Looking Young — or Acting Young?

A firm handshake, originally uploaded to Flickr by afagenReader K asks a great question that comes up, sadly, altogether too often — looking too young to get the job.

I am a 31-year-old female attorney who graduated from a top law school in 2008, went biglaw, and got laid off. I’ve had several interviews with great feedback about my resume and my presentation, but no offers. I recently met with a consultant who said I look too young to trust with bet-the-company matters. I might look 25. I need a power look. I have great skin because I haven’t had a tan in 16 years, and I wear there-but-light makeup. I’m tall and slim, and I have light mousy brown, layered hair that is bra-length in back. I usually wear glasses, but not to interviews. My interview outfit is a lightweight black wool pantsuit with a little feminine detail, oxford pumps, tiny hoops, my wedding band, and a semi-statement necklace. I’m willing to cut or dye my hair, but not to have a bad haircut. Please help me look older.

We’ve talked about acne on the job, as well as whether long hair makes you look too young — but there must be more here because your outfit sounds fine (and I’m not about to recommend you get a Mom cut in order to look order). I recently attended a conference where a number of senior, extremely accomplished women lawyers spoke — many of whom looked young (such as, wow, how can she have accomplished all that and still be early 30s? oh, she’s 49? oh-kay). However, they all carried themselves with gravitas, and spoke with authority — so perhaps those are issues we should talk about today.  (Pictured above: A firm handshake, originally uploaded to Flickr by afagen.)

* Deepen your voice. I personally tend to have a fairly soft, highish voice if I’m not thinking about it — when I introduce myself to people or leave voice messages (and particularly on my own outgoing voicemail message), I do my best to speak in my lowest voice. I’ve read that Kathleen Turner used to practice talking with marbles in her mouth, which seems like an extreme option, but hey, there is that.

* Speak more slowly, and don’t fill empty space with “um.” These are both things I tend to do, also — when I get excited I speak quickly, and oh, the amount of “ums” that exit my mouth on a daily basis…. Neither of these things really convey authority.  On my recent TJ Maxx trip I met a blogger who, on our first conversation, I assumed to be in her late 20s or perhaps even my age, not because she looked old, but there was just something in the way she carried herself.  I was shocked to find out later that she was 22.  One of the things that she did — and, thinking back to my conference, and other authoritative women I’ve known and respected — was to speak slowly.  (The blogger also struck me as incredibly smart, reflective, and well-spoken, but the age thing really threw me!)

* Watch your body language. Forbes Woman recently had an article on this, as did Real Simple — avoid twirling your hair, playing with your hands, etc.  Your handshake should be FIRM.

* Speak with short sentences, and answer the question. This may seem obvious, but I’ve noticed that people who seem to meander when answering a question — particularly in an interview — never impress, and I think part of it may be because it just isn’t an authoritative trait.  For interviews in particular I’ve talked about my theory of “prepping” for the interview by remembering stories that illustrate your best worker traits (and you should perhaps keep this article in mind when thinking about your best traits) — but really, anything that helps you answer questions concisely and with authority in interviews will only help you.

Readers, what are your thoughts?  How can you LOOK older?  How about ACTING older?

Comments

  1. Please dont take this the wrong way, but minimal barely there makeup, long undied hair, pantssuit, the combination reminds me of someone who is unsure of how to look and so chooses to not have a look. . . and that to me screams a younger, unsure person. It reminds me of my little sister who’se out of college and unsure what to do, how to look, etc.

    Why not get a haircut? Or cut it off? Or wear more makeup? Or a skirt suit with a POW top underneath? Any of the one can just add a little bit of OOOMPH!

    • I think you meant to say undyed, not undied, pantsuit, not pantssuit, and who’s, not who’se.

      Speaking of things that make you look younger…

    • lawyerette :

      What do you mean by the undyed hair comment? Why does it matter that she doesn’t dye her hair? I’ve never dyed my hair so I’m very curious why this is important.

      • I don’t think anyone needs to dye their hair (I don’t). But I can see the point that if someone has just past the shoulders, “mousy brown” hair it’s not helping to make them look commanding and maybe some highlights & a more structured haircut would make them look more confident/professional.

      • Fair or not, very few women over age 22 who have that natural mousy brown color keep it. (Actually, very few women over 22 seem to keep their natural hair color at all.) So if you’re already concerned about looking young, having a mousy hair color probably isn’t helping.

        • lawyerette :

          I don’t think it follows that because other women don’t like their hair and color it, you must color yours to not look young.

          I’m 31, petite, good skin, and with dark brown/black hair which is showing many silver gray hairs. I refuse to color it. Yes, hardly any women I know are sporting gray. But frankly, I think the same attitude that makes me not give $0.02 about that is what allows me to be a small/short woman who looks my age or less but also far more authoritative than many of my peers.

