my coworkers say I should hold back because I’m early-career … but am I?

A reader writes:

I’m having a hard time figuring out my career stage. I entered a male-dominated, technical, and niche field right out of college. I worked for several years, then eventually went back to school for my graduate degree. I worked throughout school, so have been in the field for nine years.

Most of my colleagues didn’t get their first full-time job in this field until later in life, so my “peers” (in terms of years in this field, job title, and salary) are ~10 to 20 years older than I am. I’m also a young-looking woman of color in a mostly white company. All these details might be irrelevant, but I am aware that I stick out in my organization.

The problem: Some of my colleagues have taken on an informal “mentor” role for me (this part is fine), but they are repeatedly coaching me to hold back on certain growth opportunities with the consistent reminder that I am “early career.” These opportunities include leadership roles in service organizations, projects with external clients, and more. I know for a fact that these activities are required for promotion in my organization, which is something I’d like to apply for within three years (which would be at five years in my present role, 12 total in this field).

This is a typical interaction:

Me: I was invited to manage an account for Prestigious Client. Should I do it?

Colleague: I’ve worked with them once. That would look great for promotion. But you are still early-career, so maybe hang back.

Me: Oh, okay, do you have a sense that I might get a similar opportunity again?

Colleague: They look for new account managers once a year, but normally target higher-level or mid-career professionals [so why was I invited?]. You should really take your time to settle in and decide what you want to do with your career.

I worry these “mentors” are either (1) being protective of their own promotional prospects, (2) wanting to diminish me out of jealousy that someone younger might be close to their same level, and/or (3) basing their assessment of my career progress on when I completed my degree, despite the fact that I have the same or greater experience level as they do (in terms of years, numbers of accounts managed, dollars in revenue, etc.). I don’t want to misread their intentions, but I have been burned in the past. My supervisor is passive and generally encourages me to say yes to whatever interests me.

How do I sort out what stage I’m at in my career, when I don’t look like the traditional person in my field? And how do I learn how to trust colleagues’ intentions with their advice? Their support means a lot to me, but I don’t want to look back in a few years and realize I held myself back.

You are not early-career.

You’re not early-career simply based on the fact that you’ve been in your field for nine years (early-career would just be the first few years — in most fields, the first two to three). And it’s especially ridiculous for your colleagues to be saying you’re early-career when you have the same or more experience as they do, as measured by number of years and type of work you’re doing! Their framing doesn’t stand up to logic.

You’re mid-career. These categories don’t really have precise definitions, but nine years in, you’re past early-career.

I don’t know if your colleagues are trying to get you to see yourself as inexperienced in a deliberate attempt to guard their own turf or protect their own opportunities, or whether it’s out of jealousy; either of those is possible. Maybe they just see someone who looks young and graduated more recently than they did, and that puts you in the “early-career box” in their minds … and they’re not applying any critical thinking to realize that if you have the same (or more!) years of experience in the field as they do, and they themselves are not early-career, then obviously you aren’t either. I don’t know — it could be any of those.

What I do know is that you should stop listening to them when they encourage you to hold yourself back. At a minimum, their advice is based on a wildly inaccurate perception of your experience level. Whether there’s something more going on too, who knows. But you should stop asking for their advice about what opportunities you take, and if they offer that up unsolicited you shouldn’t listen to it.

If you find them to be helpful sounding boards on other things, great — listen to them on the stuff that you find useful. Maybe you find value in their advice on the work itself. But under no circumstances should you let them influence the projects/clients/promotions/other opportunities you pursue, or how you see yourself positioned in the field more broadly. They’re wrong about that.

I’d love for you to spend the next year assuming you have the power/gravitas/standing that they’re making you doubt you have, and see what happens.

{ 273 comments… read them below }

  1. Akcipitrokulo*

    “I was invited to manage an account for Prestigious Client. Should I do it?”

    YES!!!! Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, *Y*E*S*!

    Please stop listening to these people on this topic. They are holding you back, and you are perfectly capable of succeeding!

    Their motivations don’t actually matter here. They’re wrong. Believe in you!

      1. Sandi*

        Yes! I think OP really needs to rethink the questions. Ask them with the assumption that OP would be interested in the opportunity now. OP is harming themselves by asking “Should I take it?” because that’s not something a confident person would ask, and probably isn’t helping.

        I am in a similar situation (not BIPOC, but woman in tech who is very familiar with this dynamic) and have learned to be careful how I say things around male coworkers. Not “Should I?” but rather “What skills does this role need so that I can write an optimal application?” “Do you know anything about Prestigious Client’s reputation or anyone who works there?” “I have a choice between Prestigious Clients A and B, who would you recommend?”

        Coworkers will always think you’re early-career until you take those roles and succeed, even if you are there 42 years. If you have been *invited* to do something then you are absolutely qualified, or qualified enough to apply if it’s a competition.

        I know it’s hard to change one’s thinking. It took me time, lost opportunities, and support from female mentors (true mentors) to make me realize that I needed to change my wording and my willingness to take on new, harder projects.

        1. semi-composed*

          Really appreciate those examples of what to ask instead of “should I”, thank you for sharing! It’s always wild realizing how much people’s responses change based on the way you ask the question.

        2. Grumpy Biologist*

          I love the questions you suggest to replace the “should I?” that OP had been asking!! I think they all do a great job of showing interest, furthering the relationship with these colleagues, and getting valuable information from the interaction, without putting OP in a position to be told she should hold back.

        3. Just Another Techie*

          Yes yes yes all of this. I’m also a woman of color in a white male dominated field, and you’ve got to be super careful how you ask for things from people from demographics that have historically been significantly privileged (at your demographic’s expense no less!) No matter how kind, well-intentioned, or equity-minded your so-called “mentor” is, he is likely to still have baggage he hasn’t fully unpacked and isn’t even aware of! Take any advice from these people with a grain of salt, or a whole dang saltlick!

          And stop holding back! Always double down when you’re betting on yourself!

      2. harvey6'3.5"*

        I’m not sure why “stage of career” matters at all. If you think, reasonably, that you will succeed at the task, do it. If you think, again reasonably, you will struggle at the task, consider it but don’t necessarily accept. If you think you’ll fail, don’t do it.

        1. MigraineMonth*

          Also, if you think you could succeed at a task but *don’t want to do it* or it would interfere with your other priorities, turn it down guilt-free! Women (and BIPOC women particularly) are often expected to do a lot of work that doesn’t benefit them, or that isn’t worth the opportunity cost, or that just doesn’t align with their priorities.

          Put yourself first!

        2. Sloanicota*

          Yeah, not going to something that you were invited to because you’re “too early career” is weird advice anyway – at most, perhaps go in prepared to listen/learn/observe at first – I have seen newish people go in double-barrel and dominate a high-level meeting, not realizing they were making a bit of a fool of themselves (and I’ve been there myself too). But whatever minor opportunity cost of going is, it’s not something that’s likely to damage your career in the same way as missing out on networking and growth opportunities – that most definitely WILL damage your career!

        3. AngryOctopus*

          And if you think you’ll fail, don’t take it, but think about WHY you might fail. These are development opportunities for you (assuming reason for failure isn’t “client wants me to march 700 elephants across the Alps by Sunday”), if you want them! Or you might fail because you’re not interested in that particular aspect, so you focus your development energy on something else!

          1. Hannah Lee*

            Exactly! I once declined a new position establishing my-then-current department’s first office outside of US headquarters in the UK. (It was a department that worked with other internal groups to improve their processes)

            It was a hard decision, and part of me was really psyched at the prospect of my first international assignment.

            But at the end of the day, I didn’t think there was the right support in place to allow me to be successful. I was relatively new in my role, and though I had a great reputation in the company had not really done a lot of ‘client’ development yet, the head of operations in the UK was neutral to resistant to the idea of anyone in the US being brought in, and my VP wasn’t someone I could count on to guide, support me as needed.

            The fact that they were offering a not-great relocation package (I’d seen others and mine was the bare minimum, if that) and only adjusting my pay for the exchange rate and not offering any increase for the huge increase in expectations, responsibility made me even less confident that I could get my bearings and show up with a confident “I belong here! I can make your work better” vibe instead of scrambling to find housing and counting pennies.

            If the UK director had been on board with that new role in his region right up front AND they offered a better relocation/ compensation package, I might have gone for it. Even though I’d have to ramp up fast on identifying and building support for my engagements, while finding a home, navigating a likely difficult office culture, building a social life etc … I’d at least have had a fighting chance of success and the juice to organize my life and present myself well, will confidence.

        4. Lisa*

          There are some industries (advertising is one of them) where the world is small enough that you sometimes want to be careful about putting yourself out there before you’re ready. In some cases you might only get one shot to impress a prestigious client, for example, and so shooting your shot when your portfolio isn’t quite up to their standards can actually harm your career in the long run.

          That said, from how OP is describing their experience, it sounds like they are WELL past the “early-career” point where that would be a problem.

      3. Chauncy Gardener*

        YES! Came here to say please stop asking if you should do these things. Just do them and don’t say anything to anyone about it unless they ask.
        This is YOUR career. GO FOR IT.

      4. Anne Shirley*

        Yes! Just check in with *yourself*. If the opportunity interests you, proceed. Then let the interviewing process play out.

        1. Ranon*

          Reasons to not take on an account:

          – Client is the particular kind of pain in the ass you don’t want to deal with or don’t excel in dealing with (all clients are pains in their own way but folks generally have talents with some ways and no patience or skill for other ways)
          – Client wants a particular kind of expertise you don’t have and can’t bring in
          – You don’t wanna do it

      5. Kay*

        So much this! My first thought was “why is she asking them this question?” and then I thought “maybe I’m missing some context, maybe these opportunities are career killing traps!” but then after reflecting realized it was the question of “should I do it?” that was the problematic part. I would be asking what the client was like to work with, what the project might entail, potential setbacks, possible resources, etc. Unless it was a real – this is a super tough call between A and B, what do you think – kind of situation YOU get to answer the “should I do it?” question.

      6. Looper*

        This was my first thought: why are you treating peers as mentors? Why are you asking these guys their opinions?

    1. Juicebox Hero*

      Darn right. Whatever their major malfunctions are don’t matter. You don’t need their permission to advance your career. You’ve got the education and experience, so go for it!

    2. Akcipitrokulo*

      (oh – and while it doesn’t matter why they are doing it for how you should react – if they would give a white male the same advice I’d be shocked to my knickers.)

    3. southern ladybug*


      LW – I have found peer-mentoring with others when we are invested in supporting each other’s growth to be very valuable. I hope you are able to begin to surround yourself with a few trusted advisors who know you, and also push you to grow – not hold you back.

    4. anonforthis*

      Yes +1000, yes! Even more so since you were *invited* to take on the account. It would be slightly different if you were the one seeking/initiating things that might be ‘above’ your skillset. Even so, stretch assignments are a thing.

    5. Sloanicota*

      +1 – I am in a field (publishing) where there’s a lot of formal and informal mentoring, and that’s nice, but the number one most important rule I’ve learned is that you have to trust your own gut sometimes about the things that are most important to you, if only because you’re the one – not the mentor – who has to live with the outcome. So if something is worth fighting for to you, it doesn’t matter that it’s not worth fighting for to somebody else. And there are allll sorts of reasons mentors might want to have a finger in your career other than just helping you be as successful as you can be. Definitely accept the invitations if you think they sound interesting, OP!

      1. Lily Rowan*

        Speaking as someone whose gut often tells her to hold back, I think the OP needs to be talking to different/better people, not just listening to her gut. Which writing this letter is a great start!

        You got this, OP.

    6. Lauren*

      Just because they say something with some confidence and have been there longer doesn’t mean jack. They are not an authority. YOU WERE REQUESTED. Do it. Declining would destroy your career at this company and would be massively red flagging yourself as incompetent when someone in decision-making capacity already thinks you can do it.

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        That’s overstated a bit–everyone has times when they decline a great opportunity for other reasons besides incompetence. (I didn’t apply for a new job when my mother died and my inlaws were both sick, for example.)

    7. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

      And to add to that–the person who invited the LW to manage the account believes she can manage the account. That’s based on better information than unconscious bias which is likely making her male colleagues diminish her experience.

      1. Clisby*

        Exactly. It’s HIGHLY unlikely the person inviting the OP is doing it to be charitable toward a younger female POC. It’s far more likely that person has reason to believe the OP can do it. At least go to the meeting.

        1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

          The only thing I’d wonder about is the glass cliff (though the OP seems very experienced and is being offered opportunities that make sense in her career, so there are no particular alarm bells). So definitely go to the meeting, then ask questions to make sure that you’re being set up for success.

    8. I'm just here for the cats!!*

      Even if the OP was early in their career, mentors should be encouraging their mentees to do things like this. Afterall, it’s not like she proactively went after this account, someone (either the client or her boss) told her to do it.

    9. AngryOctopus*

      THIS! OP, you were INVITED to manage the account! Because you’re awesome and good at your job!
      I in turn invite you to do this: when this happens, at work you say nothing, unless it comes up. Then you talk about how excited you are to do X work for Y client. You are positive and happy about it, because you’re not asking your colleagues for advice. You don’t have to. You were invited to do this job! You’re great! If you want to know what it’s like to work with someone, it can get trickier, but you can just decline to engage if they cite you being ‘early career’, or just say “thanks, but they did ask for me, so of course I’m looking into it” or something similarly neutral.
      To friends, you can say “I was invited to manage this account. I’m going to take it” and your friends, who know you are awesome, say “Awesome! What a great opportunity for you!” and maybe you all go out for a celebratory dinner.

