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How Older Job Seekers Can Look Sharp in Interviews

The author of 'Over 40 & You're Hired!' has tips for women and men

By Helen Dennis

“Age is a state of mind …If you are energetic, positive, professional and knowledgeable, that’s what the interviewer will see, not the amount of gray that’s showing in your hair,” writes career coach J.P. Stein.
Not all agree. Robin Ryan, career coach and author of Over 40 & You're Hired! offers another perspective for job seekers in their 50s and 60s: “Don’t look old,” she says, referring to image as well as one’s resumé, cover letter, networking approaches, skills and personal presentation.
When it comes to image, Ryan urges older job seekers to avoid looking frumpy. To a hiring manager, frumpy means old, out of touch, dull and possibly not ambitious. Ryan recommends finding ways to appear professional, sophisticated and classy.
(MORE: Best Ways to Be Fabulous In a Job Interview)
While I agree, I’d also note that with age comes the bonus of experience, judgment, wisdom, insight, creativity, problem solving, work ethic and yes — high performance. 
Although getting the job offer goes far beyond hair dye and Botox, people in their 50s and 60s looking for work must do what they believe will give them the best chance for employment, which means looking their best.
Here are some of Ryan’s specific tips for women and men:

For Women
What to wear: Select a suit in a color that is flattering. Look vibrant, contemporary and full of life in a suit that fits you well. Avoid clothing that is too baggy, sexy or sloppy.  
(MORE: How Job Hunters Can Stand Out From the Pack)
Your hair: Coloring your hair can make you look 10 years younger. Ryan refers to “old lady” styles to avoid as ones that are very short, overly teased or heavily sprayed. And long hair that was once the style in high school projects the wrong image to a prospective employer, she adds.
Makeup: Women look better wearing a little makeup. But product lines you first used two decades ago may not be as flattering anymore, given that age can change skin tone, increase dryness and age spots. The goal is to brighten the over-40 face.
(MORE: How to Look Professional in Boiling Hot Weather)
Appearance enhancers: “There is no shame in defying your age,” writes Ryan. You might want to use “temporary time-erasers” such as Botox, fillers or laser treatments; that’s a personal decision. Facials are also worth considering, since they can help improve appearance.
Hygiene: Go light on deodorant and very light on fragrance, if at all. Avoid giving your interviewer an allergy attack.

For Men

The suit:  Wear one with a crisp, clean line that gives you a classic look; a tailor can help you achieve the perfect fit. Avoid giving off a stale image by wearing an old suit that doesn’t fit well.
Shirt, tie and shoes: Ryan advises against wearing a beige shirt and instead recommends blue or crisp white. Avoid loud ties with sports logos or fish as well as loud-patterned or mismatched socks; all of these will call undue attention. Also, be sure your dress shoes are freshly polished.
For casual workplaces: Some companies, such as high-tech firms, typically have a relaxed dress code. If you’ll be applying at one for something other than an executive position, skip the suit and wear trousers with a long-sleeved shirt and tie and sharp-looking shoes.. 
Hair: If you have a head of hair, choose a contemporary hairstyle. Some men use hair coloring to partially cover gray or white hair.  If it gives you more confidence, Ryan recommends it. But, get it done by a professional. If you are bald, avoid covering the bald area with a crossover. 
Facial hair:  Ryan notes that hiring managers report they prefer hiring men who are freshly shaven and well groomed. She suggests shaving a gray beard. 
Appearance enhancers:  A visit to the dentist to whiten teeth may be in order. Also, if you wear glasses, make sure they’re modern and enhance your looks. Some men may want to get a facial to smooth lines; this can prevent hiring managers from improperly stereotyping them.

When you’re applying for a job, you don’t want to give an employer any excuse to reject you.

Helen Dennis is a nationally recognized leader on issues of aging, employment and retirement. She co-authored Project Renewment: The First Retirement Model for Career Women and writes the Successful Aging column for the Los Angeles Newspaper Group. Read More
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