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October 10, 2011 6:20 PM   Subscribe

I'm a thirty-year-old woman who's often mistaken for a teenager. I'm interviewing for a job that I really need tomorrow. Please help me look older!

My family, my boyfriend, and several staffing agencies that have tried to place me in jobs have all agreed on one thing: I look so young that most interviewers immediately underestimate me. In fact, the first thing the hiring manager said at my last important interview was, "Oh, my god, I thought you were sixteen!" She then wondered aloud how clients might see me and if they would take me seriously.

I have a BA and a master's from very good schools, I have solid references, and temping/staffing agencies have always told me that I don't need to change anything about my carriage or presentation. (For instance, I don't giggle, appear too deferential during interviews, or do anything that would "read" as younger.)

So! If I focus solely on physical appearance, what are some things I could do or wear that would make me look older or closer to my real age? I don't want to give the interviewer any reason to think I'm inexperienced or incapable, so it's important to me that I look mature. I have a pair of non-prescription glasses kicking around and am wondering if it's totally ridiculous to throw those on my face right before I walk into the interview. I also plan to wear lipstick but my boyfriend warned me not to wear make-up. Are there certain pants or skirts I should wear? Certain colors? I'm so confused. Please help un-confuse me or at least give me a greater amount of confusing options than I already have.
posted by pineappleheart to Work & Money (51 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
Granny glasses, go heavy on the makeup. get a perm.
posted by snow_mac at 6:28 PM on October 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

You should wear makeup. A bare face will definitely make you look younger. Foundation, a little eyeliner, mascara (top lashes only), and a matte lipstick in a nude color are a normal amount of makeup for a 30-year-old.

Don't wear fake glasses. That's weird.

As for clothes: A well-fitting skirt or pantsuit will help avoid the "this is my first job interview" look. Wear nice shoes. But wearing anything that feels too much like a costume will make you seem, again, like you're 22 and play-acting at your interview.

This is a hard question to answer without knowing more about how you look.

But honestly, I think that your attitude and demeanor are the most important factors in making you seem older.
posted by purpleclover at 6:30 PM on October 10, 2011 [3 favorites]

Uh, no to the above. That'll just make you look like a bad candidate if the work involves clients. WTH snow_mac?

I find people take me more seriously when I'm wearing my glasses. And I even feel more "in control" of business type situations when I'm wearing them, so they may help.

I don't know what your style is, but if you're the sort to wear jewelry I've noticed that older women do seem to wear more sizable items. Nothing too garish, but something somewhat substantial. Scarves seem to scream "older" as well.

What would you ordinarily wear?
posted by FlamingBore at 6:31 PM on October 10, 2011

This is a pretty common problem for petite asian women and this blog post does a great job of covering the basics:

posted by hindmost at 6:33 PM on October 10, 2011 [12 favorites]

I'm not sure what the warning about makeup was about, but I think makeup is a surefire, and professional way to look older. You can wear makeup in a classy and subtle way, too.
posted by bearette at 6:34 PM on October 10, 2011 [9 favorites]

You want to look polished - makeup, eyebrows, nails, blow-out. High heels, but not sandals or anything - just nice pumps. As far as clothing, go with anything more structured, so a jacket instead of a sweater, etc. Glasses make me look younger, YMMV.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 6:34 PM on October 10, 2011 [4 favorites]

What's your hair like? Cutting it might make you look more mature. A blonde friend just went brunette, and says people are taking her more seriously, YMMV.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 6:35 PM on October 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

What are you wearing for accessories? I find that older women tend to have that figured out, whereas I definitely don't. Do you have time prior to your interview to go get your hair done, with help from your hairstylist? Older women tend to have a particularly kind of blown out hair that I as a 28 year old have not learned to master. I think getting the right accessories (and I totally agree with the scarf idea) and hair will do a lot.

And yeah, glasses. A little dumb but I think that will help too.

Found this, a lot of it made sense: http://www.buzzle.com/articles/how-to-look-older.html
posted by emkelley at 6:36 PM on October 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Fake glasses are totally ok if they make you look older. There are many reasons to wear fake glasses and if you show up the first day of work without them, they will just assume contacts. I used to wear them when trading on the floor of the CBOE to keep spit when people screamed out of my eyes. If you look good and look older in them, wear them.

Makeup can be mixed. If you look really young and put on makeup, you risk looking like you are playing dress-up.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 6:38 PM on October 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

Oh yeah, jewelry. I have these earrings - sort of thick hoops that fit right around my ears - that make me look 10 years older (so I never wear them.) If you have any "serious" grown-up styles of jewelry.wear that instead of more delicate stuff.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 6:40 PM on October 10, 2011

the blowout (getting your hair professionally blow-dried/blown straight) is a great idea. If you have the time, it's a bit expensive but it'll make you feel better and you'll have more polish.

