Speaking at the Engineering Symposium in Portland a few years ago, I had two conversations back to back that were exactly the same.
Now, I wasn’t surprised, when speaking to a group of 100 engineers, that ALL of them were much smarter than I am. I also wasn’t surprised to see many baby-boomers in the audience. So the conversations I had after my presentation were expected.
Each person who came up to me afterward expressed some concerns about using a photograph on their LinkedIn profile. Especially since their hair is graying.
What are the social/employment implications of being passed over based on your age?
Here was my response, and for older (baby-boomer and older generations) readers, you might find some value in these two strategies.
First, a disclaimer. I’m not condoning ageism. It’s a sad fact that ageism or other kind of ‘-ism’ exists. My uncle had to lie for years about his age just for the privilege of keeping his job in the dry goods industry. We expect some kind of litigation in the near future about this, but so far, there is no precedent.
Therefore, this post is not going to focus on the social implications. I will focus on what you can do about it.
Profile Photo Strategy 1: Reframe Age
In many cultures, age carries with it connotations of wisdom, social status and authority. Many Asian and Latin American cultures honor and respect their older generations.
One way to combat a negative perception of age is to simply reframe it. Let’s start playing with new words, such as experienced, seasoned, proven and still passionate.
Remember that many people simply mirror your own attitudes and beliefs. If you can see your age as an asset and manifest that belief in your profile and elsewhere online, chances are you’ll be perceived in that way as well.
So strategy 1 is to leave your photo alone, but reframe your brand into one where age is couched in age-positive words.
Strategy 2: Youth by Association
The second strategy is to take another look at your photo and use a marketing strategy called “Brand Association.”
Brand Association is leveraging the brand message of something else, and through proximity, making those characteristics apply to you. Marketing people do this all the time.
Notice how some websites have a “featured on” and then a logo of some news network? They are associating the authority of a news network with their brand.
You can use a similar approach for your profile photo. If you want to stay authentic and not Photoshop 20 years off your image, just to get stares when you show up for the interview, then this is the best approach.
Think of some activities or images that have “youth” associated with them. Perhaps you have a hobby that is youthful, like hiking, biking, or indoor soccer. Perhaps there is a place you like to visit that has youth associated with it, like Disneyland, water parks, a sporting event. The brainstorm will be unique to everyone.
Now you should find a way of incorporating those images into your profile photo.
Make a Splash
By the way, this advice isn’t just for the older generations combatting ageism. The same strategies can be employed by the younger generations facing similar challenges.
The irony for me at the engineering symposium was that just after my two conversations with two baby-boomers, I had a Gen Y engineer come up to me and ask about the very same issue. “I’m younger than the others,” he said, “but I’m just as qualified. What can I do to combat Ageism?”
As always, your comments are welcome.
(A climate mangles a rush myth.)