          • I didn’t say she must color hers. I said that if one is already concerned about looking young, having a mousy hair color probably isn’t helping, because very few non-young women have that hair color. You are obviously not in the same situation so I don’t see how your anecdote has anything to do with my comment.

        • What is mousy hair? I don’t think I’ve ever heard this term used with hair before.

          • The color of Emma Watson or Mischa Barton’s hair.

          • I think mousy also implies a certain drabness or dullness. I think if one had just a ‘mousy’ color, but a gorgeous style or very shiny/beautiful hair physically, the color itself would be less of an issue. I think of dull, not shiny, and not particularly healthy looking drab-mud-color-brown hair when I hear ‘mousy hair.’

          • I agree with Frump. Emma Watson & Mischa Barton both have hair color that suits them & is shiny & lively looking. Mousy implies dull, lifeless, etc.

    • I don’t like the idea that a woman needs to have dyed hair and heavier makeup to look authoritative.

      • I’m with K and lawyerette. I think makeup and hair should look professional, as should clothing, but the amount of makeup and whether or not hair is chemically treated is a personal choice. I’ve seen women look professional wearing no makeup, professional wearing heavy makeup, and unprofessional both ways. Same with chemically treated vs. born-with-it hair.

        • Hey, it’s an opinion. Sorry for the typos. But no one ever sees a woman in a powerful position with the mousy light brown hair color.

          If you have gorgeous dark or light hair, then good for you. But I too have the light mousy brown hair, and it’s just not a great look, on, anyone really. Throw some highlights in, or color and it presents a whole new person.

          You don’t have to agree with my opinion, but there was no need for the attacks on me. You don’t agree, I get it. It was typos in a quick blog post. Anon’s childish attack that provided nothign constructive or useful to the conversation was only provided to attack someone whose opinion she did not agree with.

          • Sorry, I wasn’t trying to attack you. I actually do agree with most of the points you made in your post.

            For what it’s worth, I don’t mind the occasional accidental typo but I do think that people who repeatedly misspell words tend to undercut their own credibility.

          • “But no one ever sees a woman in a powerful position with the mousy light brown hair color. ”

            Just off the top of my head: Nancy Pelosi. Elena Kagan.

          • @Anon at 2:38: I hate to break it to you, but Pelosi and Kagan are most certainly coloring their hair, esp. at their ages.

          • @K: Maybe, maybe not. I have known people their age and somewhat older who have that color hair and do not dye it. But that’s not really the point. Sas said “no one ever sees a woman in a powerful position with the mousy light brown hair color,” and that’s simply not true. My point is that it is not about the hair color.

          • And Pelosi definitely does not have mousy brown hair. She has light golden brown hair with carmel highlights. 100% certain it’s died.

          • @sas: I just did a Google image search and while she has had it the way you describe at times, in many other photos it is solid medium brown. And once again, it’s “dyed,” not “died.” But as I said before, that wasn’t my point.

          • Kagan’s hair isn’t mousy brown either. It’s a light auburn. Also, sure it’s died.

            http://mycatbirdseat.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/elena-kagan-2.jpg

          • Died is soo much more fun to piss off the grammer nazis. :) You need to stop judging people by anonymous email typos.

          • And I just google image searched pelosi and not one picture was mousy brown.

            And it is about a haircolor. If I died my hair playboy bunny platnum blond with long bra length hair, I would look inappropriate. If it was short it woudl be ok. Rules also apply to the boring mousy brown haircolors. To pull them off you have to have a strong hair cut. The reader sounds like it’s mousy brown and sorority girl long layered with minimal makeup and pantssuit. It just sounds boring and wrong.

            She can die the hair. or cut the hair. Or change the suit. But overall, the haircolor will forever be limiting. Mousy brown is no good. I too have it naturally, it’s not good. It’s blah. It’s boring.

            Am I the only one who thinks ‘anon’ fights like ‘anonymous K’ used to? Constatntly starting a battle based on their litera interpretation of comments.

            I die.

          • Actually, I think you’re the one fighting that way, sas…

            You remind me of the bullies that have driven away so many commenters here.

          • the original anon :

            You are looking at at least two different people using the name “Anon.” Anon at 2:54 hijacked my Anon at 2:02. With that being said, I think I will try to decide on a more creative user name.

          • I think we’re confusing mousy hair with an overall “mousy” appearance or impression.

            Kagan and Pelosi don’t have mousy hair, IMO, and it most definitely looks dyed and highlighted/lowlighted, etc. There’s been some expert consultation for both of them on hair and makeup colors.