      1. Paulina*

        Yes. OP, it shouldn’t matter whether you’re really “early career”, it should matter whether you can do the job. The nature of “orderly career progression” has likely changed a lot since your older colleagues were new, and your career doesn’t fit the pattern anyway.

        Not doing something because “ECR” can be for a few reasons: you don’t have enough relevant experience (not true), the job is tricky and you may need to weather negatives without having had enough positives to pull you up (also apparently not true), your colleagues will feel threatened (potentially true but that’s their problem). Most likely concern is that a client may take the same perspective as your colleagues, but a message of “the client may look down on you so I’ll do it ahead of time” is a bad one. OP should be less tentative, and show she’s up to the job by doing it.

    10. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      For sure! The person who offered you the opportunity believes you can do it. They invited you for a reason.

      So my advice is to take some of the opportunities that are coming your way (because you’ve earned them!). You may want to pick one or two things to start and see how it goes, just to make sure your workload stays reasonable. And it’s not wrong to ask questions before deciding. Things like what skills are going to be the most important for success in the task, the expected time commitment, what support you will have if there are unexpected crises, what the governance model or decision-making structure look like. Basically, make sure that you’re set up for success.

    11. tamarack etc*

      Yes, absolutely. *Especially* for things the OP was encouraged / invited to do from someone higher up! So some people in the org clearly recognize the correct career stage of the OP! For situations where the OP would like genuine input (eg. an opportunity for senior-level training or whatever), maybe the ones who invited her to take on the role for the important client would be the ones to ask rather than the self-appointed people who diminish her role.

      My guess is that some of the “helpful” “mentors” will stop once the OP is seen to be active in more senior functions. Also, things said in a really friendly tone (to head off defensiveness) such as “huh, after 9 years in the field I’m thinking of myself as mid-career actually” or “so how many years have you been in the field? I’m not thinking of myself as particularly junior any longer these days” might be helpful to nudge some off their path.

    12. I Have RBF*

      I am 25 years into my current career in a very male dominated field. I have lost count of how many men have treated me like I just fell off the turnip truck.

      I can’t even count the number of times I’ve been passed over for promotion because they think I’m “too new” at that company, and they think that because I’m female my prior experience doesn’t count. Not only that, but this is actually my second career, and they discount that, too. Being AFAB means they always think of me as “the girl”, even though I’m older than many of them!

      Don’t pass up the chances to do mid-career stuff when you are actually mid-career. Nine years is not junior, or early career.

    13. iglwif*

      There ARE a few reasons why OP might not want to manage Prestigious Client’s account … but none of them are “being early-career”, especially because OP isn’t.

      Prestigious Client might have an extremely high PITA factor.

      Managing Prestigious Client’s account might require working more closely with a PITA co-worker.

      Prestigious Client might be in an ethically questionable business.

      If OP were to ask her peers questions like “Have you worked with PC before? What did you think?” and “I’ve been asked to take on this account, and I’m really excited about it–anything I should be aware of going in?” that might elicit actually useful information and hopefully cut down on the people telling her not to do it at all. (Though it might not: I’ve learned never to underestimate the level of patronizing yuck that older white guys are willing to dish out to younger women, especially WoC, in the workplace.) But she should immediately stop asking anyone whether she should do it. Just do it if you want to, OP!!!!

    14. GirlPower*


      Girl needs to have the audacity and confidence of an old white man with 1/2 her talent. Start with the assumption that you’re capable because you most likely are, and then keep pushing forward even when other people try to dim your shine.

  2. Filthy Vulgar Mercenary*

    Holy microaggressions, Batman.

    I agree with Alison’s advice. Go do the things. Adopt the confidence of a mediocre white man AT LEAST, and go do all the things. Even the stretch things.

    1. Sloanicota*

      This reminds me of the letter we had here where the mentor advised a woman to do something easier, and was then surprised that she was successful at the very difficult thing (I’ll put the link in my next comment). Best-case scenario, there’s some seemingly-benign low expectations for OP to defy here (and in that letter, the OP was seemingly genuine in their intentions and hoped to do better). The worst case scenario is a lot worse.

          1. Seeking Second Childhood*

            ZOMG… is A Tester Not a Developer still around?
            Rereading that comment just put something into perspective for me: “because I have a reputation of being able to deal with projects that have gone off the rails I never get to work on ‘fun’ stuff (or commit to a project long term). It’s great to have that particular skill set, but I’d like to actually work on something that’s not a train wreck every now and then.”

    2. runningshoes4*

      OP here – wow, this and all the other comments have totally opened my eyes that I was drinking some kool-aid about my stage. I liked how Alison makes it clear that the intentions might not matter, it might just be simple ignorance, but nobody is going to stand up for me and grab these opportunities unless I do. Thank you!

      1. Midwest Manager*

        Remember, the best advocate for you is YOU! Your supervisor has said to take opportunites that sound interesting, don’t let these “mentors” hold you back.

        You got this.

      2. Kella*

        Given that you are a young, black, woman, in a white, male-dominated field, I would be highly skeptical of any advice that boils down to “Don’t take up space.” Obviously, as a multiply marginalized person, sometimes it’s necessary to do that for your own safety, which sucks. But *your* instincts about when that’s necessary and when it’s not are likely much better than the instincts of a bunch of guys who’ve literally never faced the necessity to take up less space.

      3. LisTF*

        To add further emphasis to the comment by Filthy Vulgar Mercenary, who was referencing a (sorry don’t know the original credit) theme often emphasized by women of color in the workplace: “move through life with the confidence of a mediocre white man”
        I we see the letters about the audacity of interns with zero experience blithely expecting to be treated with the consideration reserved for people with established careers. Imagine if you also freed yourself from the need to ask for for permission/confirmation, since your confidence isn’t actually misplaced!!

    3. Swix*

      My confidence and career definitely improved when I looked around one day, noticed the titles that men with similar experience were calling themselves, and pretended I had their confidence. (White woman in industrial engineering)

      I failed a few times, but nothing nearly as bad as I watched those confident dudes fail and recover from.

    4. Beth*

      Yes! OP, even if you WERE early career, I don’t understand the advice to hang back ‘because you’re early career’. No matter what point you’re at in your career, if you’re invited to tackle an opportunity, you’re interested in it, and you think you can do at least a solidly OK job at it, then give it a shot. How else is an early-career person supposed to learn what they’re interested in?

      It would be a different thing if you were saying “I’ve been offered this opportunity, and I feel like I have to say yes because it’s prestigious, but I’m not actually interested in moving my career in that direction/I’ve got a lot going in in my personal life and I don’t know if I can balance that with a level-up role at work/I actually don’t think I have the right background for it/I’ve heard nightmare stories about that client/etc. What should I do?” In that case, a good mentor should encourage you to set aside the prestige and think about at what’s actually best for you and your career. But something you’re enthusiastic about and want to do? That you’ve been explicitly invited to take on? Anyone who’s telling you to hold back from that just because they think you’re not senior enough is not a good mentor for you.

  3. Czhorat*

    There is still a TON of racial and gender bias in tech fields – far more than there should be. Add your age to that and it’s not surprising (though it is maddening) that coworkers would downplay your level of experience and your accomplishments.

    I’d question whether you want informal “mentorship” from these people at all – it sounds as if doing so can be undermining you in various ways. Not only are they actively trying to hold you back, but positioning yourself as a mentee is a way to signal that you ARE behind them when you are, in fact, peers (at the very least).

    1. Myrin*

      Yes to your second paragraph.
      I’m not completely clear on whether the informal mentors are the same people OP describes as “peers” in the paragraph before that or if she just included the “peer” comment to illustrate what she means whereas the mentors are, like, 40 years older than her and indeed more experienced but either way, they honestly don’t sound like mentoring material whichever way you look at it (and indeed if they are those peers, I don’t see why they should be mentoring OP at all).

    2. Peridot*

      Including unintentional or unexamined bias. They may think they’re giving you good advice, but that doesn’t mean you should listen, or ask them.

      1. Butterfly Counter*

        This is what I was thinking. The fact that OP is going to them and asking this indicates that maybe they aren’t too bad when it comes to asking job-related questions. But on the topic of whether or not she’s ready, OP should just follow her own instincts. If they asked you to take on a project, they want you to take on the project. Do it!

        1. Clisby*

          +100! And OP, it sounds like your actual supervisor is on board with you doing this. Take that ball and run with it.

    3. Observer*

      I’d question whether you want informal “mentorship” from these people at all – it sounds as if doing so can be undermining you in various ways. Not only are they actively trying to hold you back, but positioning yourself as a mentee is a way to signal that you ARE behind them when you are, in fact, peers (at the very least).

      Yes, I was thinking the same thing.

      You don’t need their mentorship. And even if you needed mentorship, stay away from “mentors” who hold you back on the silliest of excuses.

    4. kiki*

      Yeah, I want to say that mentors can be invaluable in a lot of technical fields. Especially as a woman of color in tech, having more experienced folks take the time to invest in my career has been worth its weight in gold. There has been a lot written about how important mentorship is for underrepresented groups. This has lead to a kind of odd phenomenon that I’ve experienced where people see all women of color as mentees who need guidance– sometimes in an infantilizing way. That may not be what’s happening here– it could purely be an age thing– but I might question whether or not you should even be in a mentorship relationship with these people. They are older and have more general career experience, but in your field are they actually significantly more experienced than you?

      1. runningshoes4*

        OP here, this is a really interesting angle that never occured to me. I do get the sense (creepy as it is to write) that my peer-mentors are delighted to help me, who knows if it’s for the reasons we mention — but seem to have this blind spot in terms of, you know, seeing me as a peer. The experience differential varies. Certainly they’ve worked on different types of projects, and have simply been in the workforce longer than I have (though not necessarily in this type of role/agency). So I like the advice from everyone to tone down how much weight I give to their advice.

        1. Zelda*

          Yep, I think you’ve got some Nice White Ladies on your hands. Source: am middle-aged white lady; have to check myself sometimes that I’m not just feeding my own ego when attempting to be helpful.

          1. Paulina*

            As another middle-aged white lady who is senior in my unit: how career progression works and is viewed has in some fields changed a lot since I was new. There’s far less “take a seat and wait your turn” now, and things are far better for that attitude being gone. When speaking from my experience, I also need to consider the current relevance of my experience, and also not doing to others what was previously done to me.

        2. fhqwhgads*

          To a certain extent, if you look younger than you are, you’re going to be stuck reading as “new” to some people. I remember once being at a conference with someone who’d known me professionally for six years. Somehow, some way, I don’t recall the origin, but they made it clear how old they thought I was. I remember the look on their face when I reminded them we’d known each other professionally for six years and I sure as heck didn’t start my career while in high school. It was like they’d kept me in the same mental bucket career-wise as when they first met me, forgetting completely that a whole bunch of time had passed.

    5. ariel*

      Cosign taking their mentorship with a grain of salt. If it’s possible, find a peer mentor at your level or a mentor through a professional org/connection that hopefully shares some of your backgrounds and can help you navigate your ambitions while being a woman of color and going up against these “early in career” type walls and give you useful advice when opportunities arise. Whether it’s benign or pointed, this advice from your colleagues isn’t serving you! Good luck, as someone else in “peri-mid-career” as a friend calls it, I’m finding it more difficult to navigate through early-mid-career in a way that I didn’t earlier on.

      1. BubbleTea*

        Possibly, at a pinch, a bias towards lifting up the traditionally marginalised groups, though I’m sure there are issues with that too.

    6. Lizzianna*

      I’m a woman in a male dominated field and quite a bit younger than a lot of my peers. It’s a weird combination of the generational shift that’s happening in government right now (due to cutbacks, there was a big period of time where a lot of offices weren’t hiring and there is not a big gap between people hired before and after that time, so as people retire, the people being hired after them are quite a bit younger).

      I had a peer try to mentor me. He was shocked when I applied for, and was selected for, the division chief and became his grandboss.

    7. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      That’s an excellent point, Czhorat. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to have a “mentor” who has equal or less experience in the field, unless they’re some kind of genius. It’s undermining. And has a very different vibe that colleagues helping each other out. Heck, I have a “Senior” job position on my team, where there are a couple people whose job classification is lower in the hierarchy than mine. One of these is at least a decade younger than me. I’m not her mentor. I am her colleague. I hope she feels comfortable coming to me if she needs help. But she has never asked me to mentor her and I’m not going to unilaterally decide that this is our professional relationship now.

      Obviously, we don’t know what the interpersonal relationships or organization dynamics are here. If it’s the colleagues coming to the LW unprompted to give advice (especially if the advice is bad), I’d try to gently shut it down / change topics. If it’s more the LW going to them for advice, I’d give some thought about how much and under what circumstances it makes sense to ask.

  4. Richard Hershberger*

    “Me: I was invited to manage an account for Prestigious Client. Should I do it?”

    There’s your mistake.

      1. Zelda*

        Although it is correctly accompanied by a few fist pumps and some enthusiastic cheering from Team LW. Yaaaaay!!

    1. Anna*

      I would say it’s reasonable to consider pros and cons of a given opportunity, and discuss with colleagues who might have useful perspective to add– what would this mean for your workload and is now a good time for YOU considering other work and personal commitments, would this particular assignment/client be a lot of effort without a lot of payoff, etc. But it sounds like their advice is just to wait for more time to pass, nothing against this particular opportunity. Totally go for it!

      1. I'm just here for the cats!!*

        Exactly! I think it would be typical to ask someone who has been at the company more information about the client. Like maybe they are really difficult, always calling, etc.

