Seven Rules to Advance Your Career – and Prevent Age Discrimination

by Sarah Stamboulie


Love technology (or act as if you do) and use it wherever you can.

Work diligently to become expert in the current and emerging technologies in your field.  According to a recent Pew Research Study, today’s generation gap is widest when it comes to technology.  Every field has its new technologies that are disrupting the old ways of doing things — you owe it to yourself and your potential employer to get proficient and comfortable with the them.  At the minimum, everyone should have a recent smartphone and computer, and be facile with texting, email, Zoom, Word (or Google Docs) and Excel (or Google Sheets).  When it comes to social media, a LinkedIn account is mandatory, and most people would benefit from at least following others on an additional platform(s) such as Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, TikTok or Snapchat.

Keep the focus on the other person and talk less.

To make the best impression, the ideal amount you should talk is between 25-40% of the conversation – even on interviews. Focus on learning about the other person’s job (or life) and uncovering his or her point of view and opinions. Yours can stay unexpressed. Rather than tell stories, try different prompts to get them talking. (If you usually express your views, you may find that you don’t enjoy yourself as much when you talk less (!), but the reward is that the other person often will enjoy the conversation more.)

Be relentlessly positive and open-minded.

Corporate culture has, as a whole, become more positive, gentle, and inclusive in recent years, so it’s important to maintain (or regain) your idealism. Take the organization’s vision and values seriously, and be knowlegeble about and follow best practices when it comes to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). In meetings – and especially on interviews – be relentlessly positive wherever possible, as people see happy people as better adjusted and less self-centered.  When you do talk about yourself (which should be of very short duration), describe yourself as fortunate and keep your comments about your career history focused on the bright side.  There are limited exceptions, of course – if you work in investment management and are “bearish” about X investment sector, it is fine to state that, but then make the focus of your comment positive by suggesting an appropriate investment strategy for that particular bear market.

Stay relatable

Be thoughtful about what you share with new acquaintances, as you don’t want to separate yourself by bringing up topics that they can’t relate to.  Before an interview or meeting that will include some personal banter, preplan a few age-neutral topics, so you don’t accidentally start talking about your 30th wedding anniversary celebration, your three kids in college, or your recent knee surgery.

However, you don’t want to seem formal or lose your sense of humor. While interviews and presentations still call for more formality than most other professional interactions, you should let yourself be natural, forthright, and open — all hallmarks of Gen X and Gen Y workers.  One 56-year-old friend of mine, hired recently as a project manager at a Minneapolis firm where most everyone is half her age, is convinced she clinched the deal when she shook hands with the office dog.

Stay humble.

It might seem counter-intuitive, but don’t play the wisdom card.  You may feel that your strongest selling point is that you’ve ”been there, done that” and that you can help relatively inexperienced colleagues and a young company navigate territory you’ve already mapped. But odds are, your listener will see the current situation as very different from the one you went through and won’t value your advice the way you expect.

And when you do share your views, be humble, particularly when talking to someone younger.  Try couching what you say in such language as “It seems to me that …” or “I don’t know if this is what you’re looking for, but …” .  You can also ask questions that include your ideas: “What do your models predict if the economy were to significantly contract before X?”  You don’t want to risk sounding like an arrogant know-it-all when you were just trying to share your “wisdom”.

Be willing to work very hard – including on grunt work – without complaining.

Be willing to put in 50-60 hours a week to reach your goals when necessary. Never say you are “too old to kill yourself doing x” – work as if you are the primary breadwinner for a family with several young children.

Never talk about – or practice – age discrimination.

It tempts the listener (even one older than you) to think of reasons why the poor treatment you’re referencing are not age discrimination and are, in fact, reasonable responses to deficiencies in your skill set or behavior. And don’t practice age discrimination either.  If others make jokes about entitled Millennials or Gen Zers – or complain about “kids on their phones”, don’t join in – and change the subject if appropriate. Ageism is WRONG.