          • In addition to the hair color, you might also try making sure that your suit is lined and tailored for a perfect fit. A quick solution if you’re open to it might be to trim your hair to just below your shoulders. Wear heels that you can walk very comfortably in (teetering is another sign of youth and insecurity). Walk with your back straight and your chin up. And if you’re into the light makeup look (as am I), I highly recommend a quick visit to the nearest Bobbi Brown counter (or, in a pinch, the Lorac line at Sephora) for a makeover where you let the consultants pick your colors. It’s possible that you’re using colors (no eye shadow, too-pink lipstick) that undercut your impression.

            Finally, practice standing straight and walking with confidence. Watch some Angelina Jolie and Charlize Theron movies (not “Monster”) and some Meryl Streep interviews before you interview. Streep always seems polished, professional and warm in her interviews, so if you can pretend to be her, that additional gravitas tends to come across without causing you to appear overly stiff.

            Good luck!

      • Lawyerina :

        I agree about the makeup. Light is always better. Coloring your hair can help if the natural color does not compliment your complexion. Spend the money to get a subtle foil job where you do not have “stripes,” which say sorority-girl. The most powerful way to convey authority is through a low, slow voice and confident body language.

      • I don’t like the idea, either, but…more makeup and hair that has been “done” is aging. It might help the OP. I never looked my age, and was an acolyte at the Chanel counter – it helped me with my young appearance. On the other hand, here at age 47, I’ve taken my hair and makeup more natural – still “done”, but natural looking. A traditional full face makeup job on me now makes me look in the mirror and think “who’s that hag?” Just my opinion, but I think OP would benefit from a tad more makeup – either the eyes or the lips, not both, and either cutting her hair to just below shoulder length or putting it up. That’s for appearances. I agree with Kat on the deepening the voice and other advice about how to present oneself.

      • I’m with K and lawyerette I have dark brown/black hair ive never dyed because its beautiful and there is no need to change it- hair color & to dye/not to dye is a matter of personal preference and has nothing to do with an authoritative attitude. dyeing her hair is not going to give her an authoritative attitude, if anything it may make her seem more unsure of herself

        • I think that if your hair color and style call to mind Hermione Granger, and you’re concerned that you look too young, your hair is a good place to start.

    • lol. Whenever I see fights on this site that go “I did not say x, I said y, and furthermore, I googled it and blah blah blah . . .,” I think to myself, Kimbo, is that you?

    • Y’know, people always say things like this on this site–that you need to wear more makeup, do your hair a certain way, etc. But, I look around my 600+ lawyer, top 10 vault firm in NYC and I do not see more than a handful of women who wear visible makeup. And as for hair–there are all types–mousy, pixy, down to the middle-of your back–really, ALL types. And it just doesn’t make a bit of difference. The underlying theme is, everyone looks (for the most part) professional and groomed. There simply is no uniform for hair and makeup. And higher maintenance does not (at least where from my perspective) equate with more authority or a better job. Honestly, I think people just like to suggest that the way they do things is the way you should do things.

  2. Should’ve said “or die it” Sorry.

  3. lawyerette :

    IMO it’s not about looking older, it’s about projecting authority. It starts with posture (straight but not like you might break or are too stiff), mannerisms (energetic but not hyper), facial expressions (attentive, interested, no loud laughter, smiling only when appropriate not because I’m uncomfortable), and of course, actions and words that demonstrate you are a serious and thoughtful person.

    It sucks if you’re short and slim because it’s harder to project (literally, as if you were an actor) your presence but it’s not impossible. I find that shoes that make me walk with anything but a purposeful stride are not helpful, for example. And I do also try to deepend my voice in business conversations, as well as speak in short sentences that are to the point, as Kat suggested.

    • lawyerette :

      I would also add: watch women your age or younger who seem to project authority/gravitas. That’s really the best example.

    • I look extremely young, because I am. I finished my Masters degree at 22. Yet, I have never had trouble securing a job from an interview, since I make eye contact, work to project calm confidence – without coming across as cocky, and have a firm handshake.

      My mother was a business woman, and I grew up going on business lunches with close client friends of hers, giving me the opportunity to hone professional etiquette techniques. I’d say that practice makes perfect, and the more you interview, the better you will get at controlling the “young” mannerisms – like giggling too easily when nervous, flipping or twirling hair, or fiddling with clothing.

      Being confident in your outfit, knowing you won’t have any clothing mishaps, and wearing something elegant is most important in how it makes you feel. If you feel that you look as professional and polished as possible, you will project confidence – which matters far more than your hair cut, or the amount of makeup on your face.

