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Jeff Spirer, 61, poses for a portrait in San Francisco, Calif. A tech marketing and strategy veteran, he's rejected suggestions that he undergo cosmetic surgery. (ROBERT GALBRAITH/REUTERS)
Jeff Spirer, 61, poses for a portrait in San Francisco, Calif. A tech marketing and strategy veteran, he's rejected suggestions that he undergo cosmetic surgery. (ROBERT GALBRAITH/REUTERS)

Silicon Valley’s dirty secret – age bias Add to ...

Fluid intelligence, which allows people to think logically and solve problems, does deteriorate with age, behavioural scientists say. But another type of intelligence known as crystallized intelligence, the ability to tap into experience and amassed knowledge, improves somewhat until about age 65.

The conventional wisdom about young people being more focused on work is itself a stereotype, older executives say.

“I have more time than a 35-year-old with a newborn,” says Mr. Spirer, the marketing veteran. “And I’m more available. Judgments are made on age-related stuff without thinking it through.”

Laurie McCann, an attorney with retiree lobby AARP, says the technology sector’s obsession with fresh ideas and long hours leads people to fall back on easy assumptions about age.

“That older people can’t work that fast,” she says. “That they can’t think on their feet in order to come up with the ideas.” Further assumptions include inability to change on the part of older employees, or to get along with younger people.

Other fields, such as law, education or health care, also value creativity and hard work, she says, but less so than a track record. “Any field where experience is valued, I think you’re going to find less instance of discrimination,” she says.

Silicon Valley veterans try to adapt as best they can. Mr. Adams of Socialdial ticks off a list of faux pas that he believes peg older job seekers as outsiders. “You can’t have an AOL e-mail,” he says. “That’s horrible. A Gmail address is okay. What’s really cool is an e-mail with your name on it,” as part of the domain.

In person, older job applicants should carry a backpack, not a briefcase, he says. Avoid BlackBerrys and Dell laptops in favour of Android phones and Apple products. And above all, steer clear of wristwatches, which most younger people have replaced with the clocks on their phones. “The worst would be a gold Rolex,” he says. “Tacky, and old.”

Some recommend dressing young. For her first interview at Facebook, 40-something market researcher Sally Sadosky headed to a boutique popular with women 20 years her junior for advice on “something to look hip” and “blend in.”

She ditched her tailored pants and blouses for a dress, tights, and biker boots. She then got second and third interviews and had to come up with more hipster outfits. “I was beginning to sweat,” she recalls. She eventually got the position.

Mr. Adams recommends getting rid of grey hair, either through dyes or through shaving, as he did. He also believes in treating wrinkles or other skin-related signs of age. A few years ago, he underwent an eyelid lift to reduce sagging above his eyes.

The cosmetic surgery route seems increasingly common among the men of Silicon Valley. Roy Hong, chairman of the Palo Alto Medical Foundation’s plastic surgery department, says men represented 14 per cent of his customers last year, up from 9 per cent a decade ago.

Still, the scalpel is where some draw the line. Mr. Spirer complains that his friend Mr. Adams, buoyed by eye-surgery success, is hounding him to undergo a similar procedure for a more youthful image and enhanced job prospects.

No go. “I’m Jewish,” Mr. Spirer says. “I’ve had bags under my eyes since I was 25.”

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