    2. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      I’d suggest: “Me: I was invited to manage an account for Prestigious Client. Anything I should know before I accept?

      These would-be mentors may still give you a heads up that you’re signing up for headaches, but your acceptance shouldn’t be in any way contingent on their approval.

      1. JMR*

        HELL YES to that wording, I love it. It makes it clear that you are not inviting their opinions about whether to accept, but it still gives them an opportunity to weigh in and share their experience in a mentorship capacity.

      2. Wilbur*

        100% Even if you’re early/mid/late career there might be something with this client that might be good to know.

        Also, if you don’t think they’re trying to sabotage you then you should tell them your career goals. It sounds like you have a pretty good idea what you want, you’re not going to get good advice if they don’t know what you’re looking for. They might tell you you need experience in certain areas that you don’t realize.

      3. Runner up*

        Yes! I was going to suggest something similar – if they’ve worked with the client, they may have useful intel (or not). Ask for that instead.

      4. JenLP*

        You can even say that you want to discuss bandwidth if you aren’t sure if you have the time to manage it – with the goal being to figure out what needs to leave so you can take on the client and how to have the conversation with your boss. But that’s totally coming from my overworked/burned-out perspective – Nothing in the letter to suggest it’s a concern, but figured I’d share :)

        Good LUCK!

      5. Tio*

        This, exactly. It’s possible that the colleagues might have actual useful advice stored in their brains somewhere – “Client never gives a full list of features they want built upfront, so make sure to build 3-5 revisions into your timeline” “Client’s CEO locks everyone out of the server by pressing the reset button at least 3 times a week, be ready to restore a lot” or even “Client will call and scream at you any time there is a problem, including things like they unplugged their computer, and they’ll call you names to boot, so be aware if you can handle that”. Or even “Client uses LlamaScript and it’s very old and not a lot of people know how to use it, if you don’t have experience with that system I would hesitate to take it”

        But the advice they’re giving is not only vague and not useful, it’s limiting. Ignore them.

      6. TeapotNinja*

        I would suggest something slightly different.

        “Anything I should know to be successful in this role?”

        Definitely don’t ask about whether or not you should accept the new role. Have the mentors help you be successful in it instead.

      7. LCH*

        Agree to still ask questions to get background info/institutional knowledge about the offered opportunity. Which is possibly why you were asking in the first place. This is better language to get that info without getting an opinion on your experience level.

      8. Sara without an H*

        I like this. LW would get more useful results by asking her colleagues specifically about their own experience with Prestigious Client, rather than the “should-I-take-it?” question.

        I suspect the Manly Mentors see themselves as protective, rather than malicious, but LW is, from her own description, long out of the sandbox and I doubt if they have any career-building advice that would be useful to her, anyway.

    3. M. from P.*

      Yes. Why are you even asking?
      You would not have been invited if the person who made the invitation didn’t believe you capable.
      Don’t undermine yourself. Bite your tongue if you have to.

      1. Hazel*

        Yes, is it possible that asking ‘should I?’ might reinforce the notion that OP is somehow junior? It might look overeager / naive maybe? And they might take advantage to shore up their own status.

    4. Filthy Vulgar Mercenary*

      One way to reframe (though I agree with the other comments that she could perhaps not have them ‘mentor’ her at all anymore) is:

      “I was invited to manage an account for Prestigious Client and I’m pretty excited about it. Do you have any context on the client or any other considerations and background that would be helpful to have?”

    5. tamarack etc*

      I mean, not to be too glib – sometimes one would like some input to help think through the ins and outs of a potential path. I think in this situation I would a) make *sure* I’m not asking someone who I may be, even obliquely, in competition for roles like this (*) and b) formulate it more as “I’m trying to think through the potential pitfalls and opportunities of going for it”. Not ask “should I”, but “what have you seen happen – help me think”.

      I’m a middle-aged white woman and *am* early career (in academia, where this is pretty well formally defined) after a career in a male dominated tech field where I was mid-career, so I do navigate similar, but differently angled situations like this one. From both sides, both as mentee and mentor.

      (*) By obliquely I mean for example someone at about my seniority who is lacking the confidence to go for things like this, or who wasn’t invited. That is, I’d be careful to ask either people I thoroughly trust (based on solid good experiences), or who are more senior (and generally wise and mentor-like).

    6. EasternPhoebe*

      Agree, why are you even bothering to ask someone else? You have the experience and you are being personally invited to apply or whatever. So decide if you want to do the thing and then just do it. Further, with 9 years of experience in your field, you already know a good opportunity when it arises, correct? No need to ask for advice or “mentorship” from your peers on something you know.

  5. Throwaway Account*

    I love Alison’s advice! And I want to add that in academic settings, workplace bullying is worse when people are at the “apply for tenure” stage (i.e., the main promotion stage) and that it is worse for Black women and other people of color. I have no reason to believe that that would not apply in other settings (though evidence is that it is worse in non-profit and educational settings).

    So stop asking them and stop listening to them!

    And I wish you every success!

  6. anononon*

    In my current company, we literally have a training / learning journey called ‘early careers’ and it’s for anyone in years 1, 2 and 3 of their career (whether that’s straight out of school, straight out of uni, or on an apprenticeship). On rare occasions we might take career-changers / returners, but yeah, after three years you are definitely NOT early career!

    1. Jules the 3rd*

      And ‘early career = straight out of uni’ for my employer (fortune 500 tech) is *only* undergrad. I came to this company after grad school and a complete field change, but was still treated as ‘mid-career’.

      A grad degree and 5 years experience in the field? PUHLEAZE.

      1. Brooklyn*

        Depending on the degree and the field, coming out of grad school can still pretty reasonably be early career. Especially if the degree is usually more theoretical, but also for fields like software, where regardless of how much education you’ve had, academia does not properly prepare you for how to sustain and maintain larger projects and work with people.

      2. Nesprin*

        “early career” in academia is 10 yrs out of PhD. This means you have early career folks in their 40’s.

        That being said, academia is weird.

  7. Charchar*

    Mentors are there to support/guide growth, not to hold you back. The only time my mentors say ‘no, that’s not a good idea’ is when they can also give me 2-3 reasons why it’s not a good idea. My career stage is never a reason for this.
    I suggest you start mentoring them :) sounds like your experience in years exceeds them.

    1. Smithy*

      Absolutely all of this. The worst part of bad mentorship – particularly the kind that’s steeped in preserving patriarchy and white leadership – is that it doesn’t help you learn when someone IS giving you helpful advice about a negative stretch opportunity.

      Cases when you’re asked to do 100 hours of work in 50 hours time. When yes, the paycheck is huge, but it risks damaging your reputation with another steady of group of clients – so just be aware. When yes, the paycheck is huge – but it’s 100 hours of work with only 50 hours to do it – so you may never get paid, because you might not be able to finish. Or you’ll do it, but only if you aim for mediocre work throughout. Or it’s working with a project manager/client with a bullying reputation, etc etc etc.

      Or! Stretch opportunities that aren’t good or bad but would be double stretches for you – so be mindful. If you’ve spent all of your time in well-established companies, and this is a start-up. You’d done mostly internal facing work, and this is a mostly external facing job. Your mentor knows you don’t like public speaking, this assignment demands more of it than most.

      In all of the above, a good mentor helps weigh the pluses and minuses. They’re not assuming you could never do a ton of public speaking, but if you’ve talked about that not being your favorite – they’re letting you choose if that’s the stretch assignment you want plus the technical parts of the job or not. Maybe you’re also getting married or dealing with a health issue, so now is not the time. Or maybe now is the perfect time. But a good mentor is in a place to work with someone to have that information. And being denied those moments is also part of the overall harm.

    2. Lizzianna*

      Yes, I had someone senior to me offer me an opportunity because someone higher than him had recommended me, but also tell me he didn’t think it was a good idea at the same time. He wasn’t a formal mentor, but he gave great advice and I trusted him.

      Upon discussing with him, it became pretty clear that, while on paper this looked like a great opportunity, the person was really being set up to fail. I graciously declined. Watching that train wreck of a project, it was clear no one was going to be successful, and staying under the radar with the people who were watching it was the right career move.

      In my mind, a good mentor can help you see a bigger picture that you’re missing. Not every opportunity is the right one for everyone. But just “you’re early in your career and this is a mid-career project” isn’t enough of a reason in my opinion. Especially because 9 years of experience isn’t “early career”.

  8. amoeba*

    I wonder if in their head maybe they don’t “count” anything pre-graduation? If you were doing the same kind of job before, that’s obviously ridiculous, but it might explain some of the dissonance… (In my science field, I could definitely see people not counting anything pre-PhD graduation)

    1. Artemesia*

      But why would it matter. If the boss offers you an opportunity to stretch and grow skills why would you ever turn it down? When you turn things like this down, you make yourself as not promotion material. If it were her first year or two maybe — but at this point, refusing just sends a negative signal to management about your potential.

      1. amoeba*

        Sure, holding back on opportunities because you believe to be “too early career” is probably a bad move in any case, even when you’re genuinely earlier in your career – the person offering probably had a reason to do so!

        I was just wondering whether it might explain part of the bizarre “12 years experience vs being described as early career” dissonance.

          1. Zelda*

            It doesn’t even have to be deliberate malice, jealousy, or intentional mendacity, just an unconscious perception of POC and women as “never really adults” and perpetually in need of “guidance” from the Nice White People / Responsible Men. A WOC can be chairperson of All The Things, and some yahoo is still going to think they need to school her on something-or-other, because no matter where she in in her career, it can’t be as far along as ME!

          2. YB*

            Yup. Huge connection between these things and both the OP being falsely told she’s “early career” *and* feeling that being “early career” is disqualifying. I’m a white man, albeit one with other marginalized identities, but still a white man. I’ve never felt that I should turn down any opportunity that comes my way, because I haven’t been socialized to feel that way. “Someone’s offered you an opportunity, but you want to pass it up because you feel it’s too early in your career” is alien to me. If someone’s offering and you want to do it, that means you’re ready to do it.

    2. JMR*

      I came here to comment the same thing. I am sure this depends on the field, but in mine (also a scientific field), if a person works for a while, then goes to grad school, then returns to the field as a working professional in a higher-level role, nothing before the current role “counts” towards years of experience. Furthermore, the time spent working during graduate school doesn’t “count” either. I don’t know what field OP is in, but in scientific fields, a grad student works full-time completing the research that is used to write their dissertation, and even though grad students are paid employees of the university, those years are not counted as years of experience once you graduate and enter the real job market. That’s not to say OP didn’t learn things or acquire valuable skills during those years; it’s just a field-specific way of counting experience and could possibly explain why OP’s colleagues are considering them early-career.

      Regardless, it doesn’t matter. If opportunities are being offered to you, it’s because you’re qualified for them and your boss believes you will succeed at them. Take ’em!!

      1. runningshoes4*

        OP here. This is the case – I worked for a few years, then returned to grad school.
        To clarify, my “working” during grad school wasn’t the typical research/teaching assistantship; I was a paid consultant and produced the exact same products used for clients as I do in my current role/as my peers did. My performance was such that they hired me back full time two years ago, so I worked two full-time jobs (dissertation and industry work) in order to graduate this spring. And I acknowledge this was weird; most people did the traditional school > postdoc > “real job” pipeline so perhaps have the mindset you indicated. Thanks for your kind words!

        1. amoeba*

          Ah, yeah, that’s indeed an uncommon (and cool!) career path – maybe stressing that experience a bit more when talking to your coworkers might help at least a bit? Just in case you’re not doing that already!

  9. HonorBox*

    OP PLEASE do no listen to these “mentors.” Giving them as much of the benefit of the doubt as I can, they’re basing their recommendations on information they’re not paying attention to. You clearly have plenty of experience and are not early in your career. They may not realize how much experience you have and that’s making their judgment about your position both ill-informed and damaging to your opportunity for growth.

    They might also have negative intentions, but without knowing that specifically, I’m leaning more toward their understanding of your experience just being WAY off.

  10. Malden Flake*

    You are moving from early career into mid-career, but that is not important. What is important is that people are offering you opportunities, and you are second-guessing yourself based on what someone *who is not the person who offered it to you* thinks about your readiness.

    Don’t make these decisions based on where you are in your career. Go back to the person who offers you the opportunity and ask them what they think your strengths are going into the opportunity and what they perceive you needing more support on. Then figure out where to get that support (hint: not from these “mentors”) and say yes.

  11. Antilles*

    The client thing is ridiculous. If you’re invited to manage Prestigious Client account, you should be leaping at that opportunity. Even if you *were* super junior (like 2-3 years), your answer would STILL be yes – you’d just want to think through what extra support you might need to overcome your relative inexperience.
    I would reconsider every single piece of advice they’ve given you because that advice is so off-base that I’d wonder just how much other bad advice they’ve been passing you.

  12. Artemesia*

    Why would you take the advice of peers over your management which is offering your a chance to manage an account or run a program? Obviously management is trying to advance you and you by refusing look like you are not up to the job.

    I cannot think of a positive motive for those ‘mentors’. They seem to be trying to damage your career. Smile, thank them for their advice, and lean in. You are at precisely the point in your career where those who advance and those who don’t are separated. By refusing opportunities you signal that you are not promotion material. Don’t let others hold you back.

  13. mid-career*

    Sounds like the OP is actually only 9 years – they WILL have 12 years in three years’ time. However, I don’t think this changes Alison’s advice. Stop asking these people their opinions!

  14. LCH*

    Any time someone tells you that you are “early career,” I would get a better sense of their definition on this. Because they sound very misinformed about your level of experience. Twelve years is definitely not early, and even if they didn’t realize that part of it, five years in your present role should clue them in. Neither is early.

