I recently came across an excerpt from Stephen Viscusi’s book, Bulletproof your Job. Steve doesn’t sugar coat anything here. He just calls it as he sees it. Read the entire article and use the parts you agree with to improve your chances of getting hired in this tough economy, where perception is reality.
How old an impression do you make when you’re interviewing? Not “just” the way you look. 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’s is the truth: “perception” is the new reality, like 60 is the new 50. So you need to learn the fine art of being “perceived” as younger, through conversation and dialogue, as well as looking younger. I want to address both, since that is the most frequently asked topics, readers e-mail me about. 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 40, you need to read on.
During a “recession”, bosses can use that magic “R” word as a blank check to fire almost anyone for any reason. And pay attention, over-40s: the wounded economy is an especially perfect opportunity for higher-ups to fire those senior workers whose high salaries and big egos have outlasted their welcome.
Then, 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 high energy attitude is an equally important part of the equation for baby boomers. 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 that will be all too happy to fill your shoes.
So how do you do it? I reveal here some of the secrets, that I give in my 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.
Be forewarned, I mix in the shallow “looks” tip’s, that seem to enrage woman the most–along with the “attitude one–some of this may seem tongue and cheek, or counter intuitive, either way–they work!
Rule #1: ” Crest” Brand- 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 40, I want you on Facebook or LinkedIn 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, BING, Yahoo, ASK 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: 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. Spending your day at 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 68 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 #7: 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 #8: Learn how to “text”. TWITTER and Skype
Rule #9: 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 #10: Make eye contact- and use my famous Viagra handshake (learn all about it in my book, “Bulletproof Your Job” (HarperCollins). Eye contact is so critical to being perceived as young; don’t be afraid to use it. Speaking of eyes–COSIDER CONTACTS!
Rule #11: Rarely refer to your children, never your grandchildren, and never ever your great-grandchildren.
Rule #12: Go to the gym… or at least say that you do.
Rule #13: 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 #14: Get a TiVo or DVR, or at least know how they work.
Rule #15: 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 #16: Dress is very important: always dress age-appropriate. No 40+ man should be wearing an Abercrombie & Fitch t-shirt, and no 40+ woman should be sporting a skimpy halter top (and these items should never be worn to work, no matter what your age).
Rule #17: 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. Bad coloring jobs 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 40 set; it will scream menopause way before you’ve even reached it. And, men-the Goatee-Van Dyke thing-just screams, “I have been unemployed a LONG time. Shave it, and if you grew it because your bald, as a decoy. Guess what? You are still bald!
Rule #18: 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.
Rule #19: Do not “Block” your Phone. It just screams that you have bill collectors after you, and no perspective employer need to call twice. They have plenty of options.
Rule #20: Have your e-mail address on your resume, you would be surprised how many people don’t. Okay… feel any younger, or just berated?
Trust me, I just took 15 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.
About the Author: Stephen Viscusi
Facebook and LinkedIn Stephen @ “Stephen Viscusi”
Stephen Viscusi is the host of the upcoming TV show “The Headhunter From Hell”.