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My Manager Has Less Experience Than Me—How Do I Handle That?

By | Amanda Chatel |

No matter how old we are or how long we’ve been working, we all have questions when it comes to careers—from how to respond to a rejection letter to learning to say no when a role isn’t a good fit. That’s where Career Counselor comes in. In this weekly series, we connect with experts to answer all of your work-related questions. Because while we don’t all have the luxury of a career coach, we still deserve to grow in our careers.

Shortly before my father retired at the age of 65, he called me to tell me his new manager on a particular project—my father was a civil engineer—was 30 years old. Although his new manager had all the necessary schooling, a bachelor’s degree from MIT under his belt, and a few years in the field, what he lacked was work experience. They ended up butting heads a lot, and the work dynamic became not only unbearable for them but for everyone working together.

My father’s situation is far from uncommon. According to a 2014 survey by CareerBuilder, 38% of employees had a manager that was younger than them, with 16% of respondents reporting that their younger boss was 10 or more years younger than them. Although 91% of those surveyed didn’t find an issue with having a younger manager, the majority of those who did have an issue—55%—complained that their younger boss thought they knew more, when they were the ones with years—and, in some cases, decades—of experience. However, just because you may have more experience doesn’t mean you want your judgement to get the best of you.

“While, yes, you may have more experience, better-developed skills, etc., you need to step back, drop your ego, and see the big picture,” says Jenn DeWall, millennial life and career coach. “Someone likely saw the value and potential in your boss, so trust in that.”

Of course, this doesn’t deter from the fact that there can be a lot of other factors at play (i.e. racial, age, or gender discriminations), but it’s important to open your mind to the possibilities as opposed to putting up a wall right away if those things don’t seem to be the case. If you’re unsure of how to work with a manager who is younger than you, scroll below to see what experts have to say.

1. Allow yourself to be curious

As DeWall explains, every person you meet is both your teacher and your student. And, in some ways, an age gap can really exemplify what you can learn from each other. That’s why she suggests being open to practicing curiosity. “Ask open-ended questions and get to know them both personally and professionally,” says DeWall.

Sure, the younger manager may not get some pop culture reference from 10 years ago, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t other areas where you can understand each other and overlap. “Remember we’re more alike than different in many ways, [so] find the commonality. By doing so you’re creating a better work environment for yourself instead of being annoyed and frustrated by the judgments you have about your boss.”

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