    Yes, you should definitely go for any opportunity offered that you are interested in.

    1. Heidi*

      Yes to this. Some people are truly oblivious to the passage of time. As in, they think that you’re the same age as you were when they met you no matter how many years have passed. Like how the newest hire is always “the new guy” even though he might have been there for years. It’s fine to remind them how many years you’ve been doing this to jog their memories.

    2. ferrina*

      9 years is not early career!

      At my company, you’re out of “early career” within 4-5 years. If I tried calling someone with 5 years “early career”, they would rightly get quite annoyed. They aren’t senior, but they aren’t junior either!

      (it was actually 9 years, not 12. The 12 was a typo that Alison fixed)

    3. Raida*

      Agree – if the response to a question about an opportunity is
      “Great opportunity. Don’t do it because Early Career.” and that’s the *only* reason then I’d want to know A) the definition of early career, B) the reason why being early career not meshing well with the opportunity, C) what alternatives I should be looking for to get similar benefits, D) how to prepare for this opportunity when one comes up again in the future

      Because a half-decent Mentor doesn’t say ‘no you not here long’, they support you in finding better fits, support you in identifying what you want and need in work, and explain in a larger context why not being in an industry long would be of import to the specific opportunity at hand.

  15. Ann Onymous*

    I agree with Alison and others that 12 years is solidly mid-career. But I’m also of the opinion that there’s no one size fits all when it comes to career progression and what opportunities someone is ready for. More years in the field generally leads to more experience, but people build skills at different rates. So something that you’re ready for at 12 years, another person might not be ready for until they’d been in the field for 15 years. Even if you had fewer years in the field, if someone is inviting you to take on these opportunities, they must think you’ve got the skills to handle them, so I say go for it.

  16. King Friday XIII*

    I try to be both kind and optimistic and to think the best of people when I can, so OP, I get why you’re wondering where this is coming from and how to interpret it. I look really young too! Especially post-transition, my facial structure reads young for a man.

    But it doesn’t matter, because they’re factually incorrect. You can give yourself permission to ignore them for that reason alone. If you feel like you want to give them the chance to correct themselves, you can point out that you’re mid-career or that you have the same amount of experience and see how they react.

    1. Jessen*

      This is one of my biggest transition fears, honestly. Even presenting as a woman people tend to read me as a good 10 years younger than I actually am, unless I wear very heavy makeup. So far when I’ve dressed more masculine people think I am an actual teenager despite being in my mid-30’s.

  17. Not Tom, Just Petty*

    Throw back to the letter from the man who had the epiphany. He didn’t think that a woman he was working with had the insight/intelligence/talent to be successful in their shared field because she didn’t ask the questions about the work he thought she should. Jump ahead within a year. She’d won a prestigious award.
    He was shocked.
    Shocked enough to ask Alison if maybe, just maybe when he looked at this young woman he underestimated her.
    Maybe she hadn’t asked the beginner question he expected because even though she was a young woman, she wasn’t a beginner.
    He realized that he judged and misjudged her.
    But she had the strength and confidence not to let one person who tried to pigeon hole her stop her.
    So be the shock these fellows need.
    Or don’t be. And just succeed for yourself.

      1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

        I am searching everything I can think of. This one I know is from AAM archive. But I can’t find the right key words. It was epic and will really help OP see her coworkers from the other side and understand how they are wrong. So I’m going to keep looking.

          1. Sloanicota*

            Yep, this is a reprint of the letter below, which is harder to find because it wasn’t the title question in that round up :D We are such good finders!

  18. bamcheeks*

    LW, I would change the question. Instead of asking, “should I or shouldn’t I?”, ask, “What are the risks if I accept this and I am not ready for this?” “What would I need in order to make you think that I was ready for this?”

    Get them to be very specific about this. Is it the kind of field where you can burn out or fail visibly if you take on too big or too visible a client? Is it a glass cliff situation? Is there a clear “large project with a mid-sized client” type deal which is generally seen as the perfect preparation for the large client which you’re still missing?

    Don’t let them be vague about this shit, and if they are, be much more cautious about assuming their wisdom and objectivity, even if you believe in their good intentions. A TON of discrimination hides in this vague stuff– the “he’s ready for a bigger challenge” “he has potential” “she needs to prove herself first” “what if we’re just setting her up for failure” stuff. And the really big thing is that people don’t realise they are doing it: they truly believe they’re being supportive, which is one of the reasons why it’s so pernicious.

    And if they do give you specifics, ask more questions and trust your own judgment of how realistic their fears are: “Well, with a project this size, you’d need to learn [a new set of functions in the software / schmooze with a higher level / stop wearing trainers to work and buy some suits.]” OK? Maybe that’s all stuff that you’re totally up for! And maybe, if they are well-intentioned, you can ask for their help with these specific things.

    It’s also possibl you will hear something that gives you serious pause, and you’ll realise that you do need another couple of mid-sized projects before you make the leap. But at least you’re making that decision based on some solid evidence, not just on vaguery and doubt. So try and pin them down as much as you can, listen carefully to the answers and try and hear what they are NOT saying as much as what they’re saying, and then go forth and be brilliant.

    GOOD LUCK, LW! We’re rooting for you!

    1. Raida*

      yes, very good description of what they should expect from a *good* mentor.

      Support in how to get where they want to go, not just “well not now”

  19. CV*

    The comment re applying for a promotion within 3 years (5 at this org, 12 in total) is a little ambiguous to me – could OP mean she will be at 12 years in her field within 3 years?
    But I don’t think that changes the advice – 9 years of experience is still not “early career”

    1. ecnaseener*

      I think you might be right, since she says 9 years in the first paragraph – but yeah still NOT early!

      It sounds like this has been going on too long to act genuinely confused about it as you could the first or second time it happened, but it might work to say “you’ve said that a few times – you know I started my career in this field in 2014, right?”

    2. runningshoes4*

      OP here. I’ve been in the field for 9 years as of now, with 2 years at my present company. In three years, I will have 12 years total under my belt, 5 of them at my present company.

  20. Lilo*

    I’ve served as a mentor and just, wow, no everything these people are telling you is wrong. Do not trust these people to give you any advice. They either have no idea what they’re doing or they’re trying to keep you back.

    1. 5ktechie*

      I agree, I think they are trying to keep you back. They are threatened by you, and deliberately misleading you because they want those opportunities. You were never early career. As a matter of fact, have they ever told anyone else this? Are there other new hires with similar levels of experience? You should ask. The answer will really give insight into your teammates’ intentions.

      You have 9 years of experience. If your boss is passive, leverage it. Accept opportunities, and update your boss. “Hey boss, just a heads up that I’m going to lead [project]. I plan on kicking off the meeting on [date]. Feel free to let me know if you have any questions or concerns, thanks!”. That’s it. Then do it.

  21. Engineer*

    My company has a Young Professionals group and it caps at 10 years experience in our field, so no, OP, you’re definitely not early career.

    My question is, you know their advice is bad, so why do you keep asking for it? There’s practically nothing they can really mentor you on related to the field, and you have a clear idea of what your career track should look like. So vakue, exactly, are you gaining from these so-called mentorships?

    Stop asking for their opinion, and next time one of them spouts off about “early career” remind them you’ve been actively working in the field for nearly 15 years.

    1. Heather*

      Great question. Stop asking! Start telling– even with your mentor. “I am so excited that I was offered this opportunity and I took it! Now, do you have any advice on how I can really knock it out of the park?” Then, if they still try to undermine, and say you shouldn’t have taken it, they’re no longer your mentor at all.

    2. mb*

      That’s what I was thinking as well. If one of these “mentors” says, “oh, well, you’re early career”, have a response ready to counter that. Something like,
      “oh ha ha, yes, I do look quite young so everyone forgets I’ve got 12 years experience”.
      It’s direct but done in a lowkey way to counter what they’ve said – after all, they’re not going to argue with you once you say you have 12 years experience. And if they do, you know to never ask them for advice ever again.

  22. Yenny*

    The value you deliver and capabilities/skills you bring are also not directly related to the number of years you’ve worked. Think about it – does everyone become a CEO if they work long enough? If you’re being given opportunities, then that means people think you’re capable of delivering on those opportunities. Always say yes.

    Is it possible to end up over your head – yes. But those are risks you need to take to advance your career and push yourself to the next stage. Besides, as a woman you’re way more likely to underestimate yourself than over estimate.

    I’m actually kind of infuriated at your coworkers and their role in holding you back. These are not the kind of “mentors” you need in your life. You outgrew them a long time ago. For them to think they’re in a position to give you career advice is laughable. Dump them while you’re at it.

  23. Some Dude*

    If someone in the position to make such an offer is doing so, that shows they believe you are capable. That should be all the validation you need. You especially do not need it from those you think may be sabotaging your career.

  24. Correction*

    Just wanted to point out that the letter writer has 9 years of experience but the response keeps saying she has 12. This shouldn’t change the advice in my opinion, but I wouldn’t want anyone reading this to think the implication is that she should wait until she has 12 years of experience to take new opportunities.

  25. Heather*

    I admit that I definitely don’t work in your field. But in what universe would it EVER make sense to hold back on taking an opportunity, simply because you are early-career?? (which you aren’t, but that is honestly irrelevant here). Like, if somebody offers you a role, and you want to progress, TAKE IT. I’ve never heard of any advice to decline and hope you get the opportunity again in 5 years.

    1. Sloanicota*

      This was my thought too. While I understand that there’s only so much time in a day and that taking one meeting may mean missing another meeting – when things are prestigious or high-profile, those are the ones it’s worth missing other things for!

  26. pally*

    They are not really giving you constructive advice. Hanging back to decide what you want to do with your career? Deciding on what to do with one’s career is better served by undertaking as many new experiences as one can get. This helps to make informed choices based on facts and actual experience.

    Sure, you may fail at a few. And you will succeed at many of the new experiences you try. Some of those experiences will be ones you don’t ever want to encounter again. And others will open the way to new paths you may not have considered before.

    They are trying to relegate you to ‘second tier’. Most likely out of their insecurities. Don’t let anyone do that to you.

  27. Observer*

    I’m going to be blunt. Stop talking to these guys. They could be guarding their own turf, underestimating your career progression because of your age and / or underestimating your career progression because of sexism / racism. It doesn’t really matter which of these is at play, for the most part. What *is* absolutely relevant is that they are giving you advice that is ridiculous and will hold you back. And I suspect that their behavior is not entirely in good faith either

    Keep in mind that even *if* you were “early career” (which you are not), if your management is offering you these kinds of opportunities, then why should you not take them!? They obviously think you can do it, and they are necessary for promotion. Why is your career stage even an issue? The whole “You should really take your time to settle in and decide what you want to do with your career” is a red herring. Taking a role that can help you gain status and get promoted won’t keep you from figuring our what you want to do. It’s not like once you take this or that promotional opportunity you will be forced into that path forever mode.

    1. Sandi*

      OP can’t ignore peers and anyone else at their company! I think it’s reasonable to talk with them about different topics, or ask different questions, but not talking to them at all seems weird.

      1. Observer*

        OP can’t ignore peers and anyone else at their company!

        That’s not what I was suggesting. I was suggesting to stop talking to the specifically *about her career *. Not just whether she should take on specific projects, but in general.

        I’m not talking about social niceties, general talking shop, or collaborative work.

  28. learnedthehardway*

    Your mentors are being over-protective – they may have some valid reasons to suggest you hold back in certain areas, but they are also wrong in other areas.

    First of all, you’re NOT early career. You have 9 years of work experience and a graduate degree!! You’re “pre-mid career” for sure, and you are certainly too early for SOME things (eg. board of director positions for medium to large for-profit companies), but if you are being invited to participate in organizations, speak at events, etc. etc., then the people asking you feel you have the experience and something to contribute.

    Seize the opportunities, but do your due diligence as well. You want to make sure these opportunities are setting you up for success. You don’t want to accept everything – some of these roles/opportunities may be coming your way mostly because the organizers want diversity – and you fit the bill in two ways (race and gender). You don’t want to end up over-committed, for one thing.

    For another – in some cases, your mentors may be aware that some of these “opportunities” may have hidden pitfalls – I read a recent business article about the fact that CEOs are more likely to be chose from diverse backgrounds when a company is in trouble – it doesn’t seem to be a deliberate choice, but factors such as companies being more willing to try something new when the situation is serious, white males having more opportunities (and so not being as interested in problem situations), and the potential for failure to be blamed on the diverse executive (rather than the board) combined to make it more likely that diverse CEOs would struggle to succeed (in addition to whatever other biases and discrimination they would face). The study the article was reporting had some statistics to back up this argument, and it was pretty compelling. I would guess that these patterns go much further down the organization to manager and lower roles, as well. eg. being made account manager of a client – are you being asked because you’re great at client management, or because it’s a problem client no-one else wants to deal with?

    SO, don’t hold back, but DO be careful and selective. Do your due diligence. Make sure that the opportunity is genuinely going to advantage you and set you up for success.

  29. Synaptically Unique*

    If your manager is asking/encouraging, even passively, there is no reason to hold back. Go for it. This sounds like you’re too afraid of making a mistake to take a chance without being able to point to outside influences (i.e., someone to blame). You need to decide where you want your career to go and then own those decisions. Good luck!

  30. RagingADHD*

    Even if you were early career, I don’t understand why you would be advised to hang back from good opportunities. Unless they think you can’t do the work and would shoot yourself in the foot with a high-profile failure?

