2018 Update: We still stand by this advice on how to act older, but you may want to check out our more recent discussion of how to be taken seriously when you look young.
Reader 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!)
* 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?