    • govvie girl :

      *sigh* I wish I’d had this blog (or advice) when starting my post-college career many moons ago. Would have resolved or prevented much self-doubt and confusion, as I used to do everything opposite of lawyerette’s advice-and social appropriateness in general. Just didn’t know back in the day. Better late than never!

  4. Echoing comments above, body language says a lot. I work with a younger lawyer who is coming into her own. She is very thin and not particularly tall. When she speaks, she somehow seems larger than she is (in a good way). She carries herself like she could knock you over. She has a strength about her. Clients like her as a result.
    I notice a lot of women hunch their shoulders. Make sure you pull them back (this is especially true if you are small/thin). Carry your body as if its a good thing you take up space, not something to be ashamed of.

  5. I would agree that there is nothing about your look that makes you seem younger, per se. Except perhaps if your hair is a little too long, or too layered. It’s much more likely to be about authority, as others have suggested. And the best way to achieve authority in an interview is to [b] listen carefully to the interviewer[/b]. A) You look smart when you’re listening. B) Everyone likes their own ideas best, and if you listen to your interviewer you can build upon their concepts and questions C) If you listen, questions to ask will come naturally, and you don’t have to spout out questions at the end which you’ve clearly manufactured.

  6. I would agree that there is nothing about your look that makes you seem younger, per se. Except perhaps if your hair is a little too long, or too layered. It’s much more likely to be about authority, as others have suggested. And the best way to achieve authority in an interview is to [b]listen carefully to the interviewer[/b]. A) You look smart when you’re listening. B) Everyone likes their own ideas best, and if you listen to your interviewer you can build upon their concepts and questions C) If you listen, questions to ask will come naturally, and you don’t have to spout out questions at the end which you’ve clearly manufactured.

  7. I would agree that there is nothing about your look that makes you seem younger, per se. Except perhaps if your hair is a little too long, or too layered. It’s much more likely to be about authority, as others have suggested. And the best way to achieve authority in an interview is to listen carefully to the interviewer. A) You look smart when you’re listening. B) Everyone likes their own ideas best, and if you listen to your interviewer you can build upon their concepts and questions C) If you listen, questions to ask will come naturally, and you don’t have to spout out questions at the end which you’ve clearly manufactured.

  8. Here’s a trick that I use to make my voice sound deeper: I pull my shoulder blades back and down. Making that little adjustment consciously also seems to shift my attitude, and in turn, how I project myself. It also helps with posture.

  9. Be careful of your tone when speaking. A college professor pointed out to me that younger women and girls tend to end sentences in higher tones, which is indicative of asking a question. So, instead of saying something such as “My experience makes me the best fit for Company XYZ!” as intended you really might be asking whether “My experience makes me the best fit for Company XYZ?”

    • Amen to that. Used to drive me crazy with my female law students. Don’t do it, any of you.

    • I recently was at a presentation where two medical students (one male, one female) did 2 different presentations. The woman’s presentation was better in many ways — more complex, more nuanced understanding of the topic, better visual aids. Despite this, her manner was so tentative, and she had a horrible habit of up-talking, that it really really detracted from her presentation. It was a shocking to me in someways, the back to back presentations really clarified the differences and how important style is.

      I would tape yourself talking, or in a mock interview, and see if your voice is one issue.

      • Taping yourself is a great idea for many reasons. Not only will it help with your tone and voice as ^^ suggested, but you can also see if you do things you don’t realize. Does your posture need adjusting? Do you twirl your hair without realizing it? When I took Trial Advocacy, we taped ourselves, and then were critiqued as a class. Several classmates had no idea they had certain quirks they exhibited while they talked. One didn’t even know that she had this awkward posture where she would attempt to lean in, but shy away at the same time, and it made her look nervous and afraid.

        Long story short–tape yourself in a mock interview, and really critique how you view yourself. You’ll notice things you never would have thought you do.

      • Anonymous :

        Oh, I noticed that trend with people in their twenties. Where on earth did it come from?

    • And please, limit your use of “like”, “um” and “you know?” when speaking. Along with the self conscious giggling/laughter. I have noticed this when interviewing young women AND men and it drives me nuts.

      • I agree with the comment about taping yourself. Everyone in my firm once they hit manager is subjected to a day or two of media training in which you’re taped discussing different subjects. The trainers repeatedly remarked that while I had an excellent speaking matter, it might be helpful to be a little more friendly. The response I gave to them (which was echoed by the other women in the room) as a late 20’s manager working with partners, I intentionally speak and act more formally so as not to emphasize my (young) age.
        Ways in which to do so have been mentioned above, but I’d agree that speaking slowly, calmly, not fidgeting when responding to questions, and not raising your voice up at the end of a sentence all help. And for heavens sake, no “like” or “you knows” should pepper your speech.