If you never wear makeup, I wouldn't start now. If you do, then yes, a little makeup will definitely help, just no bright lipstick colors.

Make sure your clothes fit, and don't wear any cheap jewelry.

However, just make sure you go in with confidence -- not that it's your fault people are judging you this way, but I think if you just stay confident and focus on what you need to do in the interview, it will help and they'll forget about your look. They shouldn't be saying things like, "You look sixteen!" anyway. Presumably sixteen year olds don't pass the resume screen.
posted by sweetkid at 6:41 PM on October 10, 2011

I wouldn't wear the glasses if you're not used to them since you'll probably fiddle with them and get distracted. Nth-ing most of the advice here -- polished makeup, heels if you're comfortable in them, and as grown-up of a hairstyle as you can manage. Some "classic" jewelry might help. Do you have a pearl necklace or earrings?
posted by jabes at 6:42 PM on October 10, 2011

Oh. Hm. I don't know how to describe how I look. I'm 5'2" and 110 lbs, I have wavy brown hair that I tend to wear in a bun for interviews, I wear mascara and eyeliner a lot but no lipstick or foundation. I'd cut my long hair, but it needs a lot of weight to keep from being a giant halo of frizz around my head, and I couldn't get a job when it was short either.

I ordinarily wear a conservative black shift with a blazer and heels. I always get a manicure. I never wear accessories as I'm a real minimalist, so that's a terrific suggestion.

I think my boyfriend sees make-up as kind of slutty. Poor thing doesn't realize I wear it every single day.
posted by pineappleheart at 6:42 PM on October 10, 2011 [5 favorites]

Earrings make a big difference. Try something that is somewhat large, rather than delicate and dangling.

Absolutely wear a scarf to look more mature.
posted by jgirl at 6:46 PM on October 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

No fake glasses. Glasses change the shape of your eyes (make them appear smaller for nearsighted people). See this picture of Stephen King. Look how small his eyes are and you can even see the sides of his face and the temples of the frame within the lenses. Now he has a strong prescription so the effect is more pronounced but the lack of that effect entirely can make fake glasses appear obviously fake.

It's a small detail, and maybe not one that non-glasses wearers would notice, but if I was interviewing you and noticed it would not make me take you more seriously.

If you have long hair consider a more mature haircut or something like a tight bun.
posted by 6550 at 6:51 PM on October 10, 2011

There's a huge difference between makeup to look more polished and makeup as in bedroom eyes and the latest color line from Sephora. Typically people who don't wear makeup think of the latter when they think about makeup and don't realize that many many women do the no-makeup makeup application. Tinted moisturizer, groomed brows, light eyeliner and mascara, and very minimal neutral lipstick all contribute. The really big thing is that for petite women, the thing that contributes most to looking older is looking polished. That means details matter. Conservative clothes can sometimes mean baggy or ill fitting which reads much younger than a tailored, smart suit. Fit is very very important, even more so since you are petite. However you style your hair, up or down, it should look well-groomed and sleek.

I already posted one link above to this blog but you should also read this post about how to look confident.

posted by hindmost at 6:52 PM on October 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'm a younger looking gal too. This is what generally works for me:

Definitely makeup. Nothing sheer or glossy. You want a matte finish in conservative colors. Lipstick, not gloss. Mascara, but no smoky eyes and definitely no sparkles in the shadow. You don't need to cake on the foundation unnecessarily if you have nice skin, but a light dusting of powder can go a long way to evening everything out. The goal is polished and professional, possibly even a little boring, but definitely made up, and in neither the natural nor drag queen realm.

Good quality jewelry or scarves in muted or classic colors. Now is totally the time to break out any oversized gold pieces, but be careful with pearls. Pearls on younger looking women often look too much like playing dress-up. And "vintage" styles are trendy these days, so be careful of that as well. You definitely want to look more like a bank manager than a sexy librarian. If you have a nice watch or nylons, those also scream "I AM A GROWN UP!"

Probably goes without saying, but structured clothing in nicer fabric and conservative cuts paired with sensible pumps is the classic "take me seriously" look. And glasses will help, as will a blow-out. Putting your hair up in a bun is fine too, so long as it doesn't skew too far into "librarian chic".
posted by Diagonalize at 6:59 PM on October 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

You sound very much like me (eerily so, with the exact age and exact height and exact weight and exact hair, actually). I have the same problem. Though I suppose I only think of it as a problem in this context.

