When you move to a new company AND you are the youngest in your department

When I was 22, I left the military, moved to a new part of the country and joined a large utilities company. I actually failed to get a job with them when I first applied but that’s a whole different topic!

I started as a HR Team Leader and the department was relatively new as the company had been through a restructure. I was excited for my new role but I hadn’t accounted for the transition from being in the military to working in a corporate organisation.

In the military, you communicate in a specific way and respect is given without question. There is a hierarchy and it is followed.

As we developed the department, I struggled with how to communicate with my team and peers. I didn’t understand that orders weren’t simply followed outside of the military. It also didn’t help that I was younger than all of them by far. I was also the youngest HR Team Lead.

For any of you that can relate, you know how easy it is to sit around complaining about how terrible it is, sulking because it feels like nobody understands. That’s what I did for a while. But then it came to a point where I was like you know what? I have to work with these people for 40 hours a week so let me see how I can make this work.

The dynamic was quite intimidating at first, but before long, I found ways to embrace it. And it almost goes without saying that I learned a lot on this steep learning curve!

I could have walked away OR stay and realise that this could help my professional development.

Over the course of my time there, here are the main things that I learned:

1. You can learn a lot from people with more experience

Within a few months of me starting, my boss left the company. Fortunately before she left, she took me under her wing and advised me on corporate life.

As the youngest Team Leader, I also looked up to one of my peers. I’ll never forget her. She demonstrated so much patience with me and answered my most stupidest of questions without judgement! She became a mentor and good friend.

Once I was comfortable that the older people weren’t out to get me (which I really did think in the beginning!), I began asking more, learning more, offering to support on projects that were outside of my job description.

I wasn’t too proud to ask for help or too stubborn to raise my hand to offer. These became traits for which I was known for throughout my career.

Who knows how long I’d have would have struggled with the transition in my career if I hadn’t had my older peers to talk to and learn from. I’m beyond grateful I had that opportunity to get to know these people.

2. Older people will challenge you!

I hate to admit this, but when I was being over confident (a common trait when youth is combined with assumed power!), I used to gloss over the background details when I presented a plan to my team or peers. I thought it would be ok to rattle off a list of facts and figures without being pressed for further details.

The only thing that this led to was me looking under prepared and lacking knowledge. They asked insightful, probing questions, and I didn’t have the answers. I don’t see this as failure, I learned from my naivety.

This experience forced me to stop my bad habit of skipping over the preparation phase for my projects. My co-workers had years of experience in our field and would know, instantly, if I hadn’t prepared.

I had to step up my game. It was a tough pill to swallow but where I knew I lacked knowledge, I asked those around me for guidance. It didn’t make me less of a manager. It helped me grow.

3. You don’t have to be friends with all of your colleagues

Whilst I was in the military, my colleagues became family. We would work and socialise together, travel together. We had a deep trust with each other as you never knew when you would need that person in a time of need.

When I started work in the corporate world, I had hoped for a similar situation, but again I hadn’t accounted for how the age difference might prove problematic when looking to make friends! They had their own lives outside of the office. Some of my new co-workers even had children the same age as me, so, unsurprisingly, their out of work priorities differed from mine.

As a result, I had to become creative in my search to find friends; I joined local clubs, the gym and even started speaking to the girls in the spa more. Not an easy feat for an introvert! Meeting new people who had nothing to do with my career proved to be rewarding and so refreshing since our conversations didn’t revolve around the latest office scandal. It made me appreciate life outside of the office!

4. When all else fails, bring in food

Everyone likes free food. It’s hard to NOT like the person in the office that brings the food. It’s an ice-breaker, people will open up to you more. Basically, food is a winner!

I would bring in breakfasts and make brownies. I didn’t go beyond that because my cooking was (and still is) in need of some practice! Throughout my career, I've always made an effort to bring in food. It lightens up the mood and every one comes together.

Just to be clear - this does not mean you become the tea girl!

Working in a multi-generational workforce can be difficult at times. So make an effort to move past generational differences and stereotypes. If we do this, we let go of any resentment that could be there and find that we can all learn a lot from each other.

While I may have sometimes felt completely out of my depth as the youngest team leader in the department, the amount of growth I experienced is priceless. So, if you’re feeling like the odd girl out at your new company, have a little patience and don’t be afraid to reach out to your fellow co-workers.

You never know who may become your next mentor, and how much impact that person may have. If you’re open to it, there’s almost always something to be gained when you’re willing to try something new.


Dee is the Career Transformation Expert for women and the founder of The Female Mogul. With 14+ years HR and Recruitment experience working for Global Multi-National Companies, she has a wealth of experience in Talent Management and her career has taken her around the world.

Dee ReidComment