        • Erica Foley :

          This line of advice is incredibly helpful (take it from an older person!). The bit about having every sentence sound like a question is especially important. It is amazing how many younger people do that. To me it sounds like nails on a blackboard, and I can only imagine what my male colleagues think.

    • I work hard not to have statements sound like questions. But I recently went to a training where we were critiqued, and found that even paying attention to it, I was still making the mistake. It’s a hard habit to break if you’re young. What helped me was to make an effort to distinctly lower my voice at the end of the sentence. It seemed like such an exaggeration in my head, but my audience said it sounded normal to them.

      (And don’t feel alone! There are tons of us that go through this – it’s so helpful to hear advice from all the other Corporettes.)

  10. I recently had a (female) client confess to me (after over a year of working together) that she initially thought I was significnatly younger than I am. I was also the only person carded at group drinks celebrating a trial win despite the fact that I am 35 and was seated next to a brand new young looking male attorney (who was not).
    I dress and act professionally and will generally wear glasses and pull my hair up when I am appearing in court but for the most part I don’t think there is much I can do about looking young other than thank my parents for good skin and lack of gray hair (why dye it if I don’t need to?). Obviously with a client it is easier to just prove yourself with good work than it is on an interview but I think being extra prepared for interviews with solid examples illustrating your work and speaking with authority go a long way. You are a 2008 grad so expectations on your experience will be on low end anyway so whether you look young really should not matter if everything else reads strong.

  11. Anonymous :

    I’m sorry. I think this is ridiculous BS. If you look too young, you’re not trustworthy or authoritative. If you look too old, you’re over the hill. If your hair is too long you look juvenile; if your hair is too short you’re unsexy. If you’re of child-bearing age you’re just going to quit to have babies; if you’re older than you’re a stuck-in-her-ways grandma who won’t be able to adapt. Women can’t win, no matter what we do.

    My $.02 is that the consultant didn’t know what to tell you and so he/she tried to come up with SOMETHING that you would think was halfway reasonable. I would ask more about your job search than your appearance. It is tough out there for lawyers and maybe getting back into the type of firm you got laid off from is not going to be all that feasible. Are you narrowly focusing on one type or size of firm? You may need to widen your scope. Are you in an extremely competitive city (NYC, Chicago, D.C.)? You may need to think about looking in a smaller, less-competitive city.

    I think this is a common reaction and one I’ve seen a lot on this blog – if X is not happening for me, it must be me, specifically my appearance. Don’t be so quick to internalize what I think is a national problem. There was just a huge article in the Economist about the tough job market for recent law grads. You are competing with a lot of extremely talented, qualified people for very few positions. I don’t think a reassessment of your search is a bad idea, but wouldn’t automatically leap to the conclusion that it’s your appearance that’s causing you to not get a job.

    • This.

    • The male 5th year opposing counsel in a case I’m on looks to be 25, but he is in his early 30s. His childish facebook profile picture that pops up when I google for his email doesn’t help matters either. The looking young thing can happen to either gender.

    • i'm nobody :

      And how.

    • This woe-is-me attitude about women drives me crazy. Men need to look professional just as much as women do. I agree that it’s more complicated for women, but men can be stuck-in-their-ways grandpas or over the hill just as easily as women. Clearly the one exception is women of the child-rearing age, but that’s it. And I’ve never heard a woman be criticized for being too un-sexy for having short hair. In sum, both genders can look too young, too old, stuck in their ways, over the hill, etc.

      • I did not get a “woe-is-me” attitude from Reader K, or other commenters who are dealing with the same or similar issues.

        • I was responding to 1:54 Anonymous who said women can’t win. I think we’re all judged based on our appearances, and women sound pitiful when we complain that it is based on our gender.

          • There was nothing “woe is me” about it but there is some anger there, which I totally understand. If you honestly don’t see a difference between how men are regarded in the workplace based on their appearance and how women are, I am not sure what else to say to you. Either you’re really young, or you’ve been incredibly fortunate in your career.

      • As someone said below, a Justin Beiber haircut is no more professional than bleach blonde hair. I work with a guy who is always tucking his hair behind his ears, and I think it makes him look less professional.

        • Anonymous :

          One male attorney wears expensive-looking, tailored suits and shoes but carries a book bag from college to court.

          • It seems to me that a lot of men don’t realize that their accessories are visible to others. Think Dick Cheney in a parka at a state funeral.

      • I disagree wholeheartedly. Men are viewed as getting more refined, more distinguished and more wise with age. This is not typical for women. Young men can get away with being agressive, but being viewed as assertive instead whereas women tend to be viewed as bitchy. Numerous reviews have shown as much.

