Job Talk: Don't be the one who can't take a joke
Dear J.T. & Dale: My 22-year-old daughter recently started working in an office where the employees (all women) are quite a bit older. They treat her like a kid and tell her she hasn't lived long enough to know anything. However, she has been through a lot, is mature and is not some naive little airhead. How can she politely and professionally tell her co-workers to stop mothering, lecturing and insulting her? — Felicia
DALE: I'm sure J.T. has some nice, polite suggestions on how she can ask them to knock it off. However, if this were my daughter, here's what I'd tell her: Let it go. Being the youngster in the office isn't all bad. Our culture equates youth with energy, technological aptitude and innovative thinking. The older women may be jealous, and the worst way to put an end to their remarks is with counter-lecturing, telling them to be more respectful, more sensitive to her feelings, blah, blah, blah.
J.T.: Yes, you're right that I'm going to suggest a compassionate approach — more compassion for Felicia's daughter, and for her older colleagues. Many seasoned professionals don't realize they are saying things that are offensive to younger employees. Your daughter simply needs to find a concise way to point out that they are being inconsiderate. For example, the next time one of the co-workers makes a snarky comment, she can simply say: "I know you don't mean the comments about my age to be insulting, but the fact that everyone here comments repeatedly on my youth is frustrating. I would never make comments about your age out of respect for you. Would it be OK if I asked that you did the same for me?" The key is to say it with a smile as a way to disarm the intensity.
DALE: No smile could disarm that bomb. The key is to just let it go. If she lectures them, I can just hear the women saying behind her back: "Whoa, I make a harmless little comment and she gets all snippy and defensive. Ex-cuuuse me, Miss Touchy." The result? She's still the young one, and now she's driven herself farther away from that magic status of Team Player. Co-workers are going to joke about each other, and it's better to be The Kid than to be The One Who Can't Take a Joke.
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Dear J.T. & Dale: As an IT professional thinking about future career opportunities, I see requests for certificates in areas of information technology that I was not seeing a few years ago. I know that staying current is important and, as an "older" worker, that certifications could make the difference in career opportunities. How can I determine which are most important for me to study for and pass? — Carol
J.T.: It's true that there are a lot of certifications, and it's wise to focus. Your safest bet is to identify an area of expertise or a specific IT problem that you anticipate being in demand in coming years. Based on that, you should be able to discern which certificates would be most valuable. I would try to reach out to people working in roles you admire and see what certifications they are now working on securing.
DALE: It's a great question you ask, Carol, and I suggest that you ask it dozens of times to dozens of people. The key to spotting career opportunities is networking, and your question is a gem of opportunity. It's an easy and effective way to approach people at meetings put on by professional associations. I could see you going around taking an informal poll, asking people what they think will be the hot specialties in a year or two and how to best prepare for them. You might just hear "The best way to prepare is to come work with us — we're the leaders in that field."
J.T.: Yes, you might get a job lead on the spot, but more likely you'll be making connections that you can follow up on. Ask for business cards, and tell everyone you talk to that you'll keep them posted on what you learn.
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