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Too young?

Here's how to get others to take you seriously when you're young.

This article was translated from our Spanish edition. Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


Sweaty palms Trembling voice. Serious atmosphere. Do you feel a step lower than the others? Or, even worse, two steps down?

Yes. Walking into any business meeting can instantly transport us back to high school, especially if you are young enough to remember high school and its Technicolor glory. But now it is no longer a question of a performance rating; this time it is probably a client, a financing, a public image and, perhaps, an entire business.

If you are a little younger than the average businessman, how do you get past the age gap and start to feel like a colleague, rather than a kid sitting at the table with the grown-ups? "You have to pretend that age doesn't really exist and not be intimidated by people older than you," says Jennifer Kushell, founder of The Young Entrepreneur's Network, Inc. and author of The Young Entrepreneur's Edge: Using Your Ambition, Independence and youth to launch a successful business (the advantage of the young entrepreneur: how to use suambición, independence and youth to start a successful business). This California-based company, which Kushell started at age 19, provides an online community for young entrepreneurs. Here's the advice from the 26-year-old businesswoman on how to keep age out of the question.

* Play your role. "Make sure to be as professional as possible and not stand out from the crowd in the meeting," says Kushell. For example, if you are in the advertising industry, dress in fashion. If you are into technology, put away your banker outfit and take out the corduroy pants. If you look really young, Kushell advises carrying items like a portfolio and the Wall Street Journal under your arm (you never know, they might come in handy.)

* Polish your recommendations. Get references, experience and contacts by working for key figures and organizations in your field, even if you have to do it for free.

* Make the most of your youth. If the thought of walking into a room full of people in their 40s or 50s makes you shiver, fear not. "If you're young and involved in a situation like that, people are going to be intrigued by why you're there," says Kushel. "Especially if there's a big age gap, they're going to look at it and say, 'Look, I'd love for my son or daughter to come to one of these meetings.' If he looks genuinely interested in being there and introduces himself appropriately, your age can actually be an advantage. "

* Don't be bossy. If you're still in college or under 30, your employees will likely be older than you. How to earn their respect? "They generally have more experience in life than you do. Be willing to say 'what's your opinion?' Show that you respect the age difference. "

* Put aside the small talk. "Don't be childish," emphasizes Kushell. When you walk into the office, put aside your conversations about school, your parents, or what happened last week on your favorite TV series.

* Redefine your group of friends. You may have already noticed that old friends have a blank stare when you tell them horror stories about your worst customer or supplier. So it will be very convenient that you look to expand your circle of acquaintances to find new business colleagues who are doing something a little different. Then turn to your parents' friends and family members. When you've exhausted those resources, Kushel advises looking for soul mates in organizations, associations, chambers, and guild groups.

While it seems that you have to do circus, prank and theater to show that you are as qualified as the older ones, each business card, each dress shirt and even your portfolio brings you closer to credibility. "If you want to be in charge of a good business," says Kushell, "you have to accept that your age will cause something of a stir."


The Young Entrepreneurs Network Inc. , Internet: http://www.youngandsuccessful.com