My advice is to wear your hair in a bun. That is what I do on job interviews. Also, pearls. And a black skirt suit. I think I look believably at least 27 when I do this, so maybe it will work for you too.
posted by millipede at 7:10 PM on October 10, 2011

Oh, you already wear your hair in a bun. I missed that part. Well, make sure it's a really severe awful business one, not a cute one with little wisps that fall out.
posted by millipede at 7:11 PM on October 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

The way I talked seemed to help. Cutting down the slang and making an effort to be articulate...also this is a bit goofy but I would ever so slightly deepen my higher-registered voice. Not in an affected way, mind, I just lowered it a little.
posted by mooza at 7:11 PM on October 10, 2011

Clothes matter.

Good quality, well fitting clothes definitely make you look older. Older people have jobs, careers, money, and have had enough time to get used to their body and how different cuts look on them. Although it's subtle, and many people won't even notice that they notices, a few minor tweaks to quality and fit can make you look a whole lot older.

Subtle style tweaks also make a difference, although I don't really know how to explain this in women's terms cause I'm a guy. But if a guy dresses in a suit that looks like it's his only suit (the black, slightly ill fitting suit generic that's every guys' "fisher price my first suit") he looks a lot younger than if he dresses in a suit that looks like he has a bunch of suits and wears them every day (subtle variations in color and pattern without hitting "I'm young and flashy").
posted by yeolcoatl at 7:13 PM on October 10, 2011 [3 favorites]

Dark, matte lipstick. Nothing sheer or shiny. Your boyfriend is wrong about the makeup. Diagonalize has it. However, if you really do not know how to use it, the day of your interview is not the best time to learn. Try it out tonight -- buy some stuff at a CVS that is still open so you can return it if you wind up not liking it. Pink or coral blush, neutral eye shadow, lipstick in a matte, dark neutral (plum, raisin, cocoa etc) tone. You have the eyeliner already. Oh, and this is important: eyebrow pencil. Not too dark. Neutral brown or one shade lighter than what you think you ought to wear. It's really crucial for a pulled together look -- more so than eyeshadow. Buy a sharpener too. You just fill in your eyebrow with light, short strokes - as if you were drawing on extra eyebrows.

Lipstick is also a must.

Glasses, meh. I think this is goofy but if you think it works, go for it.
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:15 PM on October 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh, and: stand up straight, look folks in the eye, etc. Watch your tone - no ending sentences with an "up" inflection.
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:16 PM on October 10, 2011

Absolutely makeup (tastefully done - all the above advice is good), maybe nylons, sensible pumps (i.e. not the big platform ones I see all the young things tottering around in - they'll make you taller but they scream "intern" to me), a little bit of classic jewelry (but not too much - pearl earrings are my go-to). I love scarves on other people but always feel like I'm playing dress-up when I try to wear one - ymmv. I'm a lean-no on the glasses, but you probably know best.
posted by naoko at 7:17 PM on October 10, 2011

I'm thinking a French twist will give you a bit more height, which may read as older. It's a more elegant style, but make sure to keep it low-key--no fancy-shmancy bows or anything.
posted by miss patrish at 7:20 PM on October 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Okay, just pointing out that I never end sentences with an up inflection, use slang, or slouch, etc. I'm just concentrating on physical appearance for this.
posted by pineappleheart at 7:22 PM on October 10, 2011

While I have little help to offer in terms of makeup, upon considering what visual clues I take into account (consciously or subconsciously) when judging apparent age, I think naoko nailed it; classic jewelry. A pair of pearl earrings would indeed signal maturity to me. Which is no doubt why they are naoko's go-to. Good suggestion.
posted by Justinian at 7:47 PM on October 10, 2011

Dark lipstick makes a lot of women look older. Try a sheer berry or brick stain if you are used to pink or nude shades.
posted by Fairchild at 7:51 PM on October 10, 2011

Corporette, an excellent blog on corporate fashion, has a whole tag devoted to this subject.
posted by mynameisluka at 7:57 PM on October 10, 2011 [3 favorites]

Refer to projects you worked on "ten years agol early in the conversation, and if there's a contextual way to reference pop culture (such as Lady Gaga or something), add in a "...or whoever the kids like these days" to sound old without being out of touch.

Set the context with your words and it'll override a lot of your appearance.
posted by anildash at 7:57 PM on October 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

Do you have nice sweet baby cheeks? Foundation is important, because on top of that you add the blush and the coppery / bronzey contours that give your face a structural depth that matures you.

