There's a new study out about how the law doesn't matter (again). If you're older, or disabled, or a minority, you're probably going to be discriminated against in the workplace.
Of course, this is illegal--but this article is not about changing the world, improving people's attitudes or proving a point. Instead, it's about dealing with reality--and winning.
So, I reached out to about two dozen executives, job-seekers and coaches for advice. Here are 12 things older people can do to mask their ages, and increase their odds of getting hired.
1. Flat-out lie.
I'm not endorsing this, but I want to lead with it to make it clear what the competition is doing.
"Whenever I give interviews for articles in the paper and online, I always say I'm 34," said one woman who didn't want her name used for reasons that are about to become obvious. That way, when prospective employers or anyone else in business Googles her, they'll assume she's about 15 years younger than she actually is.
2. Keep everything in the 21st Century.
If you're old enough to remember what it was like to party like it's 1999--forget it. That's ancient history, and referencing it on your resume or LinkedIn profile makes you look old. So, scrub. (I go back as far as 1998 on mine--but then, I'm not actually looking for a new job now.) If you insist on including experience more than 15 years old, summarize the whole thing in a sentence or two, without dates.
"This simple strategy prevents the Applicant Tracking System (ATS) or job board from assuming the candidate has [more than] 15 years of experience, which is vital in instances when recruiters are seeking someone who possesses less," says Cheryl Lynch Simpson of Executive Resume Rescue.
3. Use a false flag.
This one's for the hardcore youth hackers. You probably know better than to list your year(s) of graduation on your LinkedIn profile or resume. Maybe even take things a step further, by planting subtle clues that imply you're younger. As one tactic, use an email address with a year in it, which suggests (without saying) that you were born in that particular year. For example, you can reach me at email@example.com.
Oh, and pay attention to your email domain. If you use gmail, we know at least that you didn't register it before 2005. Maybe .me is okay, or a few others, or a personally branded email domain (like firstname.lastname@example.org, for example). If you have an aol or hotmail email address--well, your only option here is to play it off as super-ironic, like wearing a trucker hat and mirrored aviator sunglasses.
4. Add school and side projects.
Go back to school--even slow-time--so you can truthfully say you expect to earn your master's degree in something like 2017. Even if you're clearly an older student, the fact that you're a lifelong learner will send a strong message of youth. Of course, you're also going to be increasing your relevant knowledge and employability--and you should use that knowlege at the same time.
"A common theme among younger candidates is that they are actively working on side projects," adds George Ortiz, an engineer at Growth Union. "As you get older and have a family, time to really engage on the side becomes less and less, and your learning tends to stop if you're not in a role that demands [it]."
5. Get in shape.
Fat people face discrimination. (Again, I'm not defending this at all--just stating a fact as it exists in 21st Century America.) Moreover, being in shape is associated with youth. You don't need to look like an Olympic athlete, but at the least look as if you care, and you've made taking care of your health a priority.
"Invest in your appearance. If you are out of shape, go on a diet and start working out. You must look your best," says Mark Stevens, author of Your Marketing Sucks. "If you are gray, dye your hair. You'll be competing with milennials."
6. Attend new stuff.
For the love of all that is holy, don't talk about the great speaker you saw at the Rotary lunch. Instead, if you want to project a more with-it image, talk about things like SXSW Interactive, says Dalton Kane, of Small Shops.
And he adds, "Don't put stuff like Microsoft Word on your skills [on your resume]. A child could make a stellar document in Word, or would probably opt for Google Docs, or a billion other processors."
7. Own your SEO.
Like our not-actually-34-year-old example above, when someone Googles you (and they will), you want to know what they'll come up with. You don't want the results from a 5K that you ran 10 years ago (especially listing an older age group and a slow finishing time). If nothing else, start blogging or making news to drive those results down.
"It's not enough to have a profile. Blogging on LinkedIn and tweeting demonstrates
your thought leadership and shows that you are not afraid of technology," says Susan Peppercorn of Positive Workplace Partners.
8. Scour your social media.
Look at your family and friend photos on social media. Do your peers look old? If so, you risk sending a subtle message that you are, too. If your LinkedIn profile is designed to make you look like you might be in your early 30s, but you're all over the place on Facebook, tagged at your 25th college reunion, that probably isn't going to work. Also, check the privacy settings on your profile--you might well be advertising your age without realizing it.
(Honestly, if you've done any online dating in the past 10 years or so, this will probably be second nature once you get into it.)
9. Hide your kids.
My wife and I have a baby daughter, and we love her more than anything--so I can only imagine how this advice will go over. But if you have older kids, you probably want to hide them. Don't talk about your 18-year-old son, because ageist hiring managers will quickly do the mental math. (Again, I'm not saying this is a good state of affairs. It isn't. I'm just trying to help you get hired.)
It might be okay to disclose if you have younger kids--like under five years old--but honestly this is only okay if you're clearly old enough to have them .
10. Watch your words.
This one is tough for me, as I've been known as an "old soul" for most of my life. I'm the guy who knows the trivia question where the answer is Benjamin D'Israeli; I referenced M*A*S*H in an Inc.com article. That said, you want to think about your audience--and tailor your language and your references. Don't pander; just be careful.
"I no longer mention the fact that in 1989 or 1990 my father discouraged me from
applying to law schools and instead told me to apply to business school," says Mary Reilly of The MBA Nanny. "He was right--I graduated from Columbia Business
School in 1993!"
11. Think about your name.
I'm Generation X through and through. I went to school with 27 Jennifers. Millennials however, not so much. Name popularity changes over time, so while I wouldn't go so far as to change your name entirely, you might think about minor shifts if yours pegs you as old.
To use myself as an example: I'm a William. The nickname Bill was popular in the 1970s and the 1980s, but William, Will and even Liam are more popular now. (For the record, I answer to all four--plus "Murph.")
12. Think about your glasses.
You know (hopefully) to think about your clothes. (Guys especially--if they're more than a year old, they're too old to wear to an interview.) Pay close attention to what people wear to the workplace you're applying to, too; the conservative suit you learned you had to wear back in 1995 might be enough to ensure you don't get hired today.
The same thing applies to glasses: "People don't realize how old outdated eyewear can make them appear," says Lazina Mckenzie, founder and CEO of Style Ivy.