too young/immature for a promotion?

A reader writes:

I’m young (19) and work for a video store chain. My store manager has told me she thinks I’m too young and too “emotionally immature” to become a manager. I’m not sure what to think of that. She’s said some seriously inappropriate things to me in the past, such as berating me about my lack of religious beliefs and the like.

I’m not sure what to think. I’d really like to become management, I’m more than ready for it performance-wise, I’ve shown that left right and sideways. She’s actually going to hire outside the company and train them from the ground up to be a manager (which is very rare in our company, which promotes within, very very few managers are hired from outside) as opposed to promoting me.

I hate to constantly put her down, but everyone saw it coming, because she’s the kind of person who would put the store in a bad place just to be cruel/make a point. I know it’d be better for me to NOT seek anything UNDER her management, but I’m trying to make due with what I’ve got.

I figured I’d ask what you thought of the situation, and let me know: Is it ageism? Cruelty? Just a wish to keep someone from moving up?

There are a few possibilities:

1. The problem is her. She’s not a good manager, has an unwarranted personal issue with you, and/or believes age matters more than abilities.

2. The problem is you. Maybe you are too “emotionally immature” for the promotion, although that kind of explanation is unhelpful in the extreme — if there are real issues here, she needs to explain to you exactly what behaviors are problematic and what you should change, not just slap a vague label like that on you.

3. Some combination of the above. In fact, if the answer is indeed #2, she still sucks as a manager for not providing you with better feedback.

Now, you’re pretty sure that it’s not #2. But keep in mind that when an employee is part of the problem, they very often don’t see it — especially when there’s a crappy manager around who it’s easy to attribute everything to. So keep an open mind about whether she might have any sort of valid point underneath her crappiness.

So how to proceed? Talk to your manager. Drop any defensiveness (I’m not saying you have any, but many people would in this situation … and if you do, getting rid of it before this conversation will increase your chances of a good outcome here). Tell her that you really want to move up in the company, if not immediately then in the future, and that you’d like her help and advice on figuring out what you need to do to lay the groundwork for that to happen. Ask her to give you candid feedback on how you can begin preparing yourself for eventual increased responsibility.

If she gives you vague, unhelpful answers like “emotionally immature,” ask her to help you understand what that means with specific examples. If she just tells you that you’re too young, ask her to help you understand how that affects your work performance so that you can work on whatever the obstacle is.

A key point: Be truly open to hearing what she has to say. Don’t write her off just yet, no matter how tempted you may be to do so. Even if she’s a terrible communicator (which seems pretty likely), it’s possible she actually does have useful input to give you. And even if you end up deciding it’s not useful, it’s still helpful for you to know what she’s thinking, so you can make your decisions with fuller information.

Of course, you do have another option, one I probably don’t recommend: You could go over her head to your regional manager or whatever system the company has set up for that sort of thing, to explain that you haven’t been able to get useful feedback from your manager. But that can potentially backfire on you, so you’d want to proceed very, very carefully with something like that.

By the way, a side note: Berating you about religion is a huge problem — depending on the specifics, it’s probably illegal (there are laws against religious discrimination in the workplace). She apparently doesn’t realize that and it would be reasonable to point it out, either to her or someone above her. But again, proceed with some diplomacy on that one.

Good luck!

{ 5 comments… read them below }

  1. llamaface*

    If she just tells you that you’re too young, ask her to help you understand how that affects your work performance so that you can work on whatever the obstacle is.I agree with everything you have said except I would like to add – more of a question I guess… isn’t it age discrimination to not hire/promote someone based on their age?

    I get the “immature” part, and it does mean a lot, but the manager shouldn’t be saying she is too young.

  2. Anonymous*

    I thank you for the time to answer my question! The feedback you gave me really gave me a way to…look back on this!


  3. Just another HR lady*

    Age, maturity, and ability…I’ve heard that so many times in my career. For many years (not anymore!), I was always the youngest person on my management team, and that always seemed to be added to any description of me…”JAHRL is great at her job, which is funny because she’s so young”. :-) Take it with a grain of salt, your abilities will outshine your age if you’re ready to take on the position.

    I agree with AAM, ask for specific examples of why you would not qualify to be considered, and approach it from the perspective that you would like to know what skills that you can improve upon so you can considered for a manager position next time.

    You may be surprised when you hear the examples, and realize that your manager is correct and that there are some things you need to work on. Or…your manager may not have any examples because she is just seeing your age. In that case, you may have to admit to yourself that you’re never going to progress in that position for reasons outside of your control.

  4. Anonymous*

    Age huh?

    I know some young people who are 20-23 and drive real fast into on-coming traffic, adminster dangerous drugs and make life and death decisions for complete strangers.

    They’re called paramedics.

    Young? Yes. Too young?

    I didn’t think so when they were looking after my unconscious daughter.

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