    The whole situation doesn’t sound like useful mentorship to me.

  31. Andromeda*

    I am also a woman with a decade-ish of experience in a male-dominated, technical field. We are not early career.

    There’s this problem in tech fields where people want to diversify the field/support female and racial minority employees (so far so good) and they implement this as early career mentorship (*endless screaming* — “minoritized” is not the same as “inexperienced”!) It gets to be a real problem when you are past the first few years of your career and need guidance appropriate to your career stage, especially if you really don’t know any more-senior people in your demographic who can speak to your specific challenges.

    But you don’t need early-career mentoring right now, and people at your career stage have no business being your mentor unless you are providing mutual, bidirectional peer mentorship for each other. (If the people you’re talking to react well to a proposal like that — “I feel like it would be helpful to have a forum where we mid-career people can swap tips; what do you think?” — that can be great. But if they look confused or offended to have the situation framed that way, time to smile politely and mentally throw all their advice in the trash.)

    What we often need is *sponsorship* — high-level people willing to speak on our behalf in powerful rooms, match us up with opportunities, et cetera. It’s a shame that your boss is so passive, because that’s the most obvious sponsor. Is there someone in your company or industry who might be able to play *this* kind of role for you?

    1. runningshoes4*

      OP here. Your comment about minorities not being the same as inexperienced rang really powerful. We are trying to diversify so hard that there’s a large amount of truly early-career people of color, which is affecting how they see me. I do have some female mentors who I believe really champion me, and in retrospect I often felt like they were pushing me too far into very high-responsibility roles (when I compared it to the majority opinion I got from my peers). Thank you for your comment.

    2. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      100%. So many diversity initiatives seem to focus on getting people from groups that have been marginalized into an organization (usually in entry-level roles). Then there’s not a lot of attention paid to keeping them there (e.g., by making sure they’re supported and given opportunities to shine). The result is often that the lowest levels are fairly diverse (though it can include a lot of turnover), but no change to the demographics at any other organizational level.

      1. Boof*

        Leaky pipeline – problems persist from just getting the needed degrees, to getting folks into positions of authority – disproportionate attrition
        There can be *reasons* for this but at the end of the day, LW I think your actual mentors and maybe boss probably have a better idea of how the jobs will help you than some of these peers. And, well, if the peers do say “That’s a great opportunity for [someone higher up]!” just mentally switch that to “that’s a great opportunity for me!”. What you don’t want to hear is “oh that’s beginner level scutt work” or something. Actually I it sounds like a great sign that you’re being offered these sorts of projects instead of being told to focus on basic, low profile things and “wait your turn” to maybe eventually prove yourself.

    3. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      What we often need is *sponsorship* — high-level people willing to speak on our behalf in powerful rooms, match us up with opportunities.
      Louder for the people in the back.
      This is about pushing marginalized people ahead not holding their hands and letting them walk beside you.

  32. Busy Middle Manager*

    Can you explain why you are at the same level as a group of people who are all 10 years older? If it was one person, I wouldn’t ask. But for that to the modus operandi does raise a flag. That does indeed mean they have 10 years of experience doing something and have more experience. You seem to have decided that other experience doesn’t matter. Are you 100% sure about that?

    If I am doing the math correctly, that means you are pretty new (2 years in) at this company. It seems like you’re in a more “mature” company where people probably stick around longer as well. It depends what sort of “tech” you are doing. If it’s coding then yes, you don’t need 10 years in one place to do the work. But if it’s something like account management of longer-term customers who’ve had alot of development and changes and problems over the years – then yes, years-butt-in-seat is going to matter because they will want to pick the brain of someone who doesn’t need to go look everything up.

    There is also the trend of “entry level” not being entry level anymore, which impacts everyone up the ladder, slowing down everyone’s career progression. People at all levels deal with it. That’s where the whole “older people won’t retire” meme/internet thing came from. People at all levels are waiting way longer than it used to take to get promoted, get opportunities, and get clout.

    My take is that you just are not happy with the mentoring, which I totally get. But what I’m not seeing is what some other commenters are seeing, which is that there is zero basis for what’s happening. I mean, there are workplaces like this that are dominated by older people who view 40 as a baby. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea but it’s definitely a thing.

    1. atalanta0jess*

      How do you understand that the writer is being invited to these opportunities? What is the value in holding back?

    2. Sandi*

      > You seem to have decided that other experience doesn’t matter. Are you 100% sure about that?

      As a woman in tech who got the ‘you are still early-career’ attitude for many years from male coworkers who were the same age and experience level as I was… the age difference might be due to experience that affects their ability to mentor OP, but I doubt it. When I responded to OP in another comment I wasn’t ignoring that part of the letter, and there is basis for what is happening based on my experience in a similar situation but without the age difference.

      If you are a woman in tech with a different experience then you are lucky, and it’s great that some workplaces are less discriminatory than mine (mine openly admitted internally that there are a lot of problems with racism and sexism so this isn’t my opinion). Your response also completely ignores that OP is invited to work with Prestigious Client, so it really doesn’t matter what you, me, OP, and OP’s coworkers think is ‘entry level’ because the people who make decisions about Prestigious Client have made that decision about OP!

      1. Busy Middle Manager*

        “so it really doesn’t matter what you, me, OP, and OP’s coworkers think”

        then do not write into an advice column?

        “As a woman in tech who got the ‘you are still early-career’ attitude for many years from male coworkers who were the same age and experience level as I was”

        But that’s not what this letter is at all. This letter is about people with 10 years more of work experience doing this. You really don’t see a difference? I sometimes see people here dismiss the value of experience and it’s a real head scratcher. I mean, this OP is complaining they aren’t taking her experience seriously…..while also not taking their decade more of work experience seriously. You either take experience seriously or not.

        Everyone else has pointed out that the mentoring is bad, which I agree with, so I didn’t write it again. That being said, the OP actually does need to re-think their inner dialogue as per what I just wrote. It does matter what we think because they’re asking for advice on an advice column

        As per the prestigious client thing, that can be a couple of things. One, they don’t need someone with as much experience but it’s still prestigious in the sense of being a famous company, so traditionally it goes to people with more experience just because. Or maybe the company is launching a product so doesn’t need the historic experience. Or maybe they overestimate OP’s experience, or maybe they know OP doesn’t have all of the required experience but likes them personally so wants to work with them. So I didn’t “ignore” anything, I am providing a series of rational and common explanations for everything that do not just jump to conclusions.

    3. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

      She did explain this, it’s at the beginning of the second paragraph:

      “Most of my colleagues didn’t get their first full-time job in this field until later in life, so my ‘peers’ (in terms of years in this field, job title, and salary) are ~10 to 20 years older than I am.”

      You seem to be replicating their mistake, of assuming that age=amount of relevant experience.

      1. Busy Middle Manager*

        hold on, I didn’t skip anything, I literally addressed it head on. Surely they were working somewhere during that time and there are at least some sort of transferable skills? Like, I doubt they graduated college and then distributed flyers for 12 years before joining the tech company? Would you disagree? Why is it OK to dismiss their experience when this letter is literally “they don’t take my experience seriously”

        If the goal of this is to help OP then it’s important to ask this. It’s probably useful for OP to get a useful assessment of the situation rather than just saying their job is horrible, which would mean they need to quit

        1. Czhorat*

          Yes, but the rationale the gave is, to be blunt, a bucketful of bovine fecal matter.

          Let’s say someone slightly junior to me in my field asked me if they should take on a project designing a large corporate auditorium. I might tell them to be cautious because to do so would require experience with integrating broadcast-systems along with traditional AV, or acoustic modelling, or something else a bit outside the norm of what they’ve worked on. What I wouldn’t say is “you can’t do this, because you’re ‘early career'” because *that doesn’t mean anything tangible*.

          If they get invited to a speaking opportunity, the question becomes that of what they plan on saying, if they have enough examples – personal and otherwise – to deliver a compelling talk. Not that they are “early career” because, again, that doesn’t mean anything.

          They’re suggesting OP pull back without giving her an actual reason to do so – it quite honestly feels like either sexism or jealousy.

    4. Analytical Tree Hugger*

      “That does indeed mean they have 10 years of experience doing something and have more experience.”

      Sure, but how relevant was that 10 years of other experience? They changed fields, so it how relevant is that experience? And how *irrelevant* is it, since every field and role has their own standards and practices?

      And you seem to be assuming that the OP’s colleagues have been at the company significantly longer, so they’ve seen more changes…but that is an assumption.

      Given what we know (OP has as many yesrs in the field, they share a job title, and have the same salary) it’s just as logical to assume she has had as much experience with account management *at this company* as they have. The fact that they share the same job title stands out to me quite a bit and seems much more relevant than overall experience.

      1. runningshoes4*

        OP here – I recognize the situation is confusing. The job title, years in the field, and productivity in our niche role are all equivalent between myself and the peer mentors I’m describing. The reason they are so much older than me is twofold: firstly, most folks spend time in lower-level positions or in other fields for a good while (5+ years) after undergrad. Secondly, once they do go back to graduate school, they *exclusively* do grad school for a few years, then graduate, then hang on in temporary contracts until landing a permanent position, often when they are in their late 30s. (Another commenter mentioned how in science fields this can lead to the perception that recent grad=early career, because most grad students only focus on research).

        I immediately went from undergrad to working *in this field*, continued to work as a paid consultant while in grad school, and was hired back full time a few years before I graduated – now closing in on 10 years total in this field at age 31.

        I definitely do not under-estimate the value of experience, and certainly have colleagues who have been in this field for far longer than I! But your confusion is actually helping me see that Alison’s suggestion that my colleagues might just not know may be at play here. Thanks!

        1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

          “But your confusion is actually helping me see that Alison’s suggestion that my colleagues might just not know may be at play here. Thanks!”
          Definitely not your job to investigate if they are giving the same advice to people in your position who look more like them, but I’d love to be a fly on the wall.
          They could very well be, “you kids today think you walk out of school and get a corner office. In MY day…”
          We’ve read the same from you women who are told by older, more tenured women that “in my day, women could only do X so you should be happy with X+1/2X”
          Not malice just human.

        2. Random Academic Cog*

          My daughter is in a similar situation – started working in her (heavily male) career space at 17, finished her undergrad while she was actively working full-time, and now comes across as “too young” to be considered for senior positions because she’s early 30s even though she has 15 years experience in the field – which is far more time than the folks who went a more traditional route of full-time college/MAYBE a side job, and often even graduate school before they officially entered the field. No words of wisdom, except that it’s not just you and you aren’t imagining things.

        3. Busy Middle Manager*

          Hey OP. This letter has stuck in my head, I’ve been wondering how to handle it if it happened on my team. I think the key question is, what useful information can you get from these people that are not great at mentoring. There is usually a kernel of truth somewhere in there. We’ve established they are not great mentors and have commented on that one ad naseum. But now what?

          I’ve been thinking about it and I think you are getting hung up on the “years experience” thing and TBH I don’t see you winning that argument. I mean, your explanation of their more years experience vs. your direct experience is good but not a slam dunk. Without knowing the exact jobs, it still seems like you’re dismissing transferable skills. Your essentially saying your coworkers’ experience doesn’t matter, which is never going to end in them helping you. Also there is the physical reality that even people my age (45) can’t tell the different between let’s say 31 and 25. It’s not discrimination or an insult, it just means everyone looks similarly younger. It’s not an insult or a thing to be argued. Sometimes we need reminders “hey actually I did X for X # of years!”

          what you also can do is start asking really, really pointed questions to people, even if it means putting them on the spot.

          “so you say I don’t have enough experience to do prestigious account, but they reached out to me. Is there something about working with them that I don’t know?”

          “You keep mentioning years experience as it pertains to this software, but it’s only been around for four years, so why does years experience matter?”

          “you know I did this niche thing for five years at past job.”

          Just keep on with SPECIFICS like that. But be ready to listen.

          Maybe you’ll find out “prestigious” job has some ridiculous technical things you don’t know about. The comments are quick to say discrimination or unfair work environment, but let me tell you, I once landed a job and quit after two months because the “easy” client had technical requirements I literally could not handle. Sometimes that happen. People on the internet can’t help you with that. Coworkers, even if they are jerks in a way, can. You just need to push harder for information. One can be over-confident and assume they can handle it all…and that works until you can’t. And if you land prestigious customer, a little sucking up to coworkers won’t hurt. Who is going to help when you are out? Or hit a roadblock?

          Good luck!

          1. Been There*

            Your comments are completely ignoring the very real gender/race/age dynamics at play here. White older men are dismissing this younger woman of color, saying she is still early career and should hold back taking on bigger/more prestigious assignments.

          2. runningshoes4*

            OP here again. I think the question is not about who “wins” the experience Olympics (me with x years in this specific field, or my older coworker with x years in this niche field and y>x total years in the workforce).

            I completely agree that jobs they held beforehand certainly matter both for technical skills and big-picture job/career skills, which is why I went to them for advice in the first place. The question centers on if/why it seems the same “score” under my name (whether it’s my qualitative accomplishments or simply years in the field) doesn’t register as mid-career, and theirs does.

            I like your suggestions about the ways to specifically remind them of my experience level. And agree this never was/should be a battle Royale of who is the most experienced forever and finally — I think experience can be fluid and continue to learn from my collleagues.

      2. Busy Middle Manager*

        Last comment on this one as I’m going to a long meeting –

        How is their experience relevant? I guess that answers the question. So they get to dismiss OP too. Do you see where this leads? In 10 years OP will be writing in “I am being ignored by my younger coworkers who don’t value my experience!” A cycle as old as time.