        • govvie girl :

          Ha ha…you should work in my organization, where some of the older men are not so much refined or distinguished as they are, um, eccentric and frankly dowdy. The presentation and image affects them, too, as the high-visibility types don’t want to work with them.

    • Like.

  12. I understand the need to be older and more authoritative in order to GET the job. However, as someone who spent my 20s and 30s trying to look older and more authoritative, my advice to you is be YOU. I am now successful, authoritative and spend a fair amount of money trying to look younger (nothing invasive for those of you about to snub me…). You can’t substitute any amount of makeup, hair color or boring outfits for experience. Learn from each job and job search. Find a mentor, take her out for a latte and listen to her advice on climbing (or climbing on) the corporate ladder.

  13. IMHO, there are a lot of female attorneys in my firm who look tooo young. Those attacking it and how guys aren’t treated this way probably are not working with a guy with a justin bieber haircut. Why then is a female with the long sorority girl layered hair ok.

    Just saying. You can have long hair, but it shouldn’t be too long. Bra length is pretty long. In addition, you can look young, but not too young.

    I don’t think it’s a guy/girl thing. I think there is a line. The first year in my office with the waist length blong highlighted hair = not professional enough. Guarateed she cut off 8″‘s of hair and she’d look like a much smarter woman.

    Same with a guy with george clooney hair vs. Justin Bieber hair.

    • I agree, a structured, more business like hair cut can do wonders to make you look more professional (and probably older in the process).

      Maybe even pulling it back into a neat bun could be better than the current look.

      You are right, most men can’t pull off longer hair and look professional either – no double standard.

    • I would agree with you except that a man with George Clooney type hair looks professional, competent, mature, and sexy! A woman with short, professional looking hair may look great in the courtroom, but probably not so sexy. Men do have it easier because they can be both professional and sexy/attractive and it seems like women have to chose between the two.

      • Interesting observation…

      • This.

      • Am I the only one who finds short hair sexier?

      • ballerina girl :

        This is SO true. My girlfriends who work places where they don’t have to dress as formally, can effortlessly show up at happy hour looking gorgeous and cute while I feel like an old lady. Efforts to “cute up” my wardrobe make me feel like I look too young or unprofessional.

        I’ve often complained to my professional male friends that their formal look tends to get them MORE attention from women where my professional look either turns men off or intimidates them (at least men my own age).

      • BigLaw Refugee :

        Sad but true. I’ve known a few guys who found a woman in a business suit and short hair sexier than a woman in a low-cut dress with long hair, but they’re definitely the minority.

      • govvie girl :

        I’ve found this to be the case mostly with more image-conscious guys who are looking for the arm candy (as we are sometimes) vs. the more down-to-earth, regular types. I guess in competitive career fields like litigation and military aviation (my dating history is the latter, emphasis on the history), men may tend to extend the competitiveness to the women they pursue. I am definitely now into down-to-earth, nice but still masculine guys, who pretty much do not have a flying office. Unfortunately, I don’t know where they are. :)

  14. I have a similar problem. I have a young face AND I’m only 5 feet tall. People think I’m 22 when in fact I am 34. Hair, makeup, clothes are all age appropriate but there’s nothing I can do to make myself taller or more wrinkled. It’s frustrating to meet clients in person and know that they assume I am right out of school.

    • If its a big problem, throw in comments to date yourself with clients.

      i.e. I wish we could use laptops when I was in law school/on the bar exam/college exams.

    • Anon for this :

      If it helps, my boss (very high up in our company, very well compensated, respected by all) is maybe 5-2, probably 90 lbs soaking wet, and wears minimal (if any) makeup, casual hairstyle and clothes, and looks about 15 years younger than she actually is. But WOW can she command authority when she needs to (and it has nothing to do with her height/hairstyle/outfit) – and that is what matters.

    • You probably project your insecurity about looking young and come off sounding unconfident. Work on your confidence and on projecting an image of authority. I bet there are good books on this – can anyone recommend some?

  15. In my experience (health care – I work with a lot of MDs), may I suggest that you act “mannish.” (I’ll probably get shot for saying that, but oh well.) I was at conference promoting women in medicine some years ago, I attended a small-group session that included a surgeon in a specialty that is still very much a good-old-boy’s world. I remember this surgeon as tall and slender, leggy, blond, beautifully dressed, etc, but as soon as she opened her mouth, POW!, it was like a man speaking. It was actually kind of unsettling at first because it clashed with her appearance of femininity. She was direct, crisp, opinionated, interrupted others (actually, strode over people with quieter voices and opinions), did not sound uncertain, etc. I didn’t get a “motherly” or “nurturing” vibe from her, I felt she was powerful and unbelievably smart and constantly moving forward like a shark. I’d bet she has a killer handshake. By the end of the session, I was completely convinced that her mannerisms (in addition to brains and competence, obv) helped propel her success.

