As you will notice in this wonderful header image, I look a lot younger than I actually am. Despite working in this industry for more than a decade, my face is youthful enough to continue to get carded not just for alcohol, but also for the occasional R-rated movie. It’s a blessing and a curse, especially if you run a business where experience and knowledge are so important.
In fact, it’s a challenge for which I don’t have a ton of great answers. After all, what can you do about features over which you have no control? No beard or glasses can overcome what is essentially an inherent design flaw. This is the situation as it is.
Here are some of the more common ways this impairs my perception as a business consultant, with a little bit on how I get around it.
Long Story Short: I work harder and produce more results than you’d expect just to get the respect others may receive at first glance.
Overcoming Perceptions of Inexperience
When you’re a business consultant, companies rely on you for your sage wisdom and sound advice, borne from years of experience. People are a little less trusting if you look like you should still be in high school.
Fortunately, this objection melts away once we start talking. Since I have way more experience as a business consultant than it looks like I do, I can talk the talk. I’ll ask the right questions and come up with conclusions that are downright surprising to most clients. And in many cases, it’s refreshing to have someone who looks so young turn out to be so effective as a business consultant.
Overcoming Objections About Experience
There’s often a cognitive dissonance when it comes to the kind of experience I do have. Maybe I can increase AdWords conversion rates by 400%, but it’s not in your industry. Since I look young, it’s assumed I lack the ability to apply knowledge from my professional history to future challenges. I simply don’t know how “this business works,” despite having learned and understood how hundreds of businesses work in my time as a consultant. This leads to harsh criticism when things aren’t immediately successful.
This one is a little harder to mitigate. Any shortcoming or campaign that doesn’t meet expectations is chalked up to “youthful inexperience,” or some other Millennial stereotype, when in reality it’s either too soon to tell or more of those factors beyond my control are holding us back.
Even if age was somehow to blame, it’s more likely that I would adapt and move forward applying new knowledge, rather than sticking to my guns and insisting this just has to work, even if all indicators are saying it won’t. This is a big reason why younger doctors are often better at treating patients than older ones, despite preconceptions otherwise. It’s about malleability, adaptability and an overall openness to change and new ideas. The kinds of traits that work to your advantage if you’re a young business consultant.
Playing Up Strengths
There are definitely some advantages for someone in my position. Youthful energy can go a long way to making up for some of perceived shortcomings of a baby-faced business consultant. It’s also often assumed (mostly correctly) that I understand technology and how to bring older businesses into the current century.
Working tirelessly on challenges and coming up with innovative and creative solutions helps, too. So does showing your work and demonstrating your value, at least most of the time. (There are times when results are attributed to more senior members of the clients’ own team, simply by virtue of the fact that they’re older and must know better.) By focusing on the things that we do well, we generate results that speak volumes, regardless of appearances.
There’s also an inherent humility associated with knowing you don’t quite measure up in traditional ways. It’s the thing that drives you to try harder and leaves you open to criticism and change. It keeps you humble so that you’re never really blindly overconfident, just the right amount of confidence for your experience. This even temper comes in really handy when dealing with difficult challenges as a business consultant
Making the Most of the Tools You Have
It’s been a challenge being a baby-faced business consultant in the three years we’ve been around. Thankfully, I’ve been able to overcome most apprehensions with a combination of hustle, smarts and heart. I’ve got everything down except the look.
The gray hair is starting to fill in, so maybe in time I won’t have to work so hard to convince every client that I actually know my stuff. For now, I have to do my best to correct misconceptions, under promise and over deliver for our clients. Much like you wouldn’t judge a book by its cover, don’t judge a business consultant on his youthful face.