        The assumption that they have no transferable skills is borderline ridiculous. I get you’re probably doing the internet “let’s not make any assumption” thing. But is there value in that here? Do you know how stringent most employers are? Who is hiring people into tech without some sort of solid experience? I mean, that’s the same mentality that causes rampant age discrimination in the job market. The idea that the person is unhire-able and their experience useless because they didn’t do the exact thing at the exact place before.

        1. atalanta0jess*

          Ok, but none of this translates to their advice being useful to the OP. She’s got the skills. She’s being invite to grab opportunities. And they’re telling her to turn those down because she’s “early career.” That’s nonsense. As someone else said, it would be different if they had an actual reason, but they don’t.

        2. Analytical Tree Hugger*

          I know you said you’re not replying and that’s fine. I am still confused about your reply.

          You correctly observe that I’m “doing the internet ‘let’s not make any assumption’ thing” in the same breath as saying that I’m making assumptions (e.g., “The assumption that they have no transferable skills is borderline ridiculous”). I am literally asking questions, which is not assuming. I agree that transferable skills are relevant. Where we seem to disagree is whether it’s worth unpacking how relevant and transferable those skills and experiences are to a new field. I consider it worth unpacking. You seem to think it’s not (maybe? Or am a misunterpreting?).

          In 10 years OP will be writing in “I am being ignored by my younger coworkers who don’t value my experience!”

          I’m lost by this extrapolation. OP’s colleagues have 10 years of other experience, outside of the field, and are having the relevance questioned. In the future scenario you lay out, OP would have 10 years experience in the specific field and having their experience’s relevance questioned. How are those equivalent?

          I think 10 years of direct experience is more valuable than 10 years transferable experience, so I’m not seeing a cycle.

  33. toadcarrot*

    Do not listen to those guys on this! They clearly have issues for whatever reason but these are THEIR problem, not yours.

    A few weeks before my 25th birthday I was invited to take on a senior role in a small, brand new organization (made of similar aged people). I had about 3 years in entry-level roles in the field before this and turned down a promotion where I was working to take this new “boss” job which was above that promotion. After several months it started to dawn on me that not only was I more experienced than any of them but that I was also extremely competent in the work and the place flowered under my direction. Even today I remember the moment I realized this — that not only could I do the work but I was GOOD at it. Yes I still had to learn a lot on the job, and it was a bunch of “kids” running it at the time — but the org survived and still exists 30 years later.

    Twenty years later I entered a new field again with little specific experience and was given a management role from the start. It was like being thrown into the deep end of the pool (I actually was shaking and stuttering when I spoke to people during my first few weeks of work because I knew NOTHING) but my fantastic boss helped me and I did it. A year later I was as good as anybody in that job.

    If you are a competent, together person you’re going to be good regardless of how old you are. Sure you might have to learn new things and make some mistakes in a new position but that’s normal and a good organization is not going to get upset about that. (If they do you will know it’s not a good fit.)

  34. I never leave comments*

    I think the implication in the *ask* is a seed of doubt that they may also be responding to.

    If you’ve been tapped for it, you’re ready to figure it out as you go!

  35. Pastor Petty Labelle*

    I’m just going to flat out say it:

    Just because someone decides they are going to mentor you does not mean you have to accept their mentorship.

    Feel free to ignore their advice and go find a mentor that actually helps guide you in YOUR career goals.

  36. EMP*

    Joining the chorus saying these “mentors” are not your friends

    You know who would be a better mentor? The higher ups offering you these opportunities! It’s awesome that someone is thinking of you for these key steps towards promotion. Ask *them* about the pros and cons of accepting.

  37. UpstateDownstate*

    OP, trust your instinct about your mentor’s intentions (intentional or not, they are not in your best interest).
    And…congrats on the project offers. Take them all!

  38. TCPA*

    The next time someone refers to you as “early career,” you can correct them! Perhaps something like this:

    Colleague: I’ve worked with them once. That would look great for promotion. But you are still early-career, so maybe hang back.

    You: Oh, I’m not early career – I’ve been in this field for 12 years! Now that we’ve cleared that up, what did you like about working with that client? I’m really looking forward to this opportunity.

    You don’t have to accept what they are assuming about your own experience! As a fellow woman-in-a-male-dominated-field, it can be exhausting. It honestly has taken me YEARS to build up my confidence, and I am now at a place where I know I am good at my job. If someone doubts me or makes assumptions, that’s their problem. My work and positive feedback from my team and clients speak for themselves. I finally feel secure and confident in my skills, so that off-handed comments no longer make me doubt myself. I hope you, too, are at a similar point soon!

    1. runningshoes4*

      OP here, thank you. That sounds like a bold statement I’d have to practice saying, since the moment I utter it I’d fear they would instantly criticize what I’ve done for those years. I admire your progress!

      1. bamcheeks*

        OP, as someone who is mid-forties but is often mistaken for early-mid-thirties, I do a gentler version of this which is to say things like, “Yeah, I ran a similar project to this about ten years ago” or “in my first job, so about twenty years ago, I—“ I don’t usually say them in the specific moment where my age-authority is being queried, but at other times, and I’ve seen people visibly do a mild start and recalibrate.

        I’m not especially senior for my age, but I am in a solid mid-career position and I have had a few people assume I’m some kind of wunderkind who came up quickly and might have a missed a few details— and it’s sometimes helpful to just gently assert that no, actually, I’ve been doing this a while and I’ve seen a lot of variations on the basic.

        1. TCPA*

          This is great advice as well, bamcheeks! This is a useful way to share your experience level in a casual, conversational way. I do still think it’s ok to correct folks who make assumptions about us based on how we look or some perceived career timeline – especially assumptions like the ones in the letter that may be causing OP to doubt herself and her abilities.

        2. Walk on the Left Side*

          Another woman in tech (leadership) here. I hate that we have to have the people skills to navigate doing this kind of thing with the right balance of gentleness, professional tone, and generally not Offending the Fragile White Male Ego in some way, but…here we are.

          Sometimes, you can even make it obvious, and jokey, but still have it land!

          Years ago, at my prior job, I had a great conversation with a very technical person in a different dept. It was a nice discussion about testing and TDD, that concluded vaguely like:

          dude: “y’know, it’s really rare to meet a developer under 30 who even knows what TDD is.”
          me: “yup, sure is.”
          dude: “yeah. wow.”
          me: “…yup. yeah.”
          dude: “mmhmm…”
          me: “…”
          dude: “WAIT WHAT? NO WAY!”
          me: “…yup.”

          The glory of tech is that you go straight from that to the “old people don’t keep up with all the newfangled awesome tech” stereotype. :|

      2. Ellis Bell*

        “I’d fear they would instantly criticize what I’ve done for those years.” Oh wow, I do this too! If I take ownership of my experience, I feel like people will question my progression. If I don’t take ownership of my experience, people will question whether I’m ready to progress. Do men do this? Do people do this to men? No, and no, they do not.

      3. TCPA*

        You’re welcome! And thanks :) Also, I realize that statement is far easier to make hypothetically than in real life, but please remember that you don’t owe an explanation to anyone (if they question your experience), and you don’t have to prove that your experience is valid (it’s already valid, regardless of what a “mentor” thinks). Perhaps it might help to remind yourself that “I’ve been in this field for X years” is a fact! Saying it does not mean you are implying that your experience is better than anyone else’s, nor that you’ve done nothing but work full-time in the field across those 12 years. It means you’ve been in the field for a significant period of time – long enough to not be “early career,” that’s for sure! :)

        You sound like an awesome person and I wish you the best of luck!

  39. GladImNotThereAnymore*

    If you were offered management of Prestigious Client by your own management, they would think you are perfectly capable of it, so definitely don’t let any peers hold you back.

    But, echoing earlier commenters, I think it would be good to get clarity on why your “mentors” are saying what they do. Maybe this particular client, unless their account manager has gray hair and been with the company for 40 years, doesn’t feel appreciated (“I only talk to top people and not peons!”) and would be difficult – I’ve been witness to companies bending over backwards for “prestigious” clients and doing things for them that wouldn’t be done for more mundane ones. Your own management apparently has no qualms about your capabilities, but maybe your peer who has interacted with them before had something happen which puts a question in their mind.

    I guess I’d like to think their comments originate from a place of virtue rather than wanting to inhibit your progress for their benefit, but it could be anything. Still don’t think you need to pass up opportunities that are offered to you, but maybe there is some context that would be helpful to have in order to ease your path.

  40. Alan*

    Please take the opportunities offered to you, with the rare exception of the case where you know for a fact that you don’t want the direction that would send you. And please stop asking peers for advice, unless they have some unique insight into you or the position that you don’t have. You may find that if you turn down enough of these opportunities they stop coming, either because people just get it in their mind that you don’t want them, or because some other hotshot appears on the scene. Step up! Take what’s offered, even if it might be scary! Whether by intent or not, these peers are *not* helping you.

  41. Engineering_Life*

    Someone asked you to take on a prestigious client. That means the person who asked you believes that you can take this project/role on. Run with it.

    I have learned (after 22 yrs) that once I say no to a number of opportunities, generally speaking, that those opportunities stop coming. This stalled my career. The hard part is taking on the naysayers, but my support group, mainly men, gladly act as a sounding board and cheerleader. They will also champion me when I am not around. These are mentors.

    You need to find your group. They don’t tell you to hold back, they offer encouragement and sage advice when needed/asked.

  42. Alan*

    This reminds me of so many times when people told me that I couldn’t handle something offered to me, classes I wanted to take, jobs I wanted to apply for, skills I wanted to develop. A teacher, a family member, an employer. Over and over seemingly well-meaning people have said “I don’t think that’s for you”, I’ve done it anyway, and it’s been amazing! Please don’t listen to the naysayers. Run your own race!

  43. nnn*

    I’d be interested in knowing what these colleagues have in mind as the threshold between early career and mid-career.

    (I can’t tell through the internet whether it would be strategic for OP to actually ask them)

  44. Orange You Glad*

    Want to know what will show these colleagues that you are experienced and ready for leadership? Take on these leadership roles and extra opportunities – and totally rock them.

    If this type of conversation comes up again – I’d be tempted to push for more info from them. “How long into your career were you when you started managing Prestigious Client?”
    I’d also be tempted to respond to the “early career” comment with something like “Well if a decade of experience isn’t enough, how much would be?”

    I get it. I’m in a more male-dominated field and I look younger than my age (I’m late 30s but I think I only recently started “looking adult” now that I have wrinkles to compliment my acne). I spent a long time being the top expert in my department while also having to assure older male managers that I did actually know what I was talking about. In the past few years, I’ve been promoted to a much more senior title and have participated in some high-level company-wide projects that I think made some more senior people realize I wasn’t still the “new girl”.

  45. Time for Tea*

    Misogyny 101…. Infantilise the woman, tell her she isn’t worth as much as a man in the same position and discourage her from getting above her station. Add in the racial element as well! Whether consciously or unconsciously these people do not have your best interests at heart. Do not listen, do not consult with them on career moves, pretty much do whatever would be the opposite of their advice.

  46. spcepickle*

    I am a women leading in a male dominated field. I succeed at what I do because I built a network of other women leaders. Women lead differently – we are socialized, trained, and seen differently so of course we interact with the world differently. People of color leading, same thing.
    So stop listening to white dudes. Find people of color, find women, they don’t need to be in your exact field or you organization, they just need to be leaders who want to talk / listen to you.

    You got this!

  47. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

    Oh dear lord, I’m so angry at these “mentors” right now.

    OP, they have shown it to you that they are interested in “gently” holding you back and not in mentoring or growing you. Take the offers and maybe keep the mentors on a low-info diet from here on out. If you were invited, to me it says that someone with decision-making power believes that you will do a good job at it. Take it.

    As a woman in a male-dominated field, I also want to say, maybe be prepared for these people for start circulating vicious rumors about how you’ve gotten your projects, clients, and promotions, when you do get them. I’ve seen this happen. It should not stop you. These people don’t matter.

  48. Belle of the Midwest*

    These people are not true mentors. They are colleagues who are at best, well-meaning but clueless, and jealous saboteurs at worst. If your company has a mentoring/leadership program for women, and you have opportunities to meet mentors outside your department or unit, then you are much more likely to get proper mentoring where the agenda is to advance you and your professional goals.

    Secondly, you said it yourself: you were INVITED to manage this prestigious client’s account. Whoever invited you sees what you have to offer. If I were in your shoes, I would take career advice from that person before I would listen to any of what these colleagues have to say.

  49. Analytical Tree Hugger*

    These “mentors” are…well, are they mentors? Or are they colleagues who are helpful as sounding boards and fellow problem solvers?

    The handful of times I’ve been a formal or informal mentor, my rule has been to encourage my mentees to take opportunities offered to them. My role was to help them navigate and succeed in those opportunities, so the conversation would have been more like:

    Mentee: I was invited to manage an account for Prestigious Client. Should I do it?

    Me: Awesome! That would look great for a promotion, so go for it! Congratulations! I worked with them before, so here’s what I learned about them [XYZ]. Of course, things may have changed with them since then, as it was ## years ago. What are you thinking in terms of how to manage the relationship?

    1. Pete*

      I think it goes back to what questions she is asking the mentors. If my mentee asked me early career questions, I would recommend them to get more experience. If they were asking great questions, I would encourage them to take it. I have had both and had both offered opportunities.

  50. Keymaster of Gozer*

    From 20+ years as a woman in tech in a VERY heavily male (white, cis) dominated industry here’s my lesson:

    90% of what blokes will tell you to do for your career is utter crap. 8% is useful. 2% is up to interpretation.

