A note from Nicole: Today's post is a MUST READ for every young female professional out there! Regardless of what industry you are in- this doesn't just happen in business, ask your friends who are teachers- you are likely to face some pressure (if not just plain old insecurity) about appearing too young.
I've personally dealt with this quite a bit, especially when I was selling mortgages to people more than twice my age at my first job, and working with seasoned business owners, attorneys and bankers at my second job.
I made the same efforts that Melody did in the post below until my Mom (an experienced businesswoman/owner) said, "Who cares! If you're good, you're good. Focus on doing a great job, serving your clients and getting back to them right away if you don't know the answer to something. Believe me people won't care how old you're if you're doing a great job."
And she was right. As a new manager, I just finished a long round of interviewing and hiring two new marketing coordinators for my team. In hindsight, there's no doubt that my final choices were made largely on self-confidence (not experience or age). Keep these stories in mind before you waste time doubting yourself or trying to make yourself look older!
Thanks for a great post Melody!
By, Melody Sabedra
As a young female professional with a baby face, I often find it hard to gain the acceptance of the older executives within my company. Once when I was in the process of being hired, my then boss stated that because I looked so young I should try to dress in darker colors. He claimed that only younger people wore bright colors. Being that I had just been offered a job in this down economy, I took the advice with a smile on my face. I mean, the person had just hired me so they couldn't possibly be criticizing me, right?
Since that date, I experienced many more times when I was told how to dress, look or appear in order to be perceived as older and more professional. At first these suggestions were welcomed, as I was completely unaware that I was appearing too young to look professional. However, after a while I started to get upset. These repeated suggestions made me wonder, does it really matter how young or old I look to be successful in my career? I got my answer as I was walking into the attorneys section of a courthouse when someone inside the room said, "this room is only for attorneys young lady." I shut the door and went to the bathroom to hide from the embarrassment of not looking like an attorney when I was one.
That statement definitely lead me to the reality that no matter what I think or how I feel, others perceive me as a 'young lady.' My next thought was that I had to try to do something to make myself look older so that I could appear more professional. In an effort to accomplish this goal, I tried numerous things. I first decided to cut my hair into a short angled bob style. As a result, my hair went from below my shoulders to right about the height of my chin. Although this was a drastic change, when I came into work the next day the first thing my boss said to me was, 'I like that haircut, it is very professional.' Apparently the haircut was a success.
Then I attempted wearing more makeup to work, as I had heard that maybe wearing more makeup would make me look older. Now, I generally always wear a little mascara, powder, blush, and eye shadow, which I thought was pretty standard. In an attempt to look a little older, I decided to wear darker eye shadows and more blush. This looked ok, but I found it kind of an onerous task for an everyday habit. I also tried to wear lipstick, which I NEVER wear. The result of my makeup extravaganza is that I ended up feeling stupid, like a young girls trying on her mother's makeup. I started to give up trying to look older.
Then one day during a lunch conference, I noticed a 'young lady' that was a guest speaker at the event on the due diligence process of acquisitions (exciting stuff!). Although this woman appeared pretty young, there was something about her that made her appear very professional. While I was at the conference I couldn't put my finger on just what it was about her. When I got back to the office I sat and thought about why that woman caught my attention. At first I thought it was the fact that she was speaking at an event, which would make anyone appear professional. Then I came to the conclusion that it was not that she was speaking or that she was wearing a nice suit, she looked professional because she had an exuberant amount of confidence. This confidence made her look and appear older and more professional than I am sure she was.
From that day on I realized that persuading others to trust you in business is not always about what you look like. Sometimes all it takes is just a little bit of confidence. Through my experiences of being an extremely fresh faced attorney, I have learned that I need to portray confidence to my client in order to be respected. Obviously a client is going to trust an attorney who appears to know what they are doing over someone who stares at them like a deer in headlights.
Just think about it, when you are in any type of a business meeting with people who have been in your field longer than you, what draws you into listening to some people and not others? I did this one day at a meeting. I looked around the room as everyone talked and I took notes of who I actually paid attention to and who I caught myself day-dreaming to. The result was that the people with the loudest voice and the most charisma caught my attention more than the quiet wallflower type who was only speaking because he was forced into doing so. It was their confidence that made me listen to them. It is confidence that can turn you into a true professional, not a haircut or a fabulous suit.
So next time someone tries to tell you that you should look a certain way to appear more professional, don't take offense to it. Rather, think about how you are presenting yourself to other people. Ensure that you are always portraying an image of confidence, even in your weakest moment.