Maybe you think I’m taking a cue from Cosmo here: Look Younger at Any Age!
Before I lose you, let me just say that it’s pretty true that anyone, at any age, is better off being younger when they interview. Example?
This is what the age problems looks like, at each age:
Age 15-20. People hate entitled upstarts. I know because I was one. When I was 16 and working for my grandma at her bookstore, I staged an insurrection due to low pay. I went to the bookstore at the other end of the street and asked for a job. Believe me, when I was complaining about my grandma as a boss, it would have been better if I were five years old, because that’s pretty much how I sounded.
The best way to get your way and not be annoying is to look young while you’re getting your way. People think maybe you don’t really see what you’re doing. Think about it: who can begrudge a seven-year-old a raise?
Age 20-30. If you have a straight career path, with no jumps, gaps or leaps, you will be in a race against all the other perfect performers. Your age is the signifier of how fast you could get to the top. The younger you seem, the more of a workforce prodigy you appear to be.
If you have a winding career path while you figure out what you want to be when you grow up, then you are constantly finding new, entry-level jobs. But the entry-level jobs most often go to the youngest person, in the hope that this is one of those prodigies who is going to have a straight career path. The older you get the more mistakes you needed to make in order to still be looking for entry level jobs.
You can only pull off that routine if you’re 20. And if you’re 23 competing with that 20-year-old, then you’re too old.
Age 30-40. This is when your life should be closing in on you. People no longer shower you with platitudes like “You’re so smart! You could do anything!” You get married, have a kid or two, and get the sense that you can see the rest of your life ahead of you. You can keep your options open longer by pretending to be at the beginning of this decade instead of the end. People will be willing to take more risks on you.
If you’re a man.
If you’re a woman you need to look so young that no one thinks you’re going to spend the decade pregnant, taking off work to go to doctor’s appointments.
Age 40-50. If you can fake being 10% younger, you will face 50% less discrimination. This is not based on anything but my own experience. But the numbers are pretty much right.
Otherwise you’re competing against 25-year-olds. And they will work for very little money because they are stuck in extended emerging adulthood and they’re hoping the best is yet to come.
For a great primer on these problems, watch the TV show Younger. It’s about a woman who is 40 who has to get a job, and after getting turned down everywhere, she pretends to be 25 and gets a great job. I can’t decide if it’s painful to watch her have a 25-year-old boyfriend, but it’s fascinating to watch her fake it at work.
Which brings me to proposed solutions for aging, which are, in some cases, less drastic (and preposterous) than that TV scenario.
Botox. Start when you’re 25 so you don’t get a wrinkle above your nose. This is not controversial. The controversial Botox is on your temples, where it’s $3000 to fill them in and, just, why? I never hated my temples until my last Botox trip when the nurse pointed out to me how we subconsciously judge someone’s age by the caved-in-ness of their temples.
Okay. Face lift. Breast lift. Hair lift. Whatever. These are obvious and do them if you have that much money. But then I’m thinking, if you have that much money to spend, why are you worrying about getting a job?
So surgery is of course the best way to shave a decade from your life. But if that’s not an option, you can go the opposite direction, and specialize. If you specialize then you do not have to compete against younger people. The more specialized you are—with a stellar track record, of course—the more immune you are from the young people nipping at your heels.
Another tactic is to take a decade off your life on your resume. Literally. Just delete any job from more than ten years ago. And take the dates off your education section. But be careful: a lot of people do that, but then they give themselves away by being an oldster and not even knowing it. So pay heed:
- Use only a Gmail address. Nothing else.
- No street address. Just the city.
- Put dots in your phone number. (Melissa.tells.me.this.is.modern.)
- Put something weird in your school section. Only young people put clubs or awards or junior year abroad because they are still so proud. It’s too much detail for an older person—school is too far away. So add something extraneous down there in the education section. It’ll make people think you need to grow up.
I was going to put this photo up top. But I broke two important rules, which is that if you’re a woman, show long hair and cut off your forehead. (Though maybe I mitigated that by following a bigger rule, which is have a Millennial edit your photos.)
So instead, for my picture at the top I used another rule, that I just made up, which is know your best body part. (Also, do those burrs stuck to my skirt make me look younger? A good question for an enterprising researcher.)
Speak their language. Let’s call this generational code switching. If you’re in your 40s you could try doing a lot less work at work. The Economist reports that after polling representatives of all three generations, it turns out that Gen Xers (entering their 40s) work much harder than Millennials (entering their 30s). If you’re in your 50s you can fake people out by wearing a Bernie Sanders sticker, because old people like Hillary. If you’re in your 30s you could try ditching Facebook and act like the younger generation that thinks Facebook is stupid. But nothing here is foolproof.
And eventually the age thing catches up to you: I would never have guessed, in my 30s, how much attention I was getting in my career just because I was young and hot. I thought I was simply a genius. But good looks are to a career like a lighthouse is to a ship: you don’t know whether you can actually navigate until the light goes out.
Something I noticed about investors is that a lot of them have piles of money that they really don’t need any more. But they do want a more interesting life. And for sure they need to look younger. So they invest in crazy, fun, innovative entrepreneurs. Female entrepreneurs are even better, because who doesn’t want to hang out with a smart, hot, woman?
So you see my problem: it’s hard to sustain that game.
So I found a solution: I go to as few meetings as possible. The older I get, the more work it is to deal with the investors in person. So two weeks ago, I just cancelled. I said I couldn’t make the flight that week and offered the next week. The investors looked at their calendars. They are busy. Looking took a while. They could both do it at the beginning of the week.
“Oh shoot!” I said. “I can’t get there til the end of the week.”
So we did the meeting on the phone. Great. I was in my pajamas. I was happy to be talking to them. I like them. And I like that they’re old: they don’t mind when I need more money. And they don’t ever suggest we use FaceTime.
And I hope, in twenty years, when I’m their age, people will be glad that I’m old, too.