After Andrea Rodriguez lost her job last fall, she put away her suits. Not because she didn’t plan to keep working—she just had to seem younger. She’d been a successful sales trainer at SugarCRM, a Cupertino, Calif., company that pitches marketing and customer service software to businesses. Suddenly she was looking for a job in Silicon Valley, and she was over 50. Early in her search, she recalls, one hiring manager told her, “We have a very diverse age group—some people are right out of college, and one older group is as old as 48.” Gulp.
So as Rodriguez chased more interviews, dresses with brightly colored sweaters or jackets over skirts replaced her five suits. She started regularly scanning Reddit, Yelp, IMDb, and MSNBC, checking words she didn’t know on Urban Dictionary, so she could talk about superhero movies, the Golden State Warriors, and the Kardashians. She collected 500 connections on LinkedIn, got herself on Twitter, Pinterest, and Snapchat, and started a blog. A hiring manager at Aruba, a wireless equipment maker owned by Hewlett Packard Enterprise, read the blog, and after five months without a paycheck, Rodriguez got another sales training job.
In an effort to keep her twenty- and thirty-something colleagues thinking of her as an older sister rather than a mom, she goes out of her way to socialize in the break room or at company events. That’s where Reddit and IMDb come in handy. “If you bring up Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music, all conversation will stop,” she says. “You’ll be viewed as an outsider.”