    • This. Much interpersonal communication is dependent to some extent on role-playing. I am not trying to start a “should women act more like men” battle here, BUT I think there is an absolute benefit to being able to * play* that role of a good-old-boy (g-o-b), especially when the g-o-b is the one interviewing you. G-o-bs are going to want to protect their “little women” or at least not be burdened by them. If you can show you’re not a “little woman” liability, then they will be more likely not to see you as a liability. Likewise, if you are interviewing with a “nuturer”, you can show your softer side.

      As a lawyer, I do this all the time, especially in depos — you are either posturing in front of your own client, making a deponent feel comfortable (so they’ll tell you everything they know willingly), or showing the g-0-bs you’re not to be scr*wed with. It’s not being untruthful, it’s about getting what you want and what you need…HTH.

      • An attorney who supervised me at my summer associateship said she would gauge the deponent in depos and sometimes almost flirt with them to get them to talk, depending on if she had judged them to be susceptible to that. Since I was the one summarizing thousands of pages of her depos, I can tell you I got to see her different “characters” and it really worked. (eg,flirtations: “Oh, Mr. Smith! Sounds like you work really hard, that’s fascinating. Tell me more about those records you keep as manager…” leading to additional discoverable documents)

  16. She might just have a young face, and there’s not much to be done with that. I disagree that adding more makeup helps; heavy makeup is not necessary or usually a good thing. I think it’s important to have a hair style, rather than just having hair that hangs there; her hair may also be a bit too long, and perhaps she should pull it back if she’d rather not cut it. She might also look into coloring or highlighting her hair; it’s true that that generic mousy brown color is fairly uncommon among professional woman, and it does seem to project an image of shyness to me, perhaps because I haven’t seen much of it since high school. I also would suggest wearing her glasses for interviews, assuming they are polished, someone fashionable frames.

    Her accessories also seem young to me. I’d avoid a statement necklace, and instead wear something more classic, like pearls, a simple pendant necklace, or a silk scarf. The tiny hoop earrings also are young and I’d go for pearl or diamond (cubic zirconia) studs instead.

    I read a great communications book that helped me with the problem of speaking or sounding young. It’s called How To Say It for Women and it’s available on Amazon. I agree with speaking slowly and making sure your voice doesn’t go up at the end of a sentence.

    I do agree, too, with the poster who questioned whether seeming young is really the problem. It may well have just been a brushoff from the consultant, so try not to obsess over it.

    • I also turned to pearl studs and a good leather-banded watch every single day when I first started out. I noticed that when I wore the watch (a very average little rose-gold thing that I bought from ideeli), I didn’t have to fight for respect from support staff and wasn’t talked down to by the boss.

      I’ve also read “how to say it for women” and highly recommend it. Very helpful book.

      • With cell phones I really have no need for a watch. I hate them anyway and I have such tiny wrists, but I understand that they make you look more professional. Does anyone have an suggestions for a nice watch under $200? I figure I can always get one for a law school graduation present.

  17. I think sometimes it’s apperance that undermines credibility and sometimes it’s just bullshit excuses, as Anonymous @ 1:54 so eloquently expressed.

    For what it’s worth, I don’t think it has all that much to do with looking young as it does with looking insecure/uncomfortable. To that end, figure out what would make you feel more poised. Maybe it’s voice lessons. Maybe it’s a new haircut. FWIW, Anne Hathaway, to use an example, looks young & has long hair but I don’t think anyone would consider her as looking too young/unqualified for a particular corporate/legal job. I think this is true with a lot of good actors — regardless of age/looks, they have a certain bearing & it impacts how we view them. I think more non-actors would benefit from some similar training/practice.

    • I agree – I studied broadcast journalism and film in undergrad, and it made a tremendous difference in how I speak and present in front of people I work with. I think it would be especially helpful for women – there are no “ums” “ahs” or “likes” allowed on the evening news – and good schools now train the women undergrads to be serious anchors, not weather girls!

  18. Look at other people your age who you feel have authority, and find something they do that can work for you. For me, that thing was lipstick. Early in my career, at one of my first court appearances, the opposing attorney was about my age, but there was just something about her that made her seem more … put together, older, authoritative, experienced. And then it hit me: she was wearing lipstick, and I wasn’t. It really just pulled her whole look together. I had spent my life avoiding lipstick, as I have “voluptuous” lips and lipstick always made me feel very self-conscious (too sexy, to put it bluntly). But that day, after work, I went to Bloomie’s and really put the effort in to find two lipstick colors that I felt comfortable in: they were flattering, professional, and didn’t make me look like a ’50s pinup. :)

    This may sound shallow or stupid, but once I started wearing a lipstick I liked to my job, I really started to feel like my outsides matched my insides, if that makes any sense.

