Should We Hide Our Age?

Photo cred: Andrea
Photo cred: Andrea

What started as a little conversation between Lauren Fernandez and I, ended up being used as our first #u30pro topic…and both sides provided some great reasons why you should or shouldn’t hide your age.

So Here Are Some Reasons to Hide:

  1. Responsibility: You will be given less responsibility if you’re young and relatively inexperienced
  2. Opportunity: You may miss out on job opportunities because of your age, when in reality, you’re very qualified.
  3. Respect: Your ideas and contributions will not be respected as highly as that of older, experienced peers.

Notice, all of the reasons for hiding your age are a direct result of stereotypes.  The fear of showing your age isn’t because you probably lack experience and haven’t earned others’ respect yet, but rather because you are automatically assumed to lack the skills because of these possible misplaced assumptions.

Reasons to show your age:

  1. Ambition: Show that you’re better than others that are the same age.  You can differentiate yourself from others in your age group.  If you can face a stereotype, and overcome, you’ll gain that much more respect.
  2. Pride: If someone wants to discriminate against you because you’re young, they can go screw themselves.  You don’t need to hide who you are to succeed.
  3. Advantages: Being younger sometimes has positive stereotypes.  You’re a fresh mind, with tech savvy and lots of energy.  Use it to your advantage.

So should you hide your age?  Chances are, people will find it out eventually.  Still, you may gain access to more opportunities if people don’t realize how young you are right away.

I’d love to hear from more experienced professionals as well as I’m sure you’ll have some great advice.  What do you think?

Come join Lauren and me at the next #u30pro chat tonight (and every Thursday) at 7:00pm est where we drive the discussion to bridge the generational gap, demolish stereotypes and break down differences in the professional workplace.

22 thoughts on “Should We Hide Our Age?

  1. This issue has crossed my mind lately. I just celebrated my 22nd birthday, and everyone at work naturally asked how old I was. When I told them, I got remarks like “Wow you’re a baby!” and while they were joking, it made me worry that they might not value my opinion or they may feel threatened or something. I think you make good points about showing ambition, but it can also work against you.

    1. I get that a lot too. I’m very open with my age, and every time I do say what my name is on twitter, or anywhere, I get “I thought you were so much older”!

      While the people that say these things don’t mean anything bad by it, it is certainly a representation of this misconception that savvy/ability is tied to age.

  2. I’ve always been of the mindset to let people know my age once they see my work ethic – this eliminates any stereotypes and makes them judge me on my dedication, not a number. Gen Y has a bad rep, and once I prove myself, I can prove that the whole generation is not like that.

    Glad you’re my co-mod for #u30pro!

    1. Likewise! (=

      I’ll admit, I kind of fall into the prideful group, where I know my ability and if people want to judge me based on my age instead, well then screw em. It’s certainly not the smartest route to take though, and perhaps it’s something I should rethink.

  3. I’m proud to share anything that makes me who I am, and age is one of them. I’m barely 20, younger than all of my friends that are also college juniors, and I’m damn proud (except for the part about turning 21 last).

    Like Lauren said, I go in to projects (like the research one I’m doing this year) and I’m underestimated. I actually enjoy that for two reasons: 1) people are more impressed when they see what I put together (and who doesn’t like a little love), and 2) that perceived slight against my youth puts a chip on my shoulder, and makes me work harder.

    1. I guess an interesting distinction to make here it whether your age is being compared to those that are the same age, or those that are older. When you’re being compared to those that are older than you, it is usually a disadvantage. When you’re being compared to others your age, who, based on the fact that you’re even participating in this conversation, probably isn’t as motivated as you, and so it makes you look better.

  4. Lauren’s point about letting work ethic show through first is an important one.

    I’m just beginning my year of teaching this week and wondering how old these high school students think I am. I’ve decided to hold off in disclosing my age so as not to undermine my authority as a faculty member. As they get to know me and (hopefully) respect me, then I’ll feel more comfortable talking about my age.

    I think that idea mirrors Lauren’s point pretty well!

    Tom O’Keefe
    @TomOKeefe1

    1. Definitely. I think it’s more important for someone in your position, where authority plays a major role in how well you can get your job done. It’s definitely smarter for you to withhold your age, at least at first.

