5 Tricks for Navigating a New Work Environment When You’re the Youngest Employee

While also making sure you leave your mark

While being the youngest in the office is difficult, but it doesn't need to be stressful. Getty Images
Headshot of Kimeko McCoy

You’ve traded in your cap and gown for a button-up and a cubicle, and now you’ve found yourself surrounded by confident industry experts who take their coffee black and throw around acronyms like confetti.

We’ve all been there.

As a recent graduate, you may find that you’re the youngest person in your workplace, which can be intimidating, if not downright terrifying.

But don’t let that imposter syndrome set in! Adweek talked to Huge’s senior recruiter Kelly Conforti and senior creative recruiter Melody Benjamin to learn how to make a name for yourself as the youngest person in your workplace. Taking it a step further, we also did a poll on Twitter to get opinions from recent graduate peers in the industry.

Here are five takeaways to help you navigate your early career:

Keep imposter syndrome in check

Speaking of imposter syndrome, this is something recruiters advise you nip in the bud from the get-go. Understand that you were hired because the company saw something in you. “Trust yourself, but know when to ask for help,” Conforti and Benjamin said.

As a creator working in podcasting, Leann Abad can relate to the woes of imposter syndrome. However, via our Twitter poll, the content creator advises those early in their careers to start slow and specialize until you’re confident in your work. “For me, I came in as a specialist for something they specifically needed, and as time went on, I started to take on more responsibility and handle more projects,” Abad said. “My advice would be to specialize on one skill set, in my case podcasting, and work from there.”

Build relationships

If you ask Conforti and Benjamin, they’ll tell you to not underestimate the power of rapport with your coworkers and others in the office. “When you’ve developed trust with your team and leadership, being heard comes naturally,” they said. According to the recruiters, some ways to tackle this are by inviting people in your organization out to coffee or lunch to get to know them, such as learning about what’s important to them and what makes them tick.

Offer a fresh perspective

While you may be among the youngest, don’t doubt that you have good ideas. Diversity of thought and enthusiasm for applying ideas are key to success, Conforti and Benjamin said. “Younger talent tends to be very curious, challenge the status quo and be idealistic,” the recruiting duo said. “These are great strengths that should be wielded strategically.”

According to Natalie Riso, a content marketing strategist at Studio71, being the youngest in your workplace can lend you a natural authority in connecting your brand or company to a younger audience. “It’s been important for me to really understand the perception of my age,” Riso said via Twitter. “I run our content strategy, and having that leadership often leads to me really having to understand how to propose more work in a way that still respects others’ authority.”

Don’t lose your enthusiasm

You may no longer be the intern fetching coffee or doing the grunt work, but there may be times when the work you’re doing isn’t glamorous. However, the recruiters at Huge said you should act as a sponge and “take what you can from the tasks you’re assigned” because “a little enthusiasm and the ability to tie it back to the bigger picture goes a long way.”

And sometimes you’re lucky enough to work for a company that encourages your enthusiasm. Erin Stanton, a marketing manager at SalientMG, weighed in on Twitter, saying that while she’s the youngest by experience and age, the company challenges her by taking her out of her comfort zone and pushing her to envision new ideas. “I feel completely comfortable, encouraged and empowered to take on projects, make statements and speak my true feelings,” Stanton said. “I’m confident in my company because they’re confident in me.”

Stay curious

While your company may have hired you for a fresh perspective, enthusiasm and young talent, the Huge recruiters advise recognizing that timing is everything. “Knowing how and when to be curious, to ask why and to push the dream are so important,” Conforti and Benjamin said. “Know your audience and climate.”

At the Department for International Trade, Elle Panes said in a tweet that at one point, she was the youngest person at her 300-person organization. While that can be intimidating, Panes used it as an advantage and saw everyone as a teacher. “My advice is to listen, take everything in and read as much as you can on the industry,” she said. “Don’t ask why too much, too early. Accept [what] is asked of you, [and later], go back to your boss with a new way of doing it.”

@kimekom Kimeko McCoy is a feature reporter turned digital journalist and currently serves as social media editor at Adweek. She focuses on posting engaging content for main brand accounts for platforms such as Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Reddit.