Overcoming Ageism to Win the Job Interview
(Part 1 of 2)
As someone who works with well-established professionals and execs, I notice a big difference in the way a 50+ job seeker describes their concerns v. someone in their 30s or 40s. For example:
“It’s been years since I’ve had to even look for a job—I know the job-hunting landscape has changed. And I just turned 50, so there’s that.”
“I’m interviewing, but I’m not getting offers. I’m really wondering if my age is a factor.”
These are legitimate concerns, yet the current climate and outlook for older workers is positive. Consider this: 35.5 million workers ages 55+ make up 23.1% of the US workforce. The same group filled 49% of 2.9 million new jobs gained in 2018.*
Older job seekers can leverage these conditions, overcome biases, and address the elephant in the room by understanding the job interview questions that support thinly-veiled ageist stereotypes and learning how to finesse responses so the focus is on your skills, not your age.
Here’s a list of 5 interview questions to prepare for:
”What are your career goals?” or “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?”
For younger workers, this question is a way to explore dedication to the company or to the profession. For those 50+, it’s a bigger question. The interviewer may think you’re not going to stick around long or that you’re going to retire soon.
Assure the interviewer that you’re passionate or devoted to your work, and that you plan to stay.
“I’m excited about this opportunity because I can leverage my strength in program management to broaden you community outreach. I plan to stay, contribute, and continue to grow as much as possible.”
What are your salary requirements?
Yes, this question can come up at any age. But when you’re an older job seeker, the concern is that you’re going to be too expensive. And this question may come up sooner in the process than usual.
Your goal is to show that you’re interested in the position, want to be paid the competitive market rate, and that salary is just one aspect of the bigger picture of working at the company.
Answer the salary question with a question:
“What is the range for this position? Then, after they answer, you can say, “If you decide I’m the person for this job, I’m sure you’ll make a fair offer and we can come to an agreement.” If they press for you to reveal a number first, then prepare to give a well-researched range.
If you’re at your career peak, your salary may indeed be higher than a younger candidate, so it’s important to weigh whether you’re willing to compromise in order to compete.
“What is your level of aptitude with technology?
The hiring manager wants to know that you’re as up-to-speed on technology as younger workers. Show that you stay current on the technology for your functional area of expertise and industry. If you do lack certain expertise, then focus on what you DO have.
“I’m proficient in X, Y, and Z technologies. Right now, I’m building my knowledge in (application name).” Or, “My most closely-related expertise is with A, B, and C technologies.”
”Tell me how you work as a member of a team with wide-ranging experience and personalities.”
The ageist twist on this question is that you may not be adaptable in working with managers or peers who are younger than you.
Talk about your experience working with people of all ages and demonstrate your adaptability with specific examples.
“I enjoy working with people of all ages—we can all learn from each other and come up with the best solutions because of our multiple perspectives. I’ll collaborate with my team—whatever their age or job level—to meet the goals of this department.”
“You seem overqualified. Why would you want this position with less responsibility than you had before?”
If your interviewer thinks that you’re too senior for the role, then maybe you won’t be challenged enough or satisfied with the job at hand. This is another “Will (s)he stick around?” question.
Convince your interviewer that you’re coming in with your eyes wide open and are being intentional about applying for this position. Reply in a way that doesn’t sound self-serving—like you’re pursuing the role so you can relax and have less stress (even if that’s a driving reason). One reason older job seekers “take a step down” is to get back to doing the work they really love.
“I’ve had the chance to work in leadership and hands-on roles, and both experiences have shaped the professional I’ve become. I’m ready to get back to a client-facing role, instead of managing people who do, which is the work I enjoy doing the most.”
*Statistics from the AARP and the Bureau of Labor Statistics
How to Overcome Ageism to Win the Job Interview – Part 2 will address things you say—or don’t say—that can reinforce ageist stereotypes, different perspectives of millennial v. older recruiters, what to wear, and general success tips.
I’m Dalena Bradley, job interview and career marketing coach dedicated to helping you communicate your value, stand out from the competition, and win the job!
Contact me to discuss how we can collaborate.