Whether you want a greater challenge, a better fit, increased financial security, or a new start after surviving the economic turbulence of the past few years, there are many reasons why you might be looking for a new job. But unlike younger job seekers, you may be concerned about the effect your age might have on your chances of being hired. What if employers pass you up because they believe that you’ll retire soon, you’ll increase their health insurance costs, or your experience is based on outdated industry knowledge and tactics?
If you’re in your 60s, 50s, or even 40s, it’s tempting to blame your birth date for the fact that you aren’t getting called back for second interviews in spite of ample qualifications and what you thought was a good first interview. But the truth is, your birth date may have less to do with the situation than you think.
As I always tell my clients, you are communicating before you open your mouth to speak, so it’s important to make sure that every aspect of your look is saying what you want to be saying. You should put as much thought and consideration into your body language, clothing, and grooming as you do into prepping answers to interview questions.
Since it takes an average of a year for workers 55 and older to find work (longer than any other age group!), it’s especially important to consider in detail the impression you’re making on potential employers.
Based on advice I give my clients (male and female!) who want to refine their images during a job search, here are four reasons why you might not be getting that second interview:
Your body language and manners aren’t saying what you want them to. It’s smart to evaluate how your body language and manners might look to someone else and to make a conscious effort to speak the physical language of confidence and capability during job interviews. I recommend that you:
- Have good posture when walking in and sitting at the interview. Also, keep your arms at your sides and not crossed in front while standing, and keep your hands in your lap when sitting. Keeping your chest open sends the message that you are open and receptive.
- Show confidence, interest, and alacrity as you engage in the interview. Have a pleasant, relaxed look on your face and focus on meeting your interviewer with a firm handshake. During the interview, meet the interviewer’s eyes and try to refrain from mannerisms that might connote nervousness or insecurity, such as wringing your hands, picking at the material of your pants or skirt, biting your lip, etc. And don’t forget to smile—you want the interviewer to know you’re enthusiastic about the job opportunity!
- Be mannerly—but not overly so. Specifically, make sure that the way you treat other people doesn’t make you seem disinterested or diffident. You shouldn’t dispense with courtesy, but be aware that being too polite, laid-back, soft-spoken, and self-effacing can be misinterpreted as a lack of confidence.
You are dressed inappropriately. While many of my clients understand the basics of interview attire and etiquette, I often find that there are small details they aren’t aware of or are overlooking. Here are some “hazards” you should avoid:
- Trying to appear too youthful. Try to convey youthfulness with your attitude and ideas, not your wardrobe. Women, stay away from “sexy” pieces and/or those that show too much skin. Men, avoid overly trendy suits, such as those with matchstick trousers.
- Ill-fitting clothing. Clothing that doesn’t fit well (too tight, too short, or too large) not only detracts from your look; it can also make you feel uncomfortable. You don’t want to be pulling at the hem of your skirt throughout the interview or be distracted by the fact that your shoes pinch! And you don’t want your interviewer to remember you because your pants were too short, for instance, or because they puddled over your shoes.
- Dressing for the wrong time or place. Dated suits and shoes can work against you by conveying that you’re stuck in the past. And remember that fashions, as well as ideas of what’s in good taste, do vary from place to place. For instance, an office in Boston might expect different attire from an office in Los Angeles. And if you’ve ever lived abroad, the differences might be even more pronounced.
Your look is distracting. At an interview, you always want the person with whom you are interacting to be looking at your face and eyes—not your clothes—and listening to what you are saying. Above all, your look should be congruent. You don’t want your interviewer to be looking at your statement tie, your patterned stockings, your jewelry, your elaborate hairstyle, or your cleavage while you’re talking. Before your interview, look at yourself in the mirror to make sure that one element of your outfit doesn’t stand out compared to the others. While every job applicant wants to stand out from the crowd, at the interview stage it’s best not to do so via your look. Instead, focus on setting yourself apart by how you present yourself, your experience, and your potential.
You aren’t well groomed. When it comes to personal grooming, nothing is too small to overlook. As applicable, make sure that:
- Your hair is in place and that you’re not touching it nervously.
- Your facial hair is well groomed.
- Your nose hair is not showing.
- Your body odor is not noticeable and/or you’re not sweating through your clothing.
- Your fragrance isn’t overly strong—your perfume or cologne shouldn’t enter the room before you do!
- Your teeth aren’t yellow. Yellow teeth say, “I’m old!” while white teeth convey vitality. (Crest Whitestrips are quite effective if you don’t want to go to your dentist for whitening.)
- Your nails and cuticles are groomed.
- Your nail polish isn’t chipped or flashy. Play it safe and wear a nude or pale polish.
- Your shoes are polished and your heels aren’t worn down.
- Your clothing isn’t faded, worn, or pilled.
Above all, remember that the best thing you can add to your interview look is confidence. If you’re feeling pessimistic or defeated (which may be the case if you have been unemployed for a while), an impeccable outfit won’t be able to mask your attitude. Before going into your interview, do whatever you need to do in order to revive yourself and boost your energy. Listen to an upbeat song, read a motivational quote, or call your spouse or a friend for a pep talk. Even the simple act of hydrating with a glass of water can help!
When you walk into an interview feeling comfortable and confident, you’ll be setting yourself up for success. And you’ll also be one step closer to getting that coveted job offer.