Can we talk?
I’ve been thinking about this topic for a very long time, and want us to be honest with each other. I believe that if you’re in the market for a job, and you’re over 45 or so, you need to think about what “age” you project to others. This topic has many layers of discussion, and I want to address one here that has to do with “first impressions,” i.e., how you look when you walk in the door of an interviewer’s office.
I know, I know. I read the blogs, discussions, and columns on Linked In, career sites, and numerous publications. Many of you are offended at the suggestion that we plant ourselves in front of the mirror and take a physical inventory of “how we look” when job hunting. It can seem inappropriate and insulting to suggest that looking “younger” can be advantageous when we are actively seeking a new job.
But, I will go on record with my opinion about how necessary it is for us to come across as having as much youthful energy as possible when we are competing in the hunt. It’s particularly true if we are unemployed and in transition, since unfortunately, that alone puts many of us at a disadvantage in the job market.
“Isn’t the only important quality a person takes with them to an interview their capabilities and experience?” we can insist. Of course, it’s critically important, but hear me out on this. Simply put, I believe youthful energy must be addressed by all of us “over-40-somethings” if we are going to compete in a youthful job market. I’m not suggesting that you don the attire of a 20-something year old, and tug at your miniskirt when you get out of the car; or adopt the posture of “pants on the ground.” I am, however, encouraging you to see that “Age is a state of mind,” and if you begin to think and act more youthfully, your exterior appearance will undoubtedly begin to look more youthful as well.
Take a moment right now to look in the mirror. What “age” do you see looking back at you? And I don’t just mean outwardly. There is so much more to vitality. Do you see a spark of energy? Do you see someone who makes an effort each day to look as healthy as he or she possibly can? We are all different, and your vitality factor is relative to your past health and life experience. The point is, once you honestly assess your physical appearance and your ability to alter it in a positive way, you will know just how “youthfully” you can realistically come across.
How Has Our “Less than Youthful” Image Evolved?
Now, here’s the rub, for all of us who started our careers circa 1970, ’80, or before: even though we feel younger than ever (Don’t you? I do!), and more able to produce better results than ever, and to take on challenges with more focus than ever, we are dogged by a collective belief that says “Aging is unattractive, overweight, out of shape, burdened by health problems, tottering, having no physical relationships, and being ineffective.”
If you were an alien from another planet landing on earth and tuning into television with your highly evolved powers of observation, you would be barraged by the images of “Help me! I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!” and “When the moment is right, you’ll be ready … but be sure to see a doctor if you’re ready for more than four hours!!” I’m paraphrasing here, but you get the point.
Somehow, grown up, mature adults have projected the impression that we ARE those things, or the stereotypes would not exist.
So, step in front of the mirror. How would you describe the image you see? Yes, it’s daunting, but you must go through this reality check. And, below, I list the questions I call my “age indicator test.” Yes, there are things we do, or don’t do, that affect how we appear to others … that can affect your perceived vitality factor, and perhaps reduce the age your image projects. It’s up to you to decide to take or leave the questions. But, your answers directly reflect your interest in “de-aging your first impression.”
This “age indicator test” is appropriate for men and women BOTH:
- Do you smoke? If so, why?
- Do you exercise regularly? Or are you making excuses for refraining from exercise that is appropriate for your health and ability?
- Do you need to lose weight?
- Is water your beverage of choice? Or do you drink mostly sodas (regular or diet), or alcohol most days?
- Are you getting regular checkups with a healthcare provider to make sure you are as healthy and energetic as you can be?
- Do you schedule regular dental care and oral hygiene?
- If you have a health or dental condition that requires care, do you make sure you receive it?
- Do you enjoy active pursuits that keep you moving?
- Do you do your best to keep up with current wardrobe, eyeglass and accessory styles?
- Do you make sure you have at least one interviewing suit, fully accessorized including current shoes?
- Do you keep up with current hairstyle and hair color trends? Do you seek professional stylists to help you with your appearance?
- If you are a woman, do you utilize makeup appropriately, and make sure that you stay current with trends?
- Have you sought assistance with turning back the clock by seeking nutritional counseling, dietary guidance, or taking nutrition courses?
- Have you utilized a personal trainer to guide you in the type of exercise that can benefit you with your particular physical body type and health history? Do you follow his or her advice regularly?
- Have you sought the advice and services of a dermatologist, esthetician, and/or plastic surgeon to address issues of aging skin?
- Have you sought services for teeth whitening, veneers, replacing outdated crowns, or straightening?
Before you dismiss my “age indicator” questions as being too focused on physical appearance versus experience and wisdom, please keep in mind that the two are not mutually exclusive … and when paired together, can produce powerful results. Both experience and youthful energy are highly valued in our culture. Why not commit to pursuing both if you are able? Why not have both in your corner when you are looking for work? If someone told you that bringing more health, vitality, and youthful energy to your life could increase your success at interviewing for work, wouldn’t you heed the advice?
Look, if you’re like me, you want to have confidence that there is much more of life and productivity to come, and you want to project to others that you are energetic enough to jump into them. I don’t ever see myself as unproductive or put out to pasture. And, I don’t want any potential employers to see me that way either. So, why give them the chance?
Perhaps you’ll join me in this perspective. Then … go get ‘em.
Di Chapman is the founder and president of Words to Your Advantage Speaking and Writing Service, and the Chief Communications Officer of Power Communications Inc. Executive Coaching and Outplacement Service. She can be found at www.LinkedIn.com/in/dichapman and www.twitter.com/InspirationalDi.