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Like, How Can I Seem More Grown-Up?

Ya know, instead of focusing on your hair and clothes, pay some attention to what you say and how you say it

Dear Liz,

I am 29 but people say I look younger. This causes me problems at work. I have been in the job for four years, and I have the feeling that people view me as more junior than I am. What do you advise for people who want to create a more professional image?



Dear Jeanette,

The advice usually given to someone in your situation is to change your hair and wardrobe so you look older. But I think you should start by asking people at work whom you trust how you could buff your professional image, and taking their suggestions to heart.

There are at least two elements of your workplace persona that speak more loudly than your hair and wardrobe (assuming that you already dress and wear your hair like a grown-up), and those are your voice quality and the quality of your ideas. Far too many people in their 20s (and even their 30s) hang on to a high-school-type verbal speech pattern replete with "like", "ya know," and "whatever." One of the most unfortunate habits is the tendency to end every statement with a question mark, in this style: "So, the meeting is at 3 this afternoon? And after that, we're supposed to hand in our reports by, like, noon tomorrow?"

If it turns out that too-young speech patterns are getting in your way, you can work on them yourself or with the help of a speech coach. The other item to ask your trusted friends about is your knowledge of the business and the authority with which you speak. Are you well-versed in your business, and are your decisions as sound as they should be, for a person four years into the job?

If not, I'd recommend asking your manager for help. Are you speaking out of turn or jumping into conversations before you're fully up to speed on the issues? Maybe you could benefit from some additional training or from coaching on some aspect of your performance (creating reports, giving presentations, or something else) that is bringing down your overall professionalism rating.

You could go crazy at Macy's with a new wardrobe and likewise shake up your image with an older-looking hairstyle, but I'm thinking that a focus on the impression your words and actions make will be a better investment. Then again, if your pierced belly button is the thing that's hurting your image, tossing any tummy-baring tops has got to be your first move.



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