Did you ever hear the phrase dress for the job you want and not the job you have? Well I believe it wholeheartedly. I believe dressing older was one of the reasons I received my first management position at 24 years old.
I work in IT and IT departments are known for their casual dress. Everyday in my office is casual Friday. My coworkers and my boss wear jeans but I don’t.
Why I Don’t Wear Jeans to Work
I want to present myself as older
When I first started at my company, I looked around and realized I was the youngest person in the office. I wanted to “hide” my age because I didn’t want anyone to be biased towards me because I was young. I didn’t want them to doubt my capabilities or put a ceiling on what I could accomplish.
I was 23 at the time and I looked like a 23-year-old when I wore jeans. When I wore professional dress, I looked about 26. You couldn’t really be sure how old I was when I wore nice clothes. In fact, one of my coworkers thought I was around her age when I first started and I took that as a compliment. She was in her late twenties.
Dressing better made my coworkers take me more seriously. They had more faith in my work and in my abilities than if I had dressed casual or sloppy.
I don’t want to stop moving up
Presenting myself as older has helped me to secure promotions and career advancement opportunities based on performance and not years experience.
After working in a temporary assignment for 6 months, I received an offer to stay on as a Director for the program. The job description said 10+ years experience and I only had 4 years but I did such a good job on the assignment that they wanted to keep me.
The VP I was working with clearly had no idea how old I was until he saw my resume. He was surprised I was so young but still wanted me to take the job.
The way I dressed and presented myself prior gave no indication to my age. I don’t think I would have gotten that opportunity if the VP had known that I was only 26.
It helps me avoid age bias
I’ve had other situations where I’ve been treated differently once management discovered my true age.
We had a Senior VP in town who was meeting with all of the managers. He had heard good things about me and so when we first met, he talked with me like I was a rising performer. We talked about career growth and where I would go next.
My boss later told him that I was only 26-years-old (My boss likes to brag how old I am because he is proud of it). The next time I met with the Senior VP, the conversation changed from “rising star” to “the difficulty of being a young-manager” and “how to gain experience in your first management role.” It was clear that he thought I needed more time to season in the position because of my age even though I’ve been rated the #1 manager two years in a row now.
That was eye opening to me because my age completely changed his perception of me.
I can’t help other people sharing my age but I can make sure I dress and present myself as older to avoid bias as much as possible.
I want to stand out from my peers
This one is huge. Every employee wants and thinks they deserve to get promoted to the next level faster than their peers. If you want to do that, you have to stand out from your peers in all ways – one of them being dress.
The attitude of “everyone else in this office wears jeans so why can’t I?” will not get you promoted or moving up more quickly than “everyone else.”
If everyone in your office dresses casual, you hit the jackpot. It’s much easier to stand out by dressing nicer when everyone else is dressing casual. If your office is more formal, it may be a bit more difficult to stand out but it’s worth it.
I want more money
There are many people who start dressing better and then go on to make more money. Internet guru Neil Patel claims he went on to earn $500,000 more a year by simply dressing better.
I personally have found that by dressing older, I have put myself in the best light for more promotion opportunities – netting me over $50,000 more in the past two years than I would have otherwise.
Additionally, I have found that you are better able to negotiate your salary when you appear older.
On a few occasions, a recruiter has tried to put me in the lower end of the salary range when they knew my age and years experience. When my age was not revealed, I was able to negotiate up to the higher end of the bracket.
Dressing older whether during a job search or just everyday could greatly increase your income.
How to (NOT) Make Yourself Look Older in the Office
Wear Distracting Clothing
I hired someone two months ago just out of college. The young woman wore the shortest skirt I had ever seen in the office on her second day to work – but I didn’t notice it.
I didn’t have to. Two of the other managers came up to me and made comments about it.
I doubt that was how my new hire wanted to present herself in her first week of work. Instead of getting noticed by the managers early on for her performance, she was noticed on day 2 for her dress.
I’m a feminist and I realize that office dress codes are extremely sexist – but at the same time, as a woman, I know this bias exists and I don’t want to hinder my career advancement because of it.
I’ve had other situations where direct reports have come into the office wearing baseball caps or hockey jerseys on game days. It doesn’t hurt them per say but it’s not helping them either.
If your 40-year-old coworker wears a jersey he looks 40. If you wear a jersey, you look 16.
Regardless of gender or age, wearing clothing that stands out for the wrong reasons is not good.
The world we are living in is not nice. People will notice and judge you based on your appearance. I wish it weren’t true but it is. Avoid potential judgement and ceilings in your career by dressing better.
Discuss Immature Things
Part of how I present myself as older in the office is by keeping my conversation topics mature. I’ve heard other young people in the office tell stories or use language that makes them look young.
That may be fine if you have no aspirations of moving up to a position that someone older than you typically gets – but for someone who wants to move up quickly, it’s not a good look.
For example, I have sometimes went out of my way to relate to my older coworkers, especially my older direct reports to show that I am more mature than my years. I discuss hosting my in-laws for Thanksgiving and home-ownership problems versus weekend brewery hopping with friends.
It’s even more important to keep up the mature conversation when you are talking with coworkers your own age. You want your coworkers to respect you. Peer approval and respect is a key component to moving up. If you present yourself as a hot mess, you won’t earn their respect.
Hide What You Don’t Know
Young employees who want to look older often try to hide their lack of experience by not asking for help. They are afraid to expose how much they don’t know.
This approach actually does the opposite and makes them look younger.
It’s OK to not know everything.
In fact, asking a coworker or direct report for their opinion makes them feel good and makes you look good in the process.
This piece of advice is especially important for young managers. Inexperienced managers are often afraid to reveal that their direct reports know more than them about something and try to “hide it” in a way that backfires and makes the team lose faith in their leader.
Do Everything Solo
I saw this happen while on the temporary assignment that I described above. The first-time manager of the team I was coming in to assist was in constant conflict with one of her employees. This employee has 20+ years experience and felt she knew way more than the manager.
Instead of utilizing and respecting the employee’s knowledge, the manager reacted by trying to compete back. She fought with the employee over procedures and was in constant conflict.
When the VP was looking for managers to put some names forward for a special assignment, the manager didn’t put the experienced employee’s name forward even though she was by far, the best one for the job.
The manager felt so insecure and competitive that she was blocking her own employee’s opportunities to advance – a sign of a terrible manager.
This manager ultimately went out on leave and I was asked to manage the team in interim.
The first thing I did was meet one-on-one with the experienced employee. I let her know that I respected her experience, I valued what she brought to this team, and that I needed her help to bring this team together.
Instead of defining procedures and forcing them down, I asked the employee to help me define the procedures. I needed to use her experience not cover it up, to make the team better.
The employee was excited about the opportunity to have her voice heard and together, we did a great job defining the new procedures. The team also very much respected the senior employee so when we rolled it out to the team, it went much more smoothly than if I had done it solo.
During this process, I consistently recognized the employee to the VP and let the employee know I was doing that. I would forward her the emails I sent to the VP praising some of the work she did defining the procedures and bringing together the team. The employee got the recognition she was looking for and knew that I was looking out for her.
I also looked good too. I squashed a conflict that was hindering team progress and rolled out some new procedures to the team.
Not once did the fact that this employee had more experience than me backfire. It in fact, helped me to become a more effective manager.
Young employees often make themselves look younger by trying to do everything on their own. Utilize the strength of your team or coworkers to achieve better results.
Readers, how do you make yourself look older in the workplace? Do you feel there is value in doing so?
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