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September 02, 2008

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I am relatively young myself and I have the same problem of looking even younger. Every May I get asked if I am an intern, even though I am almost 30. I think the best thing to do is continue to build your reputation and technical credibility, especially in a certain area. That way they people will know you know your stuff if you do become a manager. Most companies have performance reviews where they discuss your career path. If not, you should schedule one. You should mention to your boss that you see yourself in management and ask about what development opportunities you should pursue. They may say an MBA (and may even pay for it) or they may have their own corporate training but the important thing is to know and start working toward it. I would also work on developing your network outside of your immediate group and outside your company. Finding a perspective other than your own is very valuable, and if necessary, you will be more aware of potential opportunities if you don't seem to be going anywhere in your current job.

Also worth mentioning but not sure if it applies, if you have any relatives in the company, try to work as far away as you can from them so it doesn't appear as if you got the manager job because of that.

An MBA won't give him authority. If he tries to use it as a means of authority he may end up alienating people (seeming smug and elite).

As for the move to management - be sure that's what you want. I've done the management thing and it's not for me. Maybe once when I was younger it was what I wanted. But not now. Not worth it much of the time IMO.

The MBA is not an authority degree and a positive ROI on getting one is speculative at best. If your status is holding you back at your present job, probably a good time to change employers.

The obvious advice of dress for the job you want applies. If you look young, take an honest look at yourself and see if the way that you dress, style your hair, etc. is contributing to that. I'm not saying that you should purposefully try to look older - just dress and style yourself for your age.

Also, I was really surprised to see that you've been at the same company for 9 years. Loyalty is great, but not at the expense of your career. I used to work in IT and we would say that if you spend more than 4 years at any company without being management, you were cheating yourself. Look at other companies in your area - they may have a younger staff and more opportunities for you.

I'm 20 - 25 years younger than 80% of my department directors. My experience has been that age, and my advanced degree, doesn't matter provided that you:
1. Treat them with respect and don't talk down to them
2. Listen to their concerns and needs. You are going to be leading a generation who goes about things very differently than you
3. Realize that you need to carefully pick your battles and that you don't always have to be right
4. Do what you said you would do
5. Realize that they don’t care how much you know or what degree you might have

There are many more but I think you get the point.

Good leaders have followers because they want to follow, not because they have to.

You already have some experience teaching others, so why not expand on that. One of the best experiences of my undergraduate career was working in my departments tutoring center teaching non technical majors about my science. I solidified my own knowledge and gained interpersonal skills.

Think about grad school (I would recommend staying in your field) but focus on attaining a graduate teaching position. The teaching experience will be as valuable as the knowledge you gain from your classes. Think of teaching as a skill and focus on developing that skill while working as an instructor. The interpersonal skills you gain will make you a more valuable employee and help prep you for management.

Commite yourself to learning how to lead and manage. I am a manager and younger than anyone of the 8 people who report to me (some by 20+ years). This is not a problem if you competent. People want a manager who knows how to lead and manage and set the direction for the team. They are want to know that you are capable. Many times when they see you are young, they assume you don't have the experience to successful. It may be true that you don't have the experience because you haven't lived long enough but it most definitely doesn't mean you aren't talented enough to manage and lead effectively.

MBAs from lesser quality schools are a dime a dozen (sorry if I offended anyone here), and may even hurt your chances b/c some companies might think you're overqualified for a position. Unless you can go to a bigtime school, I'd avoid it.

If you have 9 years with the company, you have stayed there more than enough to avoid being called a job hopper. Take it from someone who moved around for a raise every 18 months. So if you think you can't advance within the company any longer, a move would be worthwhile.

Regarding looking younger, I certainly can relate. I would often sit in a room with VPs and Senior Engineers who ignored my ideas until they saw the real returns. Let your work speak for itself, and eventually they will have to notice you. Or grow a beard! haha

I disagree about the need to move companies. I think that a long time at a certain company shows loyalty and gives you a reputation of experience that will pay off after awhile. The key though is to have a variety of roles within the company. But then if you can't find a satisfying position, I would consider looking around.

I agree that the benefit of an MBA is questionable unless it is specifically recommended, or if all the other managers have one.

The two most important things are performance and the reputation for excellence your performance brings you. So, I guess that just brings us back to performance really. Nothing else matters if you get the job done to a high degree. If an MBA will increase your job performance, then it is worth it.

Last year, I was promoted from one part of my organization to the other. My old job was in a more marketing/customer outreach/customer care market, and I was the 2nd/3rd-oldest in my area. (I am in my early thirties) My old boss was 6 years older than me.

