How not to show your age in your business writing and blogging

age,business blogging,writingIf you should happen to be the wrong side of 40 or 50 or so, many experts believe you might become a victim of age discrimination in the workplace or business generally.

But don’t feel you need to throw yourself off a cliff when you pluck out your first gray hairs.

Here’s some help…

This is an extract from a very interesting article I read recently …

“Age discrimination in the workforce is an unfortunate reality,” says Dr. Colleen Georges, a certified career and life coach. “Often, a candidate over 50 may be thought by recruiters or hiring managers to be ‘too close to retirement’ or ‘too set in their ways.’ Some may worry about a lack of energy or motivation to learn, or even that the over-50 candidate will command too high of a salary. These misperceptions can thwart someone from getting an interview, moving to the second round of the interview process, or moving up the ladder to roles of greater leadership.”

Dr Colleen then goes on to outline some very good advice and I thought I would take up this inspiration to share some further thoughts on how to keep your business writing as hip as possible, too…

Emails
These are no longer new and they are not the same as business letters of the 20th century. Ergo, don’t start them with “Dear Mr So-and-so” or even “Dear John,” and don’t end with “Yours faithfully” unless you want to sound like a) an octogenarian or b) a lawyer. Instead use the more informal salutations like “Hi or Hello (name)” and end with “Best Wishes” or the mealy-mouthed “Warm Regards” which for some reason always makes me think of “Warm Vomit” (but don’t let that put you off.) And keep the body text short and simple: people get hundred of emails every day and secretaries to screen out the bullsh*t have gotten themselves lives so aren’t around any more.

Business letters
Oh, please spare us. Even if you’re writing a business communication on old-fashioned papyrus leave out the formalities and write as you speak, not like a 19th century clerical assistant. Forget the “inst.” and the “re:” and all the other clutter unless you’re an ageing accountant. More on modern paper-based business letters here.

Corporate-speak
This is a language that should be as dead as Latin and, like Latin, still raises its ugly head in common usage. Never hide behind pompous phrasing and stupidly long words just because they sound more “important” than plain English. It might have impressed people in the 1960s but it doesn’t now, and if you use it today it will make you look and sound like an old goat. Today is about writing and speaking naturally, thank Heavens. More on this here.

Your CV, job applications, etc
Believe it or not potential employers couldn’t give a rat’s ass about your high school grades back in 1980 and for you to go on about them in your current CV or job applications will merely underline your age. Focus on the relatively recent experience and skills you have now, that will benefit a future employer’s business. More on that in Dr Colleen’s article, and of course more on that in our series “The Write Way To Get A Job” – especially this article by our very own Lynn Tulip.

Experience sucks
age,business blogging,writing…unless you adapt it to today’s needs and put it to work rather than just talk about it. Remember the old question about it that goes … “have you really got 20 years’ experience, or is it just one year’s experience repeated 19 times?” 20-somethings appear not to have enough respect for experience but I’m afraid they’re often right: experience has a very boring way of cluttering up fresh thinking and obliging people to look backwards rather than concentrating on today, tomorrow and beyond. Don’t throw your experience away, but be sure to use it – and write about it – intelligently.

Slang
There’s nothing that makes young people cringe faster than an older person trying to be on trend by using slang words and expressions from the dark ages. I cheerfully could have strangled my mother, who was not a native English speaker anyway, when she tried to impress my friends by talking about “ciggies” and “dishy guys” and “just a sec” and various other cutesy phrases from her youth in the 1950s instead of either learning what was in common parlance at the time, or shutting up. Swot up on what’s going on now by hanging out on Social Media or reading Mashable, and if you’re in business their Watercooler section – as Dr Colleen suggests in her article.

Social Media
Even if you think Twitter is for bird-brains and Facebook is somewhere your teenage kids post pictures of themselves throwing up pizza, beer and worse in seedy nightclubs, get real. SocMed is the present day agora and you need to get involved if you haven’t already. LinkedIn, especially, is invaluable for business whether you’re an employee, entrepreneur, solopreneur, etc. Trust me, it ain’t rocket science and it’s very, very addictive … not because it’s an opiate but because it literally opens up the entire world to you on your screen. And writing for it is a dream come true, because it’s all about writing as you speak and writing as you are as a human being. And reading the same from others. Bliss.

Those are just a few points we older types need to bear in mind. What other issues do you feel we should be aware of? Please share them here so we can compile a useful resource. 

And let’s not just hear from older people, but from young people too; what irritates you most about older people in your workplace? Please be honest, because that way we’ll all learn and benefit.