    I’ve got one mentor (used to be my boss looong ago) who is male but he actually advocates for me to be the best. And he points out my real faults, not things that ‘women should be doing’. He loves seeing me succeed.

    You’ve got the deck stacked against you from the start, just like I did. But don’t take advice from those with a vested interest in making sure you get dealt a duff hand. I wouldn’t have gone for the (very) senior IT role in London if I’d listened to the men in my department- they said I was too young. I got the job.

    Only experience can tell you who is trustworthy and who isn’t, I say take the chances that present themselves. Trust your gut. And brace yourself because you’re going to encounter these blokes a LOT.

    1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      “90% of what blokes will tell you to do for your career is utter crap. 8% is useful. 2% is up to interpretation.”

      So much this. I had a recruiter I worked with for years, to the point where I was feeling guilty because over all those years, I’d never gotten a job (so, a commission for him) at any of the companies he worked with. He and I would meet for lunch 1-2 times a year to catch up. At our last lunch, he decided to give me a reality check, and informed me that I had already hit my ceiling salary-wise, and shouldn’t look for anything higher. Readers, my pay now is 60+% higher than it was then. And this guy no longer works as a recruiter.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        Yes! And also remember if you are a member of a marginalised group (WOC, women in tech, trans, LGBTQ, disabled etc) and the people giving advice are NOT in the same groups then they don’t have the same experience or battles that you do.

        A white cis able bodied 20 something straight guy advising a 40+ WOC who is disabled and not straight or white needs to remember that they are acting from a privileged position in society and may not have any experience with the particular challenges that person is facing.

        I’m not saying don’t give advice, mentors are a good thing!, just always filter it.

  51. Jesshereforthecomments*

    OP are you perhaps experiencing impostor’s syndrome or something similar? I’m curious as to why you would ask advice of your peers – peers who have similar years of experience in the field (or less) and some of which you’re more educated than. And why you would keep doing it after the first time they tried to hold you back?

    If you experience self-doubt, a therapist would say that each time you think you’re not good enough or unsure, you should challenge that thought. What I do is keep a running tally of accomplishments, big and small. I also save all the compliments and kudos I get from peers, clients, managers, etc. When I feel like I’m not good enough, I go examine the facts.

    I would also stop telling them anything about your work unless you need to. Information diet from here on out. And good luck with your new opportunities – you will do amazingly well!

  52. thelettermegan*

    you might want to consider that many of your ‘mentors’ might not realize your age/experience. Those of us in the millenial camp who are approaching middle-age and used subscreen as directed and didn’t smoke as much as our parents are finding that ‘middle-age’ for us doesn’t look like it did for previous generations. This is great for our overall health and self-esteem, but it means we can’t expect to naturally look like what older people would expect a person with ten years experience to look like. You might want to find ways to bring up your previous experience in conversations to shake out any assumptions about where you are in your careet.

    I think with that there’s also a bit of sexism at play. Your older male mentors may ‘see themselves’ in incoming male graduates, and will want to push and challenge the ‘go-getters’, while assuming that young women will not have the confidence to tackle big projects.

    With these guys, I’d only approach them for mentorship on specific aspects where they have experience. If management is giving you the opportunities to stretch and grow, take them up on it, and don’t let other people talk you out of it when they should be trying to set you up for success.

  53. Apple Pharmer*

    Do your colleagues have the kind of career trajectory that would demonstrate their advice is worth listening to…?

  54. Jack Straw from Wichita*

    Sometimes people forgot you ever worked prior to when they met you. I had a boss (wasn’t the one who hired me) who I had to constantly remind that I had 8+ years of experience in the role I was in and 3+ years leading a team each time she’d try to mentor me into some early career program or basic skills training. I became a broken record in our meetings until it stopped.

  55. No Yelling on the Bus*

    Take yourself seriously or nobody else will.

    The only way to stop them treating you like you’re less experienced or less mature is to act like you have the experience and maturity you have. You don’t need their permission to move your career forward.

  56. And I thought my advice was bad*

    Your coworkers are giving you terrible advice. Ideally, if you’re offered the chance to manage a high-profile account and they think you’re a bit green for it, they should say yes but find a way to discreetly encourage you to check in pretty frequently with someone more senior who knows the ropes. As Alison notes, though, you’re not even junior!

    You should find better mentors.

  57. HugeTractsofLand*

    Just came here to add: these peers might be spreading their misconception about your age and experience, so try and plant casual seeds wherever you can about the truth (e.g. “I’ve been doing it this way for years, but curious what your method is” etc.). Having the confidence to take mid-career opportunities might prompt questions that you should always answer with: yeah, it made sense with where I am right now. Your confidence will do a lot to correct people, but I hope at the very least you’ll start pausing them when they say “early-career” and say something like “is 12 years in early?”

  58. Cedrus Libani*

    That last line. Give it a try, seriously. Here’s a data point from the other end of things: I’ve always treated “oh honey, that’s not for you” as a personal challenge, with the only appropriate response being “excuse YOU, watch this!”. (I was born with a motor skill delay, such that people routinely assumed I had an intellectual delay to match; fortunately that resolved itself by puberty, but the chip on my shoulder remains firmly in place. I also chose my technical STEM field at age 7 and latched onto it like a barnacle, such that for awhile I was indeed visibly young for my job.)

    Has this gotten me into trouble? Yes. Mostly minor trouble, the kind that’s fixed by running around a bit unsustainably hard for awhile, until it all works out in the end. I can think of exactly ONE situation where I got myself into trouble that I couldn’t get out of. Wasn’t good, possibly still has a career impact 15+ years later, but even so. I’m still light-years ahead of the version of myself where I sat politely and let people tell me what I can’t do.

    1. Beth*

      I love your last line here. It’s such a good reminder that when we’re considering the risk of taking on something we might fail at, the question isn’t “will there be bad consequences if I fail?”–it’s “which will have the worse consequences, trying and failing or not trying at all?”

      1. Walk on the Left Side*

        One of the hardest things for me to internalize, and consistently remember is that the other alternative in play was never “perfection” — where I ended up after X big career decision is NEVER perfect, but it might be the best outcome that was realistic…and I am *definitely* ahead of either “don’t try at all” or just flip a coin.

  59. Moose*

    The fact that you are being INVITED to some of these opportunities speaks volumes. You are not applying for roles three levels above your current position or asking for projects that normally aren’t your area–you’re being sought out. Combined with your own manager’s encouragement to pursue your interests, you shouldn’t give these “mentors'” suggestions any more thought. Go for it.

  60. Weird*

    Sorry if it’s been asked, but does the advice to hold back because you’re early in your career ever make sense?

    Don’t burn yourself out of course, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen that kind of advice before.

    1. Fluffy Fish*

      Absolutely. For a whole lot of fields. Someone with 1-3 years of experience may be ready to take on a step up role, but not a management role. It’s going to be field and role dependent but its basically saying you do not have enough experience to move into that role.

      My field initial management roles are looking for 5-7 years experience in general with some specific sub-type of experience.

      Its a small field relatively and while you would not get blacklisted, it would come across as not self-aware at best – over-confident at worst.

        1. Environmental Compliance*

          However, that’s not just a “you’re only early career” thing – that’s a “you are missing skills XYZ, and should develop those more first before you try for ABC”.

    2. Yellow cake*

      Absolutely. In my industry if you move into leading too early you are unlikely to have the technical side of your career sufficiently well established to sustain while “leading” takes over.

      Unless you have the technical reputation and skills to continue to have technical output with considerably less time for technical work – you will fade away. It’s not that more junior people can’t manage budgets / teams / strategy / politics etc – it’s that they can’t do an that while also having a long list of great people wanting to invite them in too funded projects.

  61. Fluffy Fish*

    1. Please please start correcting people who undermine your experience.

    Them: “…since you’re early career.”
    You: “I am not early career. I have x years of experience and a degree.”

    2. To that point and possible controversial-You don’t need a mentor. You are experienced and successful. Mentors are for helping you learn the ropes at a new company/role. Helping guide you when you are early career. They aren’t mentoring you, they are giving you their questionable opinions.

    3. When people repeatedly give you poor advice, stop seeking their counsel.

    4. You don’t need approval to seek opportunities that interest you. You are a competent skilled tenured employee. You give yourself approval – you know what you are qualified for.

  62. Insert pun here*

    OP, you know your company and coworkers better than we do (obviously) so take with a grain of salt — but if these are people you general trust and generally think have your best interests in mind, you might try to figure out if there’s more behind this. For example, I’ve seen the following happen a couple of times: company has a junior-ish employee who’s ready to learn the next set of skills for their career progression. Company assigns them a small/less profitable/less important area so they can learn the skills. Several years later, they decide to drop small/less profitable/less important area—and the employee with it.

    This may or may not be what’s going on and even if it is, that doesn’t necessarily mean you should say no. But best to go into it with eyes wide open.

    Also completely possible (and I think likely) that these colleagues are wildly underestimating your ability and experience. By any reasonable definition you are not early career!

    1. Observer*

      but if these are people you general trust and generally think have your best interests in mind, you might try to figure out if there’s more behind this.

      In this case, the “more” is that they are not people who she can trust to give her good advice, and the reason doesn’t really matter.

      For example, I’ve seen the following happen a couple of times: company has a junior-ish employee who’s ready to learn the next set of skills for their career progression. Company assigns them a small/less profitable/less important area so they can learn the skills. Several years later, they decide to drop small/less profitable/less important area—and the employee with it.

      Except that these are *high profile* clients and projects that her “mentors” are *acknowledging* as such. And telling her not to take these high profile projects that are *necessary for advancement* because she’s too new. That’s an extremely different scenario.

  63. Humpty Dumpty*

    LW, if you feel confident in taking something on please do it, because nobody can judge for you whether you feel ready and how much fun and knowledge you’re getting out of any new challenges.
    Also it has been shown in several studies (and also confirmed by many women in leadership roles) that women in general tend to only take on new challenges when they feel 100% prepared, whereas a men generally agree to take on new challenges with the attitude that they’ll will figure out how to do it later.

    You really don’t need to know everything before you can step into a new adventure. It’s part of the journey. Even if you mess up you will have learnt something. Go for it. :)

  64. K*

    I think we’re focusing on the wrong thing here. It doesn’t really matter if OP is “early” career or not. If she’s capable of doing the things being asked of her she should do them if she wants to.

    1. JustKnope*

      YES to this. If you’re capable of the work, and interested in it, go do it! The advice that she should “settle in” is weird. Sometimes the only way to know what you want to do is to go try different things.

    2. Yellow cake*

      Only if they help her meet her career goals longer term – or she’s happy with any career hit she’d take.

      There are definitely roles in my industry that can help you move up later in your career, but when taken on earlier are stoppers. My next obvious leadership role is basically a prereq for major promotion. But right now it’s just a huge workload I couldn’t leverage. I’m too junior to make that jump to the senior levels (like 10-15 years too junior given I’m no superstar). If I took on those roles now they’d be considered irrelevant past by the time I could apply for those more senior roles. Career wise – I’m better sticking to the junior roles and moving more slowly.

      LW needs career mentors that she can trust are viewing her career stage right – to know whether waiting is good for her, or not.

  65. Friendly Office Bisexual*

    Wow, this is outrageous. These “mentors” might have kind intentions, but they’re instructing a younger-looking woman of color to hold back on career growth opportunities. LW, I hope you seize the next similar opportunity you get and don’t look back!

  66. JP*

    I feel like I was viewed as young and early career for the first 15 years of my career. There were a lot of reasons for it, but I do think that gender and some insecure coworkers were the biggest factors. Older women in my own department were actually just as bad as some of the men, and I actually get why, even though it was a crappy way to behave.

    It’s so odd sometimes to realize the gap between how we see ourselves and how everyone else sees us. Sometimes I realize that I underestimate myself more than everyone else, sometimes it’s the opposite. Weird unrelated one was realizing that everyone thinks I have black hair. I have brown hair, I’ve always thought of myself as a brunette (and I am), but apparently my hair looks black to everyone else. That’s not job related at all, it’s just something that really threw me when I found it out.

  67. JustKnope*

    It’s interesting that you say these colleagues have taken on an informal mentor role for you. How did that happen? Are they assuming you need or want mentorship? If you have a similar number of years of experience and do similar work, it sounds like you should be each others’ peer sounding board – not in a mentor/mentee arrangement.

  68. HannahS*

    OP, I think that you’ll need to view mentorship as a double-edged sword throughout your career. Mentorship can be valuable, but I’d encourage you to be wary of ever accepting/allowing even informal mentorship from a peer. Mentorship relies on a power dynamic, and it’s hard to get out of once it’s there. If your peers are helping you, guiding you, supporting you, then they don’t have to respect you as an equal. Mentors–and I say this with the greatest affection to both my own mentors and my own mentees–don’t view their mentees as equals. That’s just not the model, because it’s a teacher/student thing.

    I’m not saying your colleagues are doing anything deliberately malicious. Mentoring people feels good and altruistic…and if your colleagues have any uncomfortable feelings about a much younger woman of a different background being seen as their equal, then they don’t have to face it if they feed themselves protective and proprietary feelings over you instead.

    I work in a rigidly hierarchical field. It is absolutely expected that I receive mentorship from anyone two steps above me and that I provide it to anyone two steps below (we have very small departments.) It would be super weird for me to “mentor” a peer, or for them to mentor me. What would we have to mentor each other over? We’re at the same points in our careers! We share knowledge; my one colleague is amazing at explaining one specific technical thing, so I’ll often turn to him; many people speak to me when they are thinking of having children. But we don’t mentor each other.