Also, beyond this interview, there's got to be a solution to your hair that lets you cut it so it can swing, at most, just below your shoulders. Probably a much more expensive solution than you've ever considered, but it's the kind of expense that a mature professional woman would invest in. Long hair, even in a bun, can seem very youthful. I look around my office and the most polished women in management don't have hair long enough that they could *do stuff* with it like put it up and take it down.
posted by sestaaak at 8:20 PM on October 10, 2011

Accentuating my curves always makes me look older, in a good way. Cinching your waist with a belt is a small thing that can make a big difference.
posted by girlmightlive at 8:41 PM on October 10, 2011

What you are already wearing seems right on the money for me, so this is hard.

I think that if you can't look older, maybe you should shoot for more serious (or, even more serious, if you think you are already plenty serious). What about pants instead of the shift dress and a heavy, menswear inspired shoe? In the same vein as suggestions above, though, I wouldn't go this way if it will feel like a drag performance for you. Even a dress suit with a skirt and blouse might make you seem older than the dress, though.

The glasses could work if they make you look older, but don't put them on right before the interview. If you think they do the trick, start wearing them right now so they become second nature. Unless, with the bun, it looks like a librarian costume. What 6556 says only applies to really thick glasses, not the glasses most folks wear. Look at Tina Fey!

You might want to try going to a serious grown-up lady clothing store and asking a seasoned salesperson for makeover-type advice. Ditto a department store makeup counter. (Of course, they may be mystified by someone wanting to look older!)

Personally, I'm 5-foot-nothing and people still think I'm much younger than I am, even though I'm 41 and, frankly, exhausted looking. When I was 30, people always took me for early twenties, but in my line of work, that was an asset as everyone was super excited about having a Young Worker on staff. I also found that the way people under-estimated my age made them over-estimate my abilities once I opened my mouth, if you see what I mean, which was an advantage. I don't work with clients, though, so clearly it's a different situation for you.

... oh, crap, I kind of missed the "tomorrow" part of your question. All my stuff is more short-, middle-term. For a quick turnaround, I can only suggest staying up all night...?
posted by looli at 8:47 PM on October 10, 2011

To the extent that you can address this in time for this interview... I'm a guy and generally notice some other things people have touched on: shoes, jewelry, watch, pen, purse, briefcase--things that say, "I am a professional adult."
posted by ambient2 at 8:57 PM on October 10, 2011

Lipstick, because without it you are playing up your eyes and the rest of you is fading away. A good blush for the same reason. Lots of young girls these days are going for very dark eye liner, so stay away from the whole smoky look if you don't want to be mistaken for very young. You don't need to go out and buy eyeshadow. Most women over thirty I know wear very neutral shades if they wear any at all. And I never use an eyebrow pencil, but I barely wax mine, either, because mine are thin (thyroid stuff), so it's up to you if you want to try that.

For those suggesting clunky shoes or severe buns--no. just no! The OP wants to look polished and her own age, not dowdy! If you can manage a chignon, great! If not, stay with pulling it back the way you usually do.

Accessories are good. When in doubt, silver (real or fake) goes with most anything. Do you have a nice practical bag/attache case?

I think your black shift is perfect, with silver accessories, or even red if you want some bright color! You don't have to go all-out with pearls; this is an interview, not a funeral. Just avoid flowery, tiny prints or frilly items, which are girlish on a petite frame. If your blazer is a solid or pinstripe, that works fine. And pumps or dressy shoes, maybe with dark hose, to complete the look.
posted by misha at 9:08 PM on October 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Black suit and pearls.
posted by Sylvia Plath's terrible fish at 10:17 PM on October 10, 2011

This will be too late for tomorrow, but for the longer term you need to invest in your hair - this is arguably the best way of making you look professional. Book yourself into the best hairdresser you can afford (maybe even a bit more than you can afford - if you were in Australia I'd tell you to think about spending at least $300 on a cut and colour, maybe more), and choose a hairdresser that caters to young professionals (rather than hipsters). Go to the hairdresser, tell them your dilemma and give them absolute freedom. A good colour will change the texture of your hair slightly, so it may be easier to deal with. A good STREAMLINED cut will make you look more sophisticated.

In summary find an absolutely brilliant, award-winning, hairdresser; tell them your dilemma; and let them do what they want.
posted by Alice Russel-Wallace at 10:22 PM on October 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Make the hair very sleek, if it is, it could be too preppy (so hard to tell!). Am agreeing with the hairdye & haircut, a thousand times.

Use foundation, so people don't realise you have very youthful skin.

Wear long earrings, nothing that's particularly in (so not hoops). This kind of gives an older, elegant look.

Matching with a necklace, and actually, even a complementary strong lipstick kind of kicks you out of the high-school look, if *that's* what the problem is.

