Need a Job? How To Rise Above the Gray Ceiling


Champagne, brie, scotch and event planners.

While your first guess – “What are things that go together?” – may well apply in many cases, the correct answer should be, “Name four things that improve with age.”

Unfortunately, the perceived vocational shelf life of a meeting professional has been shrinking this century as the digital/technological skills of twenty-somethings overshadow the efficiencies, judgment and confidence that come with age.

In fact, the job selection process has detoured so abruptly toward the young that those in their 50s, 40s and even 30s who’ve faced age discrimination firsthand have devised a name for it: the gray ceiling.

As those with years of events under their belts will attest, there is still no substitute for experience when it comes to efficient, effective, drama-free meeting planning. That said, as bosses skew younger and their bias toward same becomes more ingrained, veteran event planners have little choice but to refresh and update their professional image if they hope to remain in demand.

Here are 10 steps that veteran event pros can take to avoid the gray ceiling.

Freshen your physical appearance: Others subconsciously judge us by our outward appearance. If you see traces of the 1990s, ‘80s or (gulp!) the ‘70s when you look in the mirror, for heaven’s sake, get rid of them. As an added incentive, you’ll feel younger, too!

Age-proof your resume and cover letter: Downplay or outright delete those calendar-year employment and graduation references that once landed you jobs. Focus instead on your accomplishments, awards and technological event solutions you’ve led or participated in over the past decade, and expand your skill set list accordingly. It may be best to keep your 20th century experience to yourself unless asked.

Get your tech on: You don’t need to magically transform yourself into a social media master or tech guru; you simply need to know enough about the various tools of the trade to be conversant with those who are. And don’t be afraid to tap their expertise; it shows you’re curious, engaged and not shy about asking for help from others.

Avoid dated references: To walk the walk, you also must talk the talk. Keep your cultural references (films, TV, music, sports, etc.) confined to this year, or failing that, at least this decade. Nothing ages you faster than a reference to “Cheers,” “Blazing Saddles” or “The Golden Girls.”

Engage and expand your professional network: Despite the rise in ageism, skilled, experienced workers are still in demand. Your contemporaries not only feel your frustrations; they’re often willing to help bring you aboard their ship when a position opens up. Little wonder that networking plays a role in filling 80 percent of all domestic job openings.

Emphasize enthusiasm, not experience, in interviews: The interviewer has your resume and cover letter; now they want to know the person behind the pitch. Tap these three tips: engage them on a human level, demonstrate your passion for your work, and stay in the now, not the then.

Know your place in the cosmos: You and your younger interviewer know that you’ve got a few hundred (or thousand) miles on them, so spare them the awkward wisecracks. Always afford them the respect they deserve. After all, they’re the gatekeeper to a job you want.

grayceiling3Tap the flexibility of your youth: Starting out, you had no negotiating power; you took the jobs offered you. Now that you’re a seasoned pro, show the same willingness by agreeing to negotiate terms. It shows you’re a team player.

Thank them twice; old school and new: A text or email thank you, followed by a handwritten one, underscores the message that you’re a versatile, caring, thoroughly modern professional.

Don’t push your luck: Inappropriately appropriating online tools such as YouTube, Snapchat and Facebook to demonstrate your youthful outlook can only come back to bite you. Let your actions at work speak for you and keep your inner child in check.


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Jay MacDonald

Jay MacDonald

Jay MacDonald is an award-winning journalist, author and blogger who incorporates humor and human interest into a broad range of topics. Follow him on Twitter @omnisaurus

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