Friday, January 8, 2010

#129 - The Job Market: How "Young" do you Interview?

How old do you think you come across in an interview? If you’re anything like me, this thought has never really crossed your mind - before now. Of course, we all know that an interviewer can easily figure out a person's age. That’s not the point. The harsh truth is that perception is the new reality (kind of like 50 is the new 40). So, if you’re in the job market, you may want to see if you couldn't be perceived as more youthful. Seriously, it's about far more than appearances.

You might be asking... is this fair? Is it legal? Is ageism rampant in this country? And most important, should you give in to such nonsense? Let me put it another way, if you’re over 40 and searching for employment, do read on.

The recession we've all been feeling has made the job market much more competitive. Now, any boss can use the economy as an excuse to fire just about anyone for any reason. So, pay attention middle-agers. The wounded economy is a perfect opportunity for higher-ups to fire senior workers whose high wages (and big egos) have outlasted their welcome.

If you are already among the unemployed, you must do whatever it takes to convey to hiring managers that you are still highly employable. What does that mean? Well, who wants to hire someone who's stuck in their old-fashioned thought patterns and habits? Today, being qualified, hard-working and loyal may not be enough. Even a shiny new college degree and excellent references won't get you as far as you thought (take it from someone who knows).

OK…back to the age thing
While many workers have learned that good looks and a polished appearance will always go a long way toward success in the workplace, many fail to realize that cultivating the perception of a youthful, hip attitude is equally important. It's no secret that we live in an age-obsessed society. Like it or not, recruiters are talking to clients about "interviewing younger." It’s the latest catchphrase.

Interviewing younger or being perceived as more “with it” is about vocabulary, body language, and appearance. Here's the real secret - the rules apply even more when a potential boss is your age or older than you. Whatever the age of your boss or interviewer, you can create a youthful perception about yourself. Otherwise, there will be someone else waiting in the wings who has quicker computer skills, greater pop-culture knowledge, and is all too happy to fill the slot.

In order to get or hold on to your job while others around you are losing theirs, consider this list of suggestions from executive recruiters at The Ladders:

Rule #1: Crest Whitestrips. (Yes, this is a shallow, ridiculous cosmetic tip.)
But having coffee or cigarette-stained teeth won’t do you any favors in an interview. Don’t roll your eyes; but do visit a dentist or buy the strips. Then smile. Smiling makes everyone look and feel younger – not bitter, old or unemployed. And, if you are bitter, old, and unemployed, it’s still all about perception.

Rule #2: If you are over 40, start a Facebook profile - today.
No friends? Well, you have one now - you can Facebook me. If you don't know how to do this, just ask your kids, or even better, ask someone at the office to "reverse mentor" you on it. Let that same person help you choose a profile picture. Seriously. Social networking plays a role in the job search today. Next, start your LinkedIn profile.

Rule #3: Know about and frequently use Google, Wikipedia, Yahoo, StumbleUpon and/or Delicious. Bookmark them on your computer, and set one as your homepage.

Rule #4: Watch at least one episode of "Family Guy."

Rule #5: Visit the local Apple store or website.
Know the difference between an iPod Touch, an iPod Nano and an iPhone. Consider getting an iPod or MP3 player if you've never had one; listen to some popular music - just be aware of a few artists; you don't have to like it. Also, find out what iTunes is about.

Rule #6: Do not disclose your SAT scores.

If for some reason you still remember your SAT scores, just keep them to yourself. Not only does no one care, but scoring has likely changed since you took the tests; so you'll end up aging yourself by mentioning it.

Rule #7: Don't talk about the fact that you're addicted to Starbucks.

Or the Coffee Bean, or whatever your place is. It might seem like this would make you appear younger, but it won't. Starbucks screams "unemployed loser." Besides, you would never walk into an interview with a coffee cup (you just whitened your teeth).

Rule #8: Pick up a copy of “Entertainment Weekly” before the next interview.

But for God's sake, don't take it in with you and don't let anyone see you reading it - ever. That said, nothing brings you more up-to-date on youthful pop culture than an issue of EW.

Rule #9: Learn how to text.

Rule #10: Lose the newspaper. Young people get their news online; they don't have the paper delivered. Along these lines, never carry a paper into an interview or be seen reading one at the office like someone's mom or dad.

Rule #11: Brush up on your sports. This is easy. You can even get away with talking about Michael Phelps or Tiger Woods and still get credit. Gain big bonus points if you know what's happening in the NCAA tournament.

Rule #12: Make eye contact.
Eye contact is critical to youthful perception; don't be afraid to use it.

Rule #13: Rarely, if ever, refer to your children or grandchildren. Never ever refer to your great-grandchildren during an interview.

Rule #14: Go to the gym.
Or, at least say that you do.

Rule #15: Never talk about the ’80s or ’90s. Never use terms like "back in the day." Nothing at work is groovy, dy-no-mite, or tubular anymore.

Rule #16: Get a DVR or TiVo. Know how these devices work and don't confuse the term DVR with DVD; there is a huge difference.

Rule #17: Practice "sounding young" on the phone. Take a survey among your friends by asking how old they think you sound on the phone, and then practice sounding younger, if necessary. (Tip: Make your tone higher - and peppier.) In the same vein, make sure your outgoing voicemail message isn't long or boring. Short and sweet with a positive attitude is all you ever need.

Rule #18: Always dress age-appropriate. No 40+ guy should be wearing an Abercrombie & Fitch T-shirt. For more tips on updating your look without looking too young, just Google the words frump factor.

Rule #19: Give your hairstyle a makeover, or at least, a review. No wonder there are so many makeover shows on TV! Be sure to ask an outsider for an opinion on this. Someone who loves you won't want to hurt your feelings or may really love your old look (for sentimental or romantic reasons). Sadly, that won't help you get a job. Bad haircolor spells disaster for both men and women. Men, try not to go overboard in this area – just clip your nose and ear hair and you're probably OK, but shave that goatee, beard or moustache. These send the wrong signal. Ladies, get rid of any facial hair, too.

Rule #20: Skip the cologne and excessive perfume.

Whew! See, that wasn't so hard. Do you feel a little younger, hipper or just slightly offended? I understand how you feel. I’m back in the job market, too (at age 50), and I’ve been reading books and article on this subject all week. We probably just took 10 years off the way some people perceive us. And, it’s all about perception... the new reality.

(Partial list excerpts from: The Marketing Ladders - - executive recruiting and search.

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