If there is any chance you might look a little... bland at the moment, I know it's a job interview, but heavy it up with a accent piece of jewellery, brooch, scarf, etc. 16 year olds generally haven't figured out how to wear jewellery at work, and look bare - that could be part of what is twigging as young.
posted by Elysum at 11:34 PM on October 10, 2011

In addition to the things others are covering, makeup, clothes, be aware of your body language in the interview. Don't feel like your materials need to be a tidy pile right in front of you and your arms resting on the chair. Try to remind yourself it's okay to take up space with your work and your body, it's okay to feel expansive and send out signals that you're interested and have a lot to say.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 11:49 PM on October 10, 2011

Granny glasses, go heavy on the makeup. get a perm.


All you need are dark framed glasses and an updo.
posted by hal_c_on at 1:37 AM on October 11, 2011

A down-to-earth, businessy handbag is important - nothing too feminine.

Also, I am not particularly young-looking for my age, but apparently my body-lanugage and facial expressions when I talk cut ten years off my age (for me, this tends to be a good thing). Maybe watch a couple of videos of "tough" women in similar situations (excerpts from films etc. - unfortunately, I can't think of anything to recommend off the top of my head) and try to emulate them in a mirror - how do you compare? In time, I've learned to develop a few "I am a serious person to be reckoned with" expressions, and I can actually feel them from inside. They don't make me more serious, but they certainly have an effect on others.

Also, good luck.
posted by miorita at 3:08 AM on October 11, 2011

I have the same problem. I'm 27 but was recently asked if I was old enough to be sitting in the emergency exit row on an airplane (you have to be at least 15!)...

I find that fitted, more conservative than I like to dress clothes, jewelry, a scarf, and minimal make-up go a long way. I also wear my hair really short, which I think helps...Good luck!

oh, and if you don't normally wear heels, a little height can't hurt either.
posted by shrimpsmalls at 4:24 AM on October 11, 2011

Lots of great advice and if you do get a comment (That woman you interviewed with! Good lord, what a rude person. You didn't want to work for her anyway.) just laugh and say you get that a lot and launch right into a relevant part of your work history. "Ha, well hopefully it'll last! My old boss at X was surprised that I had my Masters! That place was a great place to work, I learned so much doing X."

Good luck!
posted by amanda at 7:26 AM on October 11, 2011

I have this problem too. At a job interview, I wore some cheap jewelery that I considered to be decidedly ugly and oudated - as if I had no fashion sense. I think it really did make me look older. I got the job...
posted by kitcat at 7:32 AM on October 11, 2011

On what not to wear, they always advise women to wear suits that fit well. With expensive looking accessories. Also re the glasses: I heard of a law firm giving all of its new associates thick black glasses to make them look older.
posted by bananafish at 12:53 PM on October 11, 2011

So? How'd it go?
posted by FlamingBore at 1:00 PM on October 11, 2011

Wear a suit, if you can (instead of a dress), and pearls or some other sort of mature jewelry (diamond earrings if you have them). And definitely put your hair up - I think french twists make women look older, one of the women I used to work with that was tiny and young looking wore a french twist in her hair every single day for this exact reason. And definitely wear makeup (foundation, mascara, lipstick at least) - a bare face will make you look younger.
posted by echo0720 at 3:27 PM on October 11, 2011

Oh, and if you don't wear your hair up, at the very least blow it dry and straighten it with a flat iron. This will help make you look more polished.
posted by echo0720 at 3:28 PM on October 11, 2011

How it went: One of the three interviewers drily commented that I was "very dressed up." I didn't wear glasses, but I did fully blow-dry my hair and wear a long strand of pearls and conservative heels. I got no comments about how young I look, but I'll never get over how often strangers feel entitled to comment on others' appearances.

No phone call from the company yet, but one of my thank you notes to the last interviewer, in which I apologized for keeping him over the time limit of the interview by asking a complicated question, received the answer: "You did not negatively impact my next meeting."
posted by pineappleheart at 12:34 PM on October 14, 2011

And I also spoke a lot about how "when I started working, all of our computers ran MS DOS!" and "When I started working, our digital department was a sixteen-year-old intern in the basement who made our banner ads with clip art!"

I didn't mention that, actually, I started working in 2003 at a company that had no money to upgrade to better systems because I ultimately imagined things would work out better for me if the interviewers couldn't figure out how old I was, but could only assume I started working in some nebulous time between 1981 and the mid-90s and was therefore an ageless mythological being.
posted by pineappleheart at 12:45 PM on October 14, 2011

"You did not negatively impact my next meeting."

If you got the job, yay: money. If you didn't get the job, yay: you hopefully won't see that in an email again.

So congratulations. You put your best foot forward.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 4:15 PM on October 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

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