By ERIN WHITE, Staff Reporter of The Wall Street Journal
March 29, 2006 – Fifty-plus job-seeker Richard Burn worries hiring managers may think he is too old. Akash Dave, a 26-year-old vice president at a real-estate firm, worries about looking too young to be credible in his job.
Fears of looking too young or too old are common among workers on both ends of the age spectrum. Young people fret that they may not be allowed to meet with clients or considered for promotions. Older workers worry about seeming stuck in their ways, technologically inept or unable to keep pace in a nimble business environment.
To help counteract the prejudices of hiring managers, co-workers and bosses, career counselors suggest that you highlight skills rather than age. Steps could include excising your graduation date from your resume, dressing differently, or taking care not to make references to world events that betray your age.
Mr. Burn, who works as a part-time consultant in Michigan while looking for full-time work as a manager or director of transportation and logistics, tries to appear younger than he is. He says he is over 50, but won’t specify further. He worries that hiring managers in their 30s and early 40s may not feel comfortable hiring someone his age.
To keep them guessing, he usually eliminates items on his resume that are more than 15 years old. He doesn’t list graduation dates. He highlights his technological skills to counteract the assumption that older workers aren’t comfortable with technology. When discussing his work experience, he tries not to mention companies whose names disappeared many years ago. He also avoids referring to world and business events that happened a long time ago. “I will allude to the fact that I worked my way through college working for railroads but I never say the dates, and I never say what the railroads are,” he says.
He walks frequently to stay in shape and look younger. And he mentions his exercise habits during interviews to show hiring managers how active he is. “It’s just small talk but you’re letting people know you’re physically fit,” he says.
Mr. Dave, who works in Chicago, has the opposite problem. He wants to project a responsible, mature image to co-workers and clients. “If you tell people your age, people are like, ‘Oh, you’re just a little kid,’ ” he says. “There’s an automatic discounting of what you have to say.”
At the office, he avoids youth-specific small-talk topics, such as cool new clubs. Instead, he sticks to universal social subjects, like sports, or he asks older colleagues about their children. “I tend to focus on topics that are relevant to the people above me,” he says. “It’s focusing more on them and their issues.”
He avoids slang and tries to eliminate “like” and “you know” from his speech. To prevent slip-ups, he’s found that it helps to prepare his thoughts before meetings. He tries to anticipate questions and develop mature, articulate responses. The technique helps him to “speak in more complete thoughts” and lessen the possibility of juvenile-sounding word-stumbling. “Your delivery comes off a lot smoother,” he says.
On his resume, he still lists the date of his graduation. Even though he wants to appear mature, he is still proud of what he has accomplished at a young age. But he puts his education credentials at the bottom of his resume, while emphasizing his work experience. “You put that school up top and the person is thinking, ‘Oh, this person is just out of school,’ ” he says. He also avoids listing hobbies that might make him seem frivolous or overly youthful, such as skiing or traveling.
With his wardrobe, he dresses up more frequently than he has to. Client visits call for a suit; otherwise his office is business casual. But in order to look more professional, Mr. Dave sometimes wears a jacket or tie even when he doesn’t have a client meeting. “Dress is definitely a part of projecting an older image,” he says. “If you’re really young, dress is even that much more important.”
As the innkeeper of a 13-room bed and breakfast in Savannah, Ga., 26-year-old Sarah Hartman must project authority to staffers. At the inn, she typically wears blazers to appear crisp and mature.
She doesn’t lie about her age, but doesn’t advertise it to her staffers either. She’s had one birthday since she took the job a little more than a year ago. She told the workers it was her birthday, but when they asked her age, she laughed and said, “You all wish you knew!” Specifying her age “would be kind of like running over myself,” she says. “I would want to avoid them losing any respect for me due to that.”
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