I’m the presenter, counselor, staff member, etc. I work hard to prove my professional competencies in all aspects of my work so that while someone’s first impression of me might be “she looks so young,” their lasting take away will be “wow, I learned so much new information” or “that’s someone I’d like to work with in the future.” I should note that the same parent who commented on my appearance, also congratulated me on my work with CLAS students, and another shared it was the most engaging presentation she had attended all day.

And so, my advice to you- current student/recent alum/ young professional, is to focus on enhancing your work ethic and professional qualities. There’s only so much you can do to change how you look, but what you can do, is focus on how you present yourself.

My tips for “playing the part” of young professional:

  • Develop a professional image. As much as we’d like to live in a world where competencies trump image, unfortunately to be a competitive applicant and respected professional sometimes you have to play the game. So know your industry and its style norms. Try to dress one level above what’s expected so that you come across as put together. Professional image can be tricky to navigate, discuss how your personal style can complement your work style with a trusted mentor from your field.
  • Exhibit professional behavior. This is the part where it really is about how you perform. Follow up on your word. Take initiative and don’t try to get away with the bare minimum. Be punctual and willing to put in extra time if the circumstances call for it.
    How not to exhibit professional behavior:
  • Communicate professionally. While there might be some exceptions to this, don’t text your supervisor. Don’t write emails as if they were texts, and always include greetings and closings to your emails. Don’t be on social media on the employer’s time. (Unless that’s your job!) Proofread before you hit send. I know some of this is starting to sound like common sense, but you’d be surprised by some of the employer stories we’ve heard.
    How not to communicate:
  • Mingle professionally. Get to know your colleagues and show interest in their lives. Be careful not to overshare. Try to find a balance between being your authentic self and keeping some things on a need to know basis.
    Don’t overshare like this intern!

Unfortunately being a millennial, and looking the part, can sometimes come with negative connotations. By being mindful of how you present yourself professionally you can avoid being seen as “that intern.”

By Emily Merritt
Emily Merritt Career Consultant, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Emily Merritt