    • I feel so much more professional (and think I look it) with lipstick on, but sadly it dries the bejesus out of my lips, so it’s chapstick or gloss for all but the most special occasions.

  19. Liz (Europe) :

    Put your glasses on for interviews (but do make sure to get a pair with a layer that prevents mirror-like reflections on the outside of the glasses at least; else people have trouble seeing your eyes and that distracts them, I’ve “accidently” tested this when my glasses broke, with my back-up pair which isn’t de-mirrored, and I noticed a definite difference in eye contact). I permanently wear glasses (blind as a bat without and lenses & surgery aren’t an option) and I’ve personally a strong suspicion they play a part in why people tend to estimate me older than I am and think I’m smart and reliable and all that. Also, put your hair backwards neatly, not loose. That tends to make you look younger.

    • I have the same sorts of issues as the OP with respect to looking young for my age (I am 36 and regularly get carded). In a professional setting, I have found that what all the previous posters have said re gravitas, being direct and assertive, having a well-groomed appearance (whether that is well-cut hair or lipstick) and dressing in a classic manner have all helped me over the years. But when I really want to look older, I wear my glasses and pull my hair back. Has the desired effect every time.

    • I’ve had the opposite experience with glasses. My eyes are horribly nearsighted and glasses just make my eyes look tiny. I can’t see well enough without contacts to even be able to apply eye makeup, so it just makes me come off as having a juvenile, unpolished look.

  20. Corporate Tool :

    Another cue is the cut of her suit, and what she’s wearing under it. The OP didn’t mention what style/brand she’s wearing, but I find that younger women tend to wear trendier rather than more classic cuts. Same with the shirt she’s wearing, is it a fitted button-down, a nice shell, or a more casual tee?

    • As long as it’s otherwise appropriate, I don’t think cut of suit matters. I am somewhat young looking, and if I wear “classic” suits I look like I am in borrowed clothes.
      I think it’s about poise and confidence.
      The OP is 2 years out of law school, she is not expected to be 45. I think — if there is a problem — it’s just a matter of coming across as more professional; not necessarily as older.

      • AIMS and MelD, not sure where you are getting the idea that classic = frumpy/ugly/unflattering. If anything, classic to me means just the opposite, that is, something that’s going to look good on somebody regardless of age and really flatter the person because it’s well fitting, not over the top, and not trendy. The cut of a piece of clothing, along with fabric, detailing, fit, and what have you, are all things that contribute to the overall look of the outfit and thus the overall projection you will be making to people.

        I think Corporate Tool was trying to get at the point that clothes/suits with certain styles/details can date a person (in either direction) because they are NOT classic- think things like bold colors, bows, very bright tweed, huge buttons. For example, a single-button, slim fit wool blazer from Brooks Brothers is classic because it has clean lines, no frilly details, and presumably would always look sharp/sleek on somebody with the right tailoring/fit. A red, poly, Nine West suit, however, with huge buttons, shoulder pads, and bows everywhere isn’t going to look classic regardless of fit, simply because it doesn’t posess that sort of ‘overall subtle, but strong, elegance’ if you will that doesn’t succumb to trends.

        So I think that was being referenced regarding Reader K’s original question… what sort of suit is she showing up in? The clothes we wear help convey authority/experience. Is the person at hand wearing the sleek Brooks Brothers type suit and the high quality shirt (providing a more polished and mature look because it is classic) or a wrinkly t-shirt underneath a stretch-cotton, linty, skinny pants/cropped jacket H&M “suit”? The latter could technically be cut well to fit the person just fine but there are other elements of the get up that still convey an air of youth/inexperience because it’s not of good quality and certainly not classic. I think those are the things to be paid attention to- how all the elements of one’s garment/look work together to create an overall ‘young’ vs. ‘classic’ vs. ‘power’ vs. whatever look.

    • I think classic cuts can often make younger women look like they are playing dress up in their mother’s clothing. I’m not going to wear a boxy suit because that doesn’t suit my figure. I just end up looking like I don’t have enough money to buy a suit that actually fits.

      • Corporate Tool :

        I agree with Frump, that when I say “classic” that I don’t mean a suit that your mom would wear. Not all classic suits are boxy. For an example of great suits that would be appropriate for a variety of ages, look at Portia de Rossi’s character on Better Off Ted.

        Many younger women wear suits with additional frills, or bows, or details that are very trendy. These can look great, but read as younger.

        Additionally, a suit could be cut well, and very elegant, but if it isn’t well tailored/fitted, it can undermine your authority.

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