I await your input…

While you’re here, don’t forget to stop by my Bookshop…books and eBooks to help you write better – and to give to friends and family (don’t forget the Holiday Season is coming soon)…

photo credit: snaps via photopin cc
photo credit: Celestine Chua via photopin cc

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  1. Suzan
    I totally agree with the age part of it. I mean some people may think you are beautiful until they see you..Good read and fantastic as always enjoying everything right here in Kenya

  2. As usual you make me smile Suze when you hit the nail on the head… ageism is alive and kicking. However, I was sifting some under 25s’ CVs for a new role and some of their language was definitely way too young 😉

    • Love it Lynn! I think young people tend to overwrite when they first start in the workplace. It takes experience (whoops! used the E word…) to know what’s right and what’s overload. They especially overuse adjectives and adverbs…hmm. Maybe I should write an article about that too!

  3. Just today I had a novel experience while offering some time to my daughter’s primary school, being asked if my grandchildren attended. I don’t mind this – I’m 50 soon so it’s quite feasible – but it did make me chuckle, especially when the lady then imagined I did not work now. Ha!

    I find it odd to start having these age references to respond to, especially when old is something I certainly do not feel mentally.

    Some useful points here, too, Suze – not that I have to write many letters nowadays, but the reminder to drop the inst. is useful. Habit. Do they even teach this now?

    • Thanks Babs – no, I don’t think business writing is taught at all now other than as modules within some university and college courses. In the dark ages a lot of women went to secretarial college and were taught shorthand/typing and all that business letter stuff.

      But of course the old-fashioned secretary role has now disappeared to be replaced by PAs and VAs who don’t need any formal qualifications and are “solopreneurs” in their own right, advising clients on many other forms of business activity.

      It’s interesting to watch the metamorphosis…

  4. Great points here. I am self-employed, but if I were to venture back into the job market, at the grand old age of 50 😉 I would be using all these tips here. Employers may think we’re getting past it but we also bring fantastic experience that young people simply don’t have. I’m glad having grey hair isn’t the only criteria though, as I’d have had to give up at age 19. Thank goodness for hair dye is all I can say.

  5. Good stuff — not that I needed any of that advice. 🙂

  6. All good advice, Suzan. I haven’t used a CV or resume in more years than I can remember (instead opting for a 1 page bio), but it might be time to consider removing at least some of the date references. Might have to pull out a bottle of hair dye too. To think I spent most of the former part of my life working so hard to seem older.

    As one who’s employed a decent number of people over the years, I have to admit I’m flummoxed by some of what I’m seeing with our youth. Just this week a Millennial with a MASTERS DEGREE sent me an e-mail for comment. This was intended to impress a contact I had provided; four sentences – not one was correct. Spelling, capitalization, grammar and punctuation issues were rampant in this brief note. Scarey stuff. Are our schools failing that badly (how does someone get through this much education and graduate without knowing how to compose a sentence?) or is there an attitude problem with the thumb generation? Here’s the really frightening part – his advanced degree was in education.

    • It’s funny, Nanette – as you’ll see above, Babs and I were discussing if and if so how much business writing (of letters, etc.) is taught in schools now, and it seems the answer is very little.

      It’s shocking to think that both the USA where you are and the UK have similar problems not just with business writing, but also with basic English in the first place, even amongst higher-end graduates.

      When my son was about 15 I would read his English essays and point out his spelling, grammar, punctuation and syntax mistakes, and wonder why these never seemed to get picked up by the school. Eventually I asked his English teacher why this was and she said “oh, we don’t want to interrupt their creative flow.”

      I know the literary world is full of proofreaders and editors, but out in the workplace these youngsters are unlikely to have someone running after their emails with dustpans and brushes.

      As you know, in business clarity and accuracy are just as important – if not more important – than “creative flow.” That’s the truly worrying part: poor writing skills lead to potentially expensive and even disastrous commercial mistakes.

      Is it yet another clash between academia and commercialism, I wonder? Or is everyone in the thumb generation clairvoyant, so not needing to read accurate text?

  7. Wow – well I’ve seen the results of the ‘build their self-esteem’ group-think but didn’t realized this was reduced all the way down to practices that neglected providing guidance on basic sentence structure rules. Frankly, I saw business writing as something totally separate from fundamental communication primers. Heck, every error in this case would have been caught with a spell check (remember when that involved opening a dictionary?). Is careless a mandatory curriculum course these days in your country? It’s looking like it must be in mine.

  8. LOL Nanette … certainly to be a “Grammar Nazi,” as we who cherish good spelling etc. are known, isn’t very fashionable currently.

    The anti-brigade whine on about the language needing to evolve without restriction and of course they have a point: even the Oxford Dictionary here in the UK now recognizes “twerking” and “selfie” as proper words.

    But even within that, you still need grammar to make things easy to understand. The anti-brigade don’t understand the difference between accuracy and pedantry. 🙁

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