A Savvy Gal Reader submitted the question: I keep hearing the 40s are now the 30s. How does this apply to employment? In a couple of years I will be 50 and I’m wondering what this really means for women in the 21st century.
The good news is: You are not alone. And if anybody can figure out how to make “being of a certain age” cool, it’s the Boomers. Let’s get serious: It used to be when we were talking about women in their fifties, we were talking about gray-haired ladies in prim clothing wearing sensible shoes and all kinds of foundation garments (these are girdles and panty hose, kids). Times have definitely changed!
But no matter how “with it” the Boomers are compared to earlier generations, there are some issues attached to being in the older demographic in the job market and though those in charge of hiring are not legally allowed to discriminate based on age any more than they are allowed to discriminate by race or religion, we all know it happens, even in unconscious ways.
Employers don’t discriminate against older people because they inherently don’t like older people. They just don’t want to be uncomfortable around coworkers or underlings, which can sometimes happen when there is someone way out of the demographic of the rest of the workplace. So your best bet for longevity is to put your qualities as a person and as a worker at the forefront and work around your age whenever you need to.
Getting in the door
The most common way to get a job these days is through networking . It is also in your best interest to develop and maintain your professional network throughout your working years. But there are a lot of circumstances where you don’t have this and in this case, you have to send in your resume to represent and recommend you for the position.
You can tell a lot about a person by their resume. For instance, depending upon how it’s written, you can tell exactly how old someone is. Even if there isn’t a graduation date next to the college degree, one can see how many years the resume goes back. If the first job listed started in 1975, this makes you about 50. At least. Unless you are looking for a CEO job, in which case it’s not as much of an issue how old you are, there is nothing you did in 1975 able to determine whether or not you will be hired for a job now.
The idea here, as when you are submitting any resume, but especially when you are a mid-career candidate, is to present yourself as an appropriate candidate for the specific job you are interested in. Don’t oversell yourself or feel obligated to give your entire career history. Read the job description and tailor your resume appropriately. Your goal is simply to be enough of a match for the job so you are called in for an interview.
A quick note here: When you omit a decade or two from your resume, you are entering murky waters. Some hiring managers might be taken aback. “What did you do before this?” they might say, pointing to the earliest thing on your resume, with what they had assumed was your job out of college. This will be easy to answer if your omission coincides with a career switch. “Oh, I did some work as a department store buyer,” you can say vaguely about your 20 year stint at Nordstrom. If you have no easy answer, you can always go with a big smile and, “That’s ancient history.” The key is the big smile. You and the hiring manager both know you had to edit your resume to get into the interview and you’re here now and aren’t you great?
Dressing the part
Whether it’s for the first job interview or for your everyday office attire, you need to find a style comfortable to you, as well as appropriate to a workplace environment with younger people in it. It might surprise you to find out this means you should NOT try to dress their age. No matter what kind of shape you are in, wearing the same fashion as your 20-something coworkers will make you look silly — and desperate — and old. You may feel totally comfortable shopping at Forever 21, but don’t. You aren’t. And it’s okay.
On the other hand, don’t buy a bunch of suits or conservative “executive” clothes unless this is the standard for the company you work for and your position in it. If tracking fashion isn’t your thing, buy some classic separates — flat-front black and neutral-colored pants, khakis, white buttoned-down shirts, cashmere sweaters, etc. At any age, good quality timeless pieces will take you a long way in the workplace. If you’d rather get age-appropriate clothes in line with current trends, a good resource is MORE Magazine. They provide a lot of fashion advice, as well as all sorts of other advice, for working women over 40.
Knowing the new technology (or faking it)
You don’t have to wear an iPod while you are working, but do know nowadays, a lot of the younger people are. Chances are you know what an iPod is, but if you have to ask, “What’s an iPod?”; don’t ask it out loud. When / if someone mentions some gadget or when your coworkers are discussing a Web site seeming to be “all the rage” for everyone, don’t make a point of how you don’t know what it is.
You don’t want to be known as the office codger. This can be a liability in your job. It’s not a question of being “hip,” it speaks to being in touch with new things or averse to change. Subscribe to WIRED magazine or ask your children or grandchildren to give you a rundown on the current cool stuff and Web sites and then check them out. As I said, you don’t have to wear an iPod, but knowing what Facebook is, (and maybe even having an account,) has become popular even among the over-40s. It can’t hurt to jump on the bandwagon.
Keeping your adult children under wraps
If other people working at your level in the office hierarchy are the same age as your adult children, I recommend you don’t bring them up a lot — or at all — at least at first. And I HIGHLY recommend you don’t compare any of your coworkers to your children, especially not people a step or two up the corporate ladder. You may mean it as a compliment — after all, your daughter is a genius, and a doll, to boot — but to the coworker, it implies a relationship that is not comfortable. And you don’t want to remind them of their mother. Trust me. They love their mother, but they don’t want to work with her.
Like with any diversity issue, the treatment of older people in the job place is a complicated issue. No one is going to tell you they’re not hiring you because your boss is not comfortable having a subordinate who is her mother’s age and, if this is the case, there’s nothing you can do about it. But there is no reason to be depressed or discouraged about your place in the job market. Walk into pretty much any office these days and you will find people of all ages working side by side at all levels of the ladder.
Keeping yourself evergreen in the job market is just a matter of making your age as much of a non-issue as possible and assuring them on your way in and proving every day you will do a good job and you can get along with anyone — even people in their 20s.
Jenny Yerrick Martin is a freelance writer on HR topics and a career doctor (counseling, coaching, resume rewrites) who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.