In the ultra-competitive nature of job-hunting, many members of Gen-Y are often faced with comments regarding their age, which is often assumed to be synonymous with a lack of experience. How many 20-somethings can you think of who graduated at the top of their classes, who are immersed in countless extracurricular activities and internships (with a study abroad semester, to boot), yet have been told that they don’t qualify for an entry-level position because they are just “too inexperienced"?
People will be quick to tell you that you aren’t qualified for a position because of your lack of experience, which is often equated to age. Experience doesn't come from age; it comes from the opportunity to try new things (and fail at them accordingly). People who are older don’t necessarily have more experience; although, there is a lot to be said about surviving a job over the course of every season, and then doing it all over again year after year. A lot of professional regard and respect results from honing in on strengths and weaknesses and using them to your advantage.
The thing about Generation-Y, which often gets overlooked, is that although we may be fresh into our careers, most of us have been cultivating worthwhile experiences for a long time. Competitive internships, career mentorships, and volunteering are the norm, so although many members of Gen-Y may be working at their first “grown up” jobs, chances are that many of us have already had valuable, hands-on, “real world” experiences before even graduating college.
Gone are the days of one path leading to success. Teenage college dropouts are responsible for some of the largest (and most successful) corporations in the world. Sure, you may not be starting your own telecommunications firm anytime soon, but that doesn't mean that what you have to offer isn't just as valuable as the guy sitting next to you who is six years your senior.
Frustration with age comments stems from our own self-awareness; we know our skills, our drive, our talents, and we know how well we can perform under pressure. How do we gracefully argue with those in positions of power who don’t believe we have what it takes? How does that translate into a resume or phone interview? It’s incomparable. Insisting in an interview “I know I’m young, but…” toes the line of sounding incredibly desperate and cliché, while also admitting that we may actually agree.
I sometimes feel reluctant to tell colleagues my age because I know the immediate response will be somewhere along the lines of “oh, you are just a baby!” While all members of Gen-Y typically laugh these comments off, it is interesting to consider the opposite. More often than not, commenting on somebody’s elderly age would be wildly unprofessional and completely inappropriate. The thing about the entry-level status is that we aren't in a position to stand up for ourselves without worrying about the repercussions.
Ironically, as I was discussing this topic recently with a friend in his late twenties, he admitted that he is now faced with the polar opposite. Although he’s still very young, many people now tell him that he’s “too old” to try new things, seek a career change, or make a major life switch. Honestly, it’s confusing for everybody. In their early twenties, Gen-Y’ers are told that they’re too young to make these choices responsibly, yet a few years later, they’re suddenly are deemed “too old,” with no obvious distinction of when things are considered “acceptable.”
What I’m getting at here echoes what my girl Aaliyah so famously belted back in the day: “Age ain't nothing but a number.” Regardless of which end of the spectrum you may happen to fall on, there is no reason that your perceived experience or professional value should be based off of your age. Let’s be honest, hitting the 30-year milestone isn't suddenly going to make anybody more experienced, a better employee, or more competitive. Frankly, the assumption that our age has any relation to how successful we will be is completely archaic and rarely stands on much ground.
Fight for the strengths and experience that you know you possess. There is no reason to put up with somebody telling you your goals are too lofty because you are just starting out, or because you have tried something and realized it wasn't right for you after committing years of your life to that cause.
I agree that I am young, and I still have a lot to learn, but it doesn't give people the right to assume I’m not fully capable of generating quality work. I may just be starting my career, but I’m confident in my skill set. And if I were given the chance to exemplify those skills, I would exceed these pretentiously low expectations set for Generation-Y by our older counterparts - so would you.