      Good luck Tom! Let me know how everything goes after your first week. Sure you’ll do great.

  5. I’ve done both throughout my working years. At my former employer I flat-out refused to reveal my age to anyone outside of my “near and dear” friends. My boss (a friend before my boss) knew as well as two colleagues. I was happy with everyone else thinking I was much older. In my case, that turned out to be 4-6 years older than my actual age.

    In my current position I feel comfortable revealing my age, though I do confess that most have seemed to forget as time has gone on!

    I’ve learned from both of these experiences, and my personal preference is to not reveal my age until I’ve worked with someone enough to feel that they’ve formed a true opinion of my work. At that point if the subject of age comes up and I personally feel that it won’t negatively affect their perception of me, I’ll dish.

    On the flip side, if the subject of age comes up at the beginning of a working relationship or if I feel that my true age will cast me in a negative light in their eyes, I politely decline to reveal my age, usually in some joking and ultra-feminine manner (“A true lady never reveals her age!” usually works, said with a smile, of course!)

    I honestly think that this matter comes down to personal preference. I’ve developed my position but know that many may disagree.

    -Katie

  6. Interesting question you pose. My biggest pet peeve is when people say “Well, I have 30+ years of experience…” — insinuating that as a result of this experience they have all the answers. I’ve been in PR for almost 10 years now, so I have some answers, too — but I would never want to make less-experienced people feel like their opinions or suggestions aren’t valuable.

    I think the main point is this: As PR people, we work in a competitive environment and we need to bring our “A” game everyday. Young people, especially those just starting out in this field, do need to prove themselves. Like it or not, most of the time, the decision makers are older than we are. We have to “wow” them. Like Lauren said, impress people by your work ethic so the age thing isn’t a problem. At the same time, it’s important to remember that if you’re 24, you don’t have all the answers. But, if you’re 54, you don’t have all the answers either. 🙂

    Heather (@prtini)

    1. Well said Heather. Absolutely, young professionals have to prove themselves before being granted responsibility…the problem is they’re not always given a fair chance to prove themselves as a result of age old stereotypes.

      1. Early in my career, someone told me I was “pleasently persistent.” That always stuck with me. If you just keep working hard and proving that you know how what you’re doing, people will take notice.

  7. I am the youngest in my office by close to 15 years. It’s easy to tell when the things I suggest are being brushed off as ‘youthful inexperience’ despite a career in Marketing/PR that started close to 10 years ago and a proven track record of success.

    My issue is I’m 26 and I look like I’m about 15 so lying about my age has never been a real option. I try to uphold a higher level of confidence (even when I’m scared out of my mind!) because in my experience that’s what PR managers are more attracted to than age.

    1. Have you tried growing a goatee? Worked wonders for me.

      Seriously though you bring up an important point about confidence. Regardless of how old you are, your experience or your abilities, having confidence will always earn respect for your ideas in the workplace.

      You started your career when you were 16?

  8. Nice post! I talked with friends and colleagues about this and see a good mix between the two camps. I’ve even chatted with some people that are very intentional about changing their appearance to avoid stereotypes… the way they dress, frequency of shaving, hair styles, etc. They argue that the first impression in a f2f meeting can hold the same stereotypes as seeing your age on a linkedin profile.

    1. It may be that purposely creating your image to appeal to “superiors” is the way to go. It’s not really my thing as I’m a big proponent of staying true to who you are, but my mindset may not be the most effective for one to get ahead in the workplace.

  9. As a career industry professional, I have had clients worry about age from both camps, those who are older worry about age discrimination and being thought too old or too out of it to be considered viable and some of my younger clients have wondered how to make themselves look older. I understand what Heather is saying about how some people who have extensive experience over others with less but I think some of the older also feel inferior to young people who understand much more about technology and communication than the older generation. I think we can all learn from each other.

    In my two roles (careers and whitewater), I work with all ages and I find myself challenged by both older and younger and learning from both. For the record, I am 53, but I have never felt old. I love interacting with young people and have many friends and clients that are 30 or more years younger than me.

    1. Julie, I was hoping someone would point out that age discrimination occurs on both ends. I think the key point in all this is that both ends can work together and can both learn from each other. The sooner we realize that, and get over these stereotypes, the better off we’ll me.

      Thanks for the comment, I hope to see more of you around here (=

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