  69. animaniactoo*

    I wonder why you are asking IF you should take on the project, and whether that is contributing to the perception of you as “early career”

    What is holding you back from saying “I’ve been invited to take this on. Do you have any familiarity with the client?” and treating it as something you ARE doing?

  70. Mark This Confidential and Leave It Laying Around*

    In my field there is an annual award that has an “emerging” category for early-career people. Men win the regular award. Women, often women with more years in the field and more concrete achievements, win the “emerging” award. In too many people’s minds, women are never quite “ready.” I have literally watched women win the “emerging” award on the verge of retirement (and one won the Lifetime Achievement award the next year!). Do not. Listen. To these. Men.

  71. Capt. Liam Shaw*

    Honestly, they probably think you are not ready because you asked them if you are ready (indirectly) by saying “should I take this opportunity?”

    I don’t think they mean you wrong, it is just from the vibes and questions you are asking they don’t think you are ready and not being very direct with their views on it.

    1. KateM*

      That’s how I felt about it, too – by asking “I was invited to do this, should I do it?” OP gives off vibes that she is hoping for validation that she *shouldn’t*.

  72. Khatul Madame*

    LW, your manager may be passive, but their blanket encouragement to pursue every opportunity may be interpreted as the permission for you, a senior professional, to be self-sufficient and decisive in managing your career.
    Your colleagues, on the other hand, are undermining you, but they are doing it by invitation. Stop asking them whether you should go for the various stretch opportunities.

  73. Former Academic*

    I had a very similar thing in my field (academia). I’d been recruited for one role, a course director left shortly after I started, and I was asked to cover. When the course director role was advertised (seven months on!), I was told that the head of school was concerned I was too inexperienced to do the job permanently, even though I had 13 years in the job compared to my predecessor’s five…I was female and in my early 30s and he was male and in his late 40s… (I applied for the job and I got it.)

  74. Another Academic Librarian too*

    Oh, I do know how this feels. Do not go to the hardware store for oranges. Get mentors who will help navigate politics. Ignore the “you’ve got time” advice.
    I got a lot of “just graduated” new to the field advice when I got my masters when in reality I had ten years experience. I took a big hit not negotiating am advanced salary step when I went to another position.
    I spent the next five reminding people that although I was new to this kind of position, I did have more than ten years experience in this area of expertise.

  75. Audrey*

    A positive change I would recommend to the OP is to not get a public opinion poll on their decisions. Seek/hear advice from people who have the results in that area that you want, not people who are at your peer level. Peers are great for perspective about how things are, but not for where you want to go unless they’re already at that level.

  76. Sparkles McFadden*

    Please LW, stop talking to these people about your career immediately. Move along in your career without regard to a calendar or some random person’s arbitrary timetable. If someone higher up talks to you about an opportunity, talk to *that person* about the opportunity, asking what you need to do to succeed, or how you want to approach it.

    I was also a woman in a male dominated technical field where I was at least ten years younger than everyone else around. Here’s some advice I was given by people who thought they were being good mentors:

    – I should never answer questions immediately. I should always say “I don’t know but I will find out for you.” Answering directly would make other people feel stupid or insecure and they’d hold that against me.

    – I should never negotiate for salary, even when being offed a promotion. I should just be grateful for the opportunity. I was also reminded that, if I demanded more money, they’d just go hire someone male or someone older, with more experience.

    – I should be nicer to the men and smile more because “whether we like it or not, the men are still making the big decisions, so they need to like you.”

    – I should present all of my own work as work produced by “the whole team” because not sharing credit for work I did entirely by myself is being petty. On the other hand, I should not expect to be acknowledged for doing 80% of a colleague’s project because that would make him look bad.

    – I was offered a coveted training opportunity and was told by several senior colleagues (who came at me in a group) that I needed to turn the opportunity down because other people had been there longer. They said I needed to “wait my turn” and not take “someone’s else’s spot.”

    I could go on and on but, suffice it to say, I never did any of that. In each case, I said “Thank you for your concern” and then just went along about my business, building my career. I really do think these people were trying to be helpful, but their advice was always ridiculous and very, very biased.

    1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      Mostly because it would be funny watching them try to come up with a definition that includes the LW, but excludes them and their buddies.

      1. Yellow cake*

        Easy – the one that exists in my industry. Years since graduate qualification (excluding career breaks).

        If LW graduated 2 years ago – she’s got 8 more to serve as an early career for some of the formal definitions in my field. Other formal definitions give her 3 more years.

  77. kiki*

    I commented above about the role that gender/race/being from an unrepresented group may play in this and I think that’s important to note. But I also want to call out that most people are bad at remembering other people’s work histories. It sounds like LW’s graduate degree situation was a bit out of the norm, so I could see people defaulting to “LW graduated 2 years ago– they are early career” forgetting LW’s experience before their graduation. Especially if LW is genuinely young for their position at this organization, I could see that all non-maliciously coming together and leading folks to come to the wrong conclusion about where LW is at career-wise.

    I had a friend who was in a similar situation. She worked in a field where most people get their Masters and PhDs right after undergrad, but she worked in the field for nearly a decade before going back to school. After getting her PhD she went to the same organization she worked at before but in her new role. People would comment on her meteoric rise– she made her way to senior and then director-level several years in fewer than most people do. She’d always say, though, that she had 10 years of related and transferable experience people kept forgetting about.

  78. Michelle Smith*

    “I was invited to manage an account for Prestigious Client. Should I do it?”

    100% stop asking for advice like this and just do it if you know that it’s something you’re interested in and will position you for the promotion you’re trying to get. Stop taking advice from people at your level who haven’t been where you’re trying to go. Stop taking advice from anyone that wants you to diminish who you are or what you’re capable of.

    You asking questions like this actually makes you sound younger and less experienced, even if that’s not your intent. Better questions would be things like soliciting input about long-term clients that you’re new to. Take the opportunities you want. The answer is always yes, so now you don’t need to ask anymore!

  79. GreenDoor*

    Oh my goodness! At first I though this was about you proactively applying for opportunities that may be out of your depth. But if other people are inviting you, its because, unlike your “mentors” they DO see something in you, or they’ve been impressed by your work, or someone in your mutual networks spoke highly of you and they want to see for themselves. Don’t listen to the naysayers! Go for it! It never hurts to have a conversation….and who knows where it might lead?

  80. Overnight Oats*

    I do not suspect evil intent by the people that OP asked. I suspect that they are not wearing their “mentor” hats, but instead replying as a “work buddy”. OP asked, “Should I do this?” They hear, “OP is nervous about this and I should reassure OP that OP still has plenty of time to gain the experience to be confident in such a role and OP will have other chances if they forego this one.” I vote up the early responses suggesting different questions that OP should ask. Focus on asking mentors what context they can offer to help you decide between paths or succeed on the path you choose.

  81. Raida*

    “Ooh yes that’s an excellent growth, learning, networking, etc opportunity – you should definitely do it. But not now. Because you don’t…. need… to… grow…? at any point in your career?”

    Think about it that was.

    If you are interested in something and have the bandwidth for it – go for it.
    ‘Mentors’ that are suggesting you turn down an opportunity, while saying it’s a good one? What are they trying to help you with other than stay where you are? Are they suggesting a *better fit* for you at this stage? If not, they’re just giving you ignorant advice.

  82. Nope, Not Me*

    OP, great advice in this thread. A quick add that you may want to assess your overall behaviors to see if you’re inadvertently reinforcing “young” perceptions.* Bonus if you can prominently display any awards or typical later-in-career milestones.

    *This sucks and you shouldn’t have to do this. I recommend it anyway.

  83. Mentors' Advocate*

    If this was the advice of one colleague, I would agree with everyone to ignore and bet on yourself. Because the advice appears to be coming from several of the colleagues you talk about these things with, colleagues who otherwise seem to like and support you, I might be inclined to dig deeper. For example, were these opportunities formally offered to you? Would pursuing these opportunities violate company policies or company norms? Could colleagues be concerned that your current level of work product may fail to meet clients’ standards, and are using “early career” to soften the blow?

    None of these may be the case, and you could just have a group of stodgy and/or undermining colleagues who scoff at the potential success of a younger person of a different gender or race, but I’m always cautious when the advice is a chorus instead of a solo.

    1. A person*

      In my experience the group think in this demographic in the male dominated industries is prevalent enough that even if it was more than one, I’d still take it with a grain of salt.

  84. A person*

    Oof. This one hit a nerve for me as someone who is always fighting the “no no, you don’t need to be included in this discussion or meeting or information about this project you’re working on (or possibly leading)”.

    I know it’s not exactly the same thing but it has the same tone. Micro aggressions.

    I work in a male dominated industry and the sneaky sexism is just so rampant and so hard to combat.

    So I agree with all the others. Stop listening to these guys. Even if they actually intend good things for you, they are steering you wrong likely because of their own biases.

    1. Zee*

      Unless it’s a female dominated industry. My supervisor (one of the only males in the org) is the only one that wants to build us up. Everyone else wants to just retain power for themselves and hold others down.

  85. Mentors' Advocate*

    The other thing that stuck out to me from your post is that you mentioned your colleagues might be assessing career stage based on when you got your graduate degree, instead of your number of years in the field and current productivity.

    In a lot of fields, it really doesn’t make a
    difference. But in certain fields, particularly medicine and law, it makes all the difference. A new lawyer who previously worked 10 years as a paralegal might have a leg up or a faster learning curve in certain areas, but they would still be rightly considered by virtually all of their colleagues to be early career. Same as a new doctor with a background as a nurse or EMT.

    If you’re in one of those fields where, by industry norms, the graduate degree starts the career as an X, you’re getting decent advice from your mentors. And you’re right, if you tell someone who’s been a (lawyer, doc etc.) for 15 years that you have equal standing in the field. there is a good chance you’d be shot down. Again, not saying that’s the case here, just thinking of other possibilities for your colleagues’ stance.

  86. Zee*

    Don’t dim your light to let theirs appear brighter. If you’re invited, go for it. Let the clients decide if you’re too inexperienced to handle their stuff, but go for every opportunity you have and see what happens.

  87. R*

    My field is less male-dominated than it used to be but there are still few women in leadership positions. I’ve found it worthwhile to seek out female mentors even when it takes some work to find them because I realized even the most kind, intelligent, and well meaning male colleagues mostly gave advice that wasn’t particularly applicable to me. Their advice was fine but seemed mostly based on values or priorities I didn’t share or at least didn’t weigh the same way. They still offer advice and I say thanks and keep doing what I’m doing.

  88. Candlemas*

    These ‘mentors’ are talking out of their hats. You wouldn’t have been invited if the hiring committee weren’t interested in hearing from you!

    I share your frustration- I’m in my second career, and I’m finding it hard to get the next step into a senior role. Some of the senior leaders I’ve spoken to about this keep offering me more and more work ‘for my development’, often in areas where I have significant amounts of experience already- just from another field. I’ve also got something of a baby-face so although I’m approaching 50 I probably look like I’m in my mid-30s- I’ve seen people visibly shocked when I explain I worked in my previous industry for 20 years, and I wasn’t young when I started that path! :D

    Trust your instincts- you know if you’re good at your job, and you deserve the opportunities that are in front of you.

  89. Yellow cake*

    Is the issue that officially you are early career – and you aren’t strongly declining that title? In my field you technically are early career as that clock starts with your graduate degree (if you have one). Also – depending on the context, early career is either 5 or 10 years post qualification (+ career breaks) in my industry. So by that count you’re still EC in some contexts even from your longer count.

    I came into my role from an atypical background. The official count doesn’t quite work for me. The way I got people to not see me as early career was to specifically call myself mid-career and reinforce this. You are acting as EC in your interactions with them – it is not surprising that’s how they see you.

    1. Don’t ask your peers for career advice like this. You know they see you as EC and are providing advice based on that. Find mentors who are senior to you, not equal peers. I have peers by years experience who approach me as juniors (and by rank they are more junior) – I respond with career advice in the same manner.

    2. When someone says EC just laugh and say that boat passed me by years ago / not for a long time now / some other light hearted comment that makes it clear that it’s not you anymore.

    2b. If someone comments about you only graduating a couple years ago – again keep this lighthearted and joke about getting a headstart with 5 users in the role before you got the piece of paper *

    3. Do not attend EC events or functions. Don’t apply for awards/programs etc that are EC. Exceptions it’s an EC by name that goes well past EC or you harm your career by self-selecting out of those opportunities.

    4. Start attending anything that has the mid-career tag. Claim it and use it yourself.

    .* caveat here is that your prior work wasn’t just “in the industry” but was a comparable role to a new graduate coming in with the higher qualifications they are time-referencing. In my industry we have a lot of lower ranked roles. Some people will do these their entire career, for others it’s an income while training for the higher ranked roles. If you’ve gone from being the assistant to the operator, your assistant years may not be genuinely experience for an operator role. Whereas junior operator to operator to lead operator can be a standard path.

  90. Happy Pineapple*

    Do not ask for permission or even opinions about your career from people who are your peers! The only person’s input who should hold some weight in your boss, and you already said that they are supportive of you chasing what you want.

    You can certainly ask peers about their experience, constructive criticism, or what they would do in your shoes, such as “Have you ever worked with X client before? What was it like? How many years of experience did you have at that time?” or “When you were about 10 years into your career, would you have accepted a job from X client? Why or why not?” But never give them the power to tell you to curb your own advancement.

  91. e271828*

    LW, your supervisor says you should say Yes to things that interest you. Listen to your supervisor. Say Yes!

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