In my new position, which is non-management but "senior professional," one person in my new department is 7 years older than me, one is about 15 years older, and EVERYONE else is 25-30 years older. External to the organization, most of my counterparts that I negotiate with are 15-20 years older than me, at minimum.

I would like to be in management in the long run. Visually, I probably look a little older than my age (losing hair on top, going a little gray) which probably helps, but I am still definitely of a younger generation, run 10k road races, and play in a band in my spare time.

What do I do to position myself?

1. I follow the "dress for the job you want" maxim, especially when I meet with people external to my organization.

2. I try to treat everyone with maximum dignity, even when I have deep disagreements with them. I accomplish this 95% of the time, and I am working on the last 5% of my interactions.

3. Try to avoid office gossip. I don't complain or talk about other co-workers to my colleagues' habits, personal characteristics, etc. I will raise issues that prevent work from being done, but I try to ignore everything else.

4. I have an excellent boss who does a good job supporting his staff. I try to figure out how I can support him and make him look good. He is already talented and steady, so he does not need much help.

5. When I can, and especially when asked, I provide computer tips/tricks to older workers who are not as computer savvy as I am. It helps workflow in the office and bridges one of the more common work habit divides in the office.

I've worked for the same company for a long time, and yes, it was often the case that I had younger managers. My current manager is younger than I am. He is not an MBA though - I work in research and he is a scientist with a PhD, while I am an engineer. He is better than I am technically, which I guess helps, but he is also an excellent manager.

It doesn't matter how young you are, what matters is that what kind of a leader you are. Exercising "position power" is easy, but a good leader is the one that makes people want to follow him and do their best. Think about taking one of the "leadership skills" classes - I took one this year, and it is really helpful. Here are some things that were mentioned.
1. Show respect - this was said before and it couldn't have been repeated enough times.
2. Listen - understand the position the person you talk with is coming from. Don't dismiss ideas, suggestions right away even if they seem stupid. Think about the ideas, point the flaws if there are, but show that you listen. It helps to summarize in a few words what you heard - this way you'll show that you listened and understood.
3. Pay attention to people concerns. Don't just say "or this is wrong". Acknowledge their point of view, than think of your arguments. "Yes, this is indeed a problem. Have you thought about this way to handle it?". Or "Yes, I know you are very busy. What is your greatest area of concern/your greatest bottleneck? Can we prioritize your tasks?". Or say you get an idea, plan, bring it up and somebody say "oh, we've done it before, it never worked, ....". You can say: "Really, I wasn't aware of that. Could you tell me more, what was the problem?". You'll see a whole lot more examples, hints if you take this type of a class.
4. Leave your emotions at home. Don't show to your employees if you are angry, be calm.
5. Praise in public, say bad things in private.
6. Don't just tell people to work extra hours. Try to organize work, so that it is not necessary. If it is necessary, explain the problem i.e. why the schedule is important, make people want to meet schedule and want to work extra to do so at the time when it is convenient to them (e.g. from home).

Really, if you are a good manager, nobody will notice how young or old you are. Don't know much about MBAs. Other than my very first manager, most of my managers had engineering/science background.

Maybe something the, ahem, older looking people reading this thread can take away is to lay off the "you're so young!" comments.

I'm well accomplished and educated and have the pay and responsibilities to match, but often get "oh, you could be the student intern!" comments from clients and subcontractors. I know they think they're being funny and even complimentary, but it really is alternately irritating as all hell and demoralizing, especially when you've been up half the night crafting an analysis of whether they should spend that $60 million on a project.

If you work at a good company, you should find yourself with opportunities no matter how young you are or look. Fresh out of college, I got my first job on a technical call center (help desk), and within a few months, I was team lead of people that were, on average, 10 years older than me. It was because I got the job done well, got good feedback from the customers, got the respect of my colleagues and leaders. If you're doing the job well, you should get rewarded accordingly. If you're not, then one of two things is probably happening. One possibility is that you could be working for a company that bases promotions on seniority versus accomplishments. The other, and this might be harder to hear, is that maybe there's something about you that is letting you get passed over. This is often hard to see, but maybe there's a personality trait that could be looked at and improved. Don't be afraid to ask around, especially people one or two levels above you. You might not like what you hear, but it could definitely help you in the long run!

Good luck!

If you do your job well, that should be all that matters. I am also young and have a baby face and work with older coworkers but I get my work done and I stay respectful and everything works out.

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