the youth career advantage

Published on May 11, 2020

Youth is an advantage in your career.

When you are young, it can feel as though you are not qualified for any particular job. For instance, when I was getting started in my career, I wondered who would ever hire me as a writer versus someone with actual experience in writing. Would I need a university degree so that I could get ahead and “catch up” with everyone else?

But, somehow, I got a job in writing, and here I am today. I think one of the biggest reasons why I was able to get to where I am is because I sold myself not just as a writer, but as someone who was young and able to provide a fresh perspective on new and old ideas.

Being young confers upon you an advantage that is both fleeting and valuable. You will lose it at some point, but when you have it, you should use it to the best extent. There’s no better way to describe it than “the youth advantage.”

As a young person in your career, you will still be figuring things out. That’s perfectly acceptable, because everyone goes through periods where they are finding the ropes.

Nobody expects someone in their first restaurant job to know how to cook a steak to perfection. Likewise, nobody expects a young programmer to know all the best practices associated with developing programs in a professional workplace.

While this may sound like a disadvantage, your naivete means that you are able to see things from different perspectives.

I have often found myself asking: why are we doing something this way? This is a tendency that young people are uniquely positioned to have.

Young people early in their careers have limited experience, which also means they have limited biases that cause entrenchment in their ways of thinking. They can’t say “this is the way it’s always been” or “this has worked for five years” because they haven’t seen anything in action yet -- they are still developing their senses.

That’s not all. Young people are also well connected with being young, because they are still going through the experience today. No marketing executive, no matter how insightful and perceptive, can truly understand the sixteen-to-twenty-four demographic without actually talking with people in that range -- without speaking to their target customers.

If you are young and worried about having a lack of experience, don’t be.

Instead of selling your experience, sell the youth advantage. Tell companies that you may not be an expert at something, but that you are willing to learn. Remind them that because you are not an expert, you’ll be able to bring fresh insights to their business.

Many of those insights will derive from your naivete, whereas others will derive from the fact that you are young, and businesses who don’t have young employees typically struggle to get a good youth perspective on their ideas.

Being young does mean that you will make mistakes in your career. These, however, are positive learning opportunities: every time you make a mistake, you’ll refine your senses toward the best ways to do something.

Interestingly, this is how the youth advantage dies out over time: as you learn, it becomes more difficult to ask “why do we really need to be doing this?” because you start to become accustomed to certain ways of doing things. That’s why you need to capitalize on this advantage early.

The youth advantage is your way of breaking into the labor market without any experience. Sell your ability to look at things from a new perspective. It may not sound as impressive as “I know how to code in JavaScript, and I have four years of experience to back it up,” but if you’re just getting started, it’s all you’ve got.

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