How old an impression do you make when you’re interviewing? Of course, we all know that your boss can look up your age in your personnel file, or an interviewer can just count backwards from the year of graduation printed on your resume. However, here is the truth: “perception” is the new reality, like sixty is the new fifty. So you need to learn the fine art of being perceived as younger as well as looking younger.
Is this fair? Is it even legal? And most importantly, should you give in to such nonsense? I’ll put it this way—if you are over forty, you need to read on.
The recession we’ve all been feeling for months is now official. So now bosses can use that magic “R” word as a blank check to fire almost anyone for any reason. And pay attention, over-forties: the wounded economy is an especially perfect opportunity for higher-ups to fire those senior workers whose high wages and big egos have outlasted their welcome.
For those who are unemployed, you must do whatever it takes to convey to hiring managers that you are employable. What does this mean? No one wants to hire someone who’s stuck in the old-fashioned way of thinking that being qualified, working hard, and being loyal to a company is enough. Your Princeton degree and enviable references won’t get you far if you’re that naïve.
So back to the age thing. While many workers have learned that good looks and a polished appearance go a long way toward success in the workplace, too many of them fail to realize that cultivating the perception of youth and a hip attitude is an equally important part of the equation. It’s no secret that we live in an age-obsessed society. Like it or not, “Interviewing Younger” is the new catchphrase.
“Interviewing Younger” and being perceived as more youthful at the office is a vocabulary, a body language, and a look. And here’s a secret: these rules apply even more when your boss is your age or even older. It’s not like you are following these rules to impress a young person. Whatever the age of your boss or interviewer, you need to create a youthful perception about you. Otherwise, there’s someone else waiting in the wings with quicker computer skills and contemporary pop culture knowledge who will be all too happy to fill your shoes.
So how do you do it? I reveal some of the secrets in my new book, Bulletproof Your Job (HarperCollins). But for those know-it-alls who have yet to buy my book (and by the way, it’s the type of book you should keep in your desk at all times to remind yourself how to hold onto your job while everyone around you is losing theirs), here is my holiday gift to you.
Rule #1: Crest White Strips. Yup, this is a shallow, cosmetic-based tip. But I get so many letters from people who just don’t understand that having coffee-stained teeth doesn’t do you any favors in the interview department. Stop rolling your eyes, go buy the strips (use the store brand for all I care—I’m not picky), and whiten those teeth. Then smile. Smiling makes you look and feel younger—not bitter, old, and unemployed. I don’t care if you really are bitter, old, and unemployed. It’s about perception, remember?
Rule #2: If you are over forty, I want you on Facebook today. No friends? You already have one—just Facebook me. If you don’t know how to join, let your kids show you, or even better, have a young person at work “reverse mentor” you on how it works. Let that same person help you choose your profile picture. No drunken debauchery, please.
Rule #3: Know about and frequently use Google and Wikipedia. Bookmark them on your computer and set one as your homepage.
Rule #4: Watch an episode of Family Guy. Discuss. Repeat.
Rule #5: Peruse your local Apple store. At least learn the difference between an iPod Classic, iPod Touch, and iPod Nano and you’re on your way. And buy a set of those identifiable white headphones to keep around, even if you don’t have the iPod to go with them. It’s all about perception.
Rule #6: If for some ungodly reason you still remember your SAT scores, keep them to yourself. Not only does no one care, but the scoring isn’t even the same anymore and you’ll just wind up aging yourself.
Rule #7: Don’t talk about how you’re so addicted to Starbucks, Coffee Bean, or whatever your coffee place of choice is. It seems like this would make you appear younger, but it won’t. Starbucks screams “unemployed loser,” and ever since Michael Gates Gill wrote Starbucks Saved My Life, the average age of their customers must have shot up dramatically. (By the way, Michael is a friend of mine who I met at a book fair. He’s a lovely man who wrote a terrific book, but he’s sixty-eight and, well ... let’s just say that Starbucks is a very early 2000 sort of Devil Wears Prada.) Besides, you should never walk into an interview with a coffee cup, especially since you just whitened those teeth.
Rule #8: Pick up a copy of Entertainment Weekly before an interview. But for God’s sake, don’t take it in with you and don’t let anyone see you reading it. That said, nothing gets you more up to date on the youthful world of pop culture like an issue of EW.
Rule #9: Learn how to text.
Rule #10: Young people get their news online—they don’t read newspapers. So don’t carry one into an interview with you or be seen reading it at the office like someone’s mom or dad.
Rule #11: Brush up on sports. This is easy; you can still get away with talking about Michael Phelps and get credit for this one. Bonus points for knowing which NFL star accidentally shot himself in a NYC nightclub and who’s in the playoffs.
Rule #12: Make eye contact and use my famous Viagra handshake (learn all about it in my book, Bulletproof Your Job). Eye contact is so critical to being perceived as young; don’t be afraid to use it.
Rule #13: Rarely refer to your children, never your grandchildren, and never ever your great-grandchildren.
Rule #14: Go to the gym ... or at least say that you do.
Rule #15: Never talk about the 80s or 90s, and never use words from “your day.” Nothing at work is groovy, dy-no-mite, or tubular. Ever.
Rule #16: Get a TiVo or DVR, or at least know how they work.
Rule #17: Practice “sounding young” on the phone. Take a small survey of how old you sound on the phone, and then practice with a friend sounding younger (a tip: talk higher and peppier). This is critical. In the same vein, make sure your outgoing voicemail message isn’t too long or boring. Short and sweet with a positive attitude is all you need.
Rule #18: Dress is very important—always dress age-appropriate. No forty-plus man should be wearing an Abercrombie & Fitch t-shirt, and no forty-plus woman should be sporting a skimpy halter top (and these items should never be worn to work, no matter what your age).
Rule #19: Give your hairstyle a long, hard look. No wonder there are so many makeover shows! My advice is to ask an outsider his or her opinion. Someone who loves you won’t want to hurt your feelings, or may love your look for sentimental or romantic reasons, but sadly that won’t help you find a job. A bad coloring job spells disaster for both men and women, and let’s face it, hair weaves for men rarely work. Men, don’t go overboard on finding a new hairstyle—just clip your nose and ear hair and you’re on the right track. Ladies, pluck or bleach facial hair—it’s never good at any age, but for the over-forty set, it will scream menopause way before you’ve even reached it.
Rule #20: Skip the cologne and excessive perfume. And while we’re on the subject, wear deodorant. You may laugh, but many people just don’t do it.
Okay ... feel any younger, or just berated?
Trust me, I just took fifteen years off the way you come across. Yeah, some things I talk about here are cosmetic, but most are not. It’s all about perception ... and perception is the new reality.