Add 10 Years to Your Image

Older candidates aren’t the only ones who worry about how they’re perceived by employers. Younger candidates for senior positions can take a few steps to raise their credibility.


One of my more popular columns for Ladders was titled ” Take 10 Years Off Your Image.” My tone was a bit tongue in cheek, but the theme struck a chord with many readers who told me about their own concerns about age discrimination on the job hunt.

It’s not just older candidates who worry about how they’re perceived by employers; I received a number of letters from younger six-figure earners, many of them from sales and technology.

Some of these fresh-faced candidates were concerned that their youthful appearance had kept them from six-figure jobs for which they were qualified.

Men often fret about having “baby faces,” and many of them wrote about growing facial hair to compensate. (Or overcompensate: When you see male models in fashion magazines with that scruffy look, it signifies “cool youth,” but a mustache screams 1970s Marlboro Man.”)

Maybe there’s a simpler way to get the respect your qualifications deserve: Produce your W-2 form from your previous employer.

Show what you have made. It speaks volumes at any age.

If you don’t have a W-2 form to back it up, then you may not deserve the income you think you do.

However, if you think you simply need a little competitive edge, let me give you Stephen Viscusi’s “bulletproof” tips to be perceived as more mature then you appear:

1. Be more than just a job seeker.

Talk about yourself outside the boundaries of a normal interview.

2. Spill the beans.

Tell the things someone legally will not ask you but everyone wants to know. Are you married or single? (But for goodness’ sake, don’t say you just got engaged! No one wants to hire someone about to plan a wedding.) In the end though, more responsibility means you need more money. Have mortgage? Talk about it! Kids are worth a lot.

3. Set your Facebook to “Private.”

Use your privacy settings on your Facebook, MySpace or any social-network profile.

4. Get a land line.

Have an appropriate phone message on your cell phone and try and have a landline, like most adults do – for when a prospective employer calls you.

5. Don’t get overstyled.

Young men today tend to overdo their eyebrows.

6. No man-bags.

7. No cologne or perfume.

8. Get a suit, even if you’re a creative.

No matter what the job, wear a suit for the interview – even if you will not be wearing one at the job itself. Women: Wear what flatters your body the most. It is an interview, for goodness’ sake – treat it as something special.

9. Lose the parental dependency.

Never refer to your parents or living at home.

10. Don’t pretend to be a lifer.

When prospective employers ask you where you see yourself in five years, don’t say, “In your job.” It would’ve been fine in years past, but now you may scare them. And trust me: Nowadays you may have your boss’ job in five months, not five years.

It might not be your looks in the end. Don’t confuse what you made in the past with what you think you are worth. Also, remember even if you still have a job, you might have been asked to take a 20 percent pay cut or more, like many six-figure earners have.

Age and industry go hand in hand. There is a reality show on TV right now called “Million Dollar Listing.” I don’t believe anyone is over 30 years old on it. It is made up of realtors, based out of LA, all making mid- to very high six-figure incomes. The men and women all earning big bucks on this show look more like tweens from “The Real World” than six-figure earners – but they are the real thing. In the end, young is cool – which is why the customers end up buying from these young, confident brokers. Just look at Silicon Valley. Those of you who think you may look too young are searching for an excuse that is probably not legitimate.

Finally, I know what some Ivy League grads are asking themselves: What about qualifications and years of experience? What do they count for? As a doctor, lawyer, accountant or rocket scientist… a lot. Otherwise, it’s more about you as a person.