Overcoming the “She’s Too Young” Perception
Nov. 18 2014, Published 2:00 a.m. ET
We’ve all been there. When a trusted friend, one of the countless online dating sites, or even bottom-of-the-barrel Tinder, sets you up on a date to meet the man of your “dreams.” As you sit and await the mystery man’s arrival, in your head you can hear your BFF saying, “girl, you guys a perfect for each other!” Or you recap the 99.9% compatibility score he received from the dating site.
Yet, upon hearing a deep, sultry voice call your name, you turn around only to face a man whose hair appears to have escaped a comb and shampoo for days; is wearing a shirt with a collection of food stains, and is carrying an eau de funk that might’ve hit you from three blocks away. It is in this precise moment you realize you are caught in a terrible reality TV whirlwind where Punk’d collided with Catfish.
Unfortunately for me, I was the catfish and the people I was having business meetings with were the ones feeling Punk’d.
As with any new position, it’s customary to schedule meetings and introduce yourself to all the players and stakeholders in and outside of the organization. They get to meet a fresh face and you get to add the contact to your network, and hopefully build a rapport.
Sadly, most of my early meet-and-greet business meetings began with the same “worst blind date ever” routine. The initial look of shock, a blank stare, weak hand shake, lots of throat clearing and complete lack of eye contact. But it wasn’t because I looked unkept or forgot to dab on some deodorant. It was because I didn’t look like who they envisioned for the job.
I was young, female and African American. Single-handedly checking every box on society’s minority must-haves list. However, being a black woman wasn’t what caused the most concern, it was my youth. For many in the public and private sectors, youth is synonymous with inexperience and incapability.
After a few comments like, “oh you remind me of my daughter,” “when did you graduate college?” or “how old are you again?,” I received their message loud and clear. It was obvious they didn’t understand why I was sitting at the table.
Immediately, I felt the need to validate my title. I began spouting out previous jobs and touting where I had graduated from college. I might as well have stamped “qualified” across my forehead. But it’s safe to say those stakeholders walked away from the meeting the same way they came, as a non-believer.
As a young leader within your organization, there will always be those individuals who question, doubt or even challenge why you were selected for that position. However, reciting your resume won’t silence the critics. But selling your vision can.
Remember, it is possible that you may not have been hired to your new role for what you have already done, but rather, what you can do. These meet-and-greets provide an opportunity for you to sell your vision, goals, and experiences. Prior to attending each meeting, write down notes for each of these categories so your message sounds consistent. Then create a handout outlining your vision and goals to share during the meeting. Not only will the handout provide a guide for the conversation, but it will also add to your air of professionalism.
When sharing your stories and goals keep the time in mind. Don’t ramble. Your experiences should be concise and told in three parts: 1) set the stage, 2) state the problem and 3) explain how you came up with a solution. Practice sharing the experiences out loud to work on your delivery and to help manage the timing.
Unfortunately, some may not be eager to meet you in your new role, as they view your youth with skepticism. Don’t let that phase you. Simply prepare a strategy to tackle these early meet-and-greets that leave stakeholders with a positive and professional first impression.