Baby Face in the Workplace
by Veronica Leigh Milliner, Senior Editor
“Oh, I thought you would be older! But you have work experience, right?” This is a greeting from a coworker I was once met with on the first day of a job. As abrupt as it sounds, I would have been more taken aback if this was something that I had not heard before. Luckily, in that particular job, most people were open-minded and accepted me as part of their team rather quickly. However, for some professionals, the challenge of seeming inexperienced or unfit for a job simply based on age is a common issue. This judgement is something that is not only met by those so called “baby face” individuals that look younger than they are, but also by people who actually are young. It can be experienced by anyone from a younger-than-expected library director or by somebody in a high level librarian position who looks like they just entered undergrad. For many career fields, including the library and information profession, some new hires must combat the opinion that age should somehow correlate to your credentials in a certain way.
It’s a perception thing of course. You are expected to be a certain age to have achieved certain level of career success. In the most innocent expressions, it may be a bit flattering to encounter. However, in the most harmful interactions, fellow coworkers, supervisors, or the population that the library serves, may express feelings that you are somehow not qualified for the job. Over time this doubting can actually affect the way you do your job, cause you to isolate yourself from colleagues, and generally impact your happiness in the workplace.
Nevertheless, you went through the long application process and were selected for that position. You deserve to be there. So instead of worrying about what others are saying here are some productive ways to overcome negative reactions to the ‘baby face in the workplace’ dilemma.
- Confidence – I don’t think I need to tell you that the competition for library jobs is tough in many areas. Your credentials and personality got you hired so don’t shy away from your successes. Embrace your new role and responsibilities. You deserve to be there and your hard work has earned it. Doubting yourself too much will only contribute to the appearance that you aren’t qualified for a position. Speak and act with confidence in the workplace, when presenting ideas, and interacting with coworkers and supervisors. Exude self-assurance in your everyday work and let people know your worth.
- Ask Questions – While having others doubt your abilities may make you wary to ask questions, this is crucial, especially during the first few weeks of beginning a new job. Don’t let the fact that you want to be seen as competent prevent you from getting to know how things operate around the workplace. If there is something that you don’t understand, need clarification on, or simply want to know more about – reach out to a coworker or supervisor and inquire about it. If you don’t ask questions and understand your new work environment, this will prevent you from doing your job well. Asking questions and constantly learning is one of the best decisions you can make in the workplace.
- Collaborate with Coworkers – If your position allows for the time and freedom, offer to collaborate with fellow coworkers who may need assistance in planning a new program, editing a document, or even just brainstorming ideas. It gives you the opportunity to get to know your coworkers, while also being able to contribute on the job in a way that will show your skills.
- Connect – What I love about the library and information field is that so many people are willing to share stories and give advice. Whether you are reaching out to a mentor, swapping stories with friends from library school, or uniting with other professionals online, more than likely someone has been in a similar situation. Connect with others for advice and support in complicated situations to help you through the frustrating periods.
- Give it Time – I know this isn’t the easiest thing to do but not letting it bother you and giving it time to blow over does help a lot. The doubts that some may have about your abilities will dissipate with time. After any perceptions about age are gone, the important aspects of your hard work will shine through. As time goes on people will look past your age, or any perceived inexperience, and will accept that you are a part of their library community.
previously published 3/25/15
Veronica Leigh Milliner works as a Library and Information Services Trainer for a public library system. She graduated from Carnegie Mellon University with a BA double major in Ethics, History, & Public Policy and Film & Media Studies. She went on to receive a MLIS from the University of Pittsburgh in 2010. Veronica’s interests in the library field include library services for poor and marginalized people — both domestically and abroad, public programming/outreach, and ways in which libraries serve as transformative and beneficial institutions within our communities. In her free time, Veronica enjoys hiking, exploring new travel destinations, and watching movies. Feel free to connect with her on LinkedIn!