I hated writing that title. There is not some big GONG! that sounds at age 50 shutting us out of opportunities. But ageism and stereotypes are common, so if you’re older you’d be wise to adopt strategies to reduce the drag that these mindsets can have on your interview success.
Age discrimination can occur regardless of the interviewer’s age, but the viewpoints and expectations of Millennial- and Gen Z-aged hiring managers may make interviewing more challenging for older candidates.
Ask yourself what your goal is. To enlighten interviewers and eliminate ageism? Good luck with that! To show them you’re the right person to hire? Now there’s a goal you can reach.
Having coached many job seekers for whom age was a concern – and being over 50 myself – I can share some suggestions that will help you get the job you want at any age.
First, assess whether your age is even an issue.
Let’s assume that some of your target employers tend to expect, and maybe even prefer, a certain age range. Do you know what that range is?
You may have a sense of this already. If you do, and you’re older than that, then yes, this post is relevant to you.
If you’re not sure, let’s think about it a little. Since age discrimination is illegal and employers are unlikely to admit they prefer a certain age, we have to do some educated guessing here. Questions to consider:
- What’s the typical age range you’ve seen among people in your line of work?
- When you look at job postings, how many years of experience do they tend to mention? Do you have way more than that? A few years more than required is probably a plus. Twenty years more may be a problem.
- On the other hand, the years of experience posted may be just a minimum. What age would someone probably need to have reached in order to have accumulated all the abilities called for in the posting?
- Think about the company you’re interviewing for. Do you have reason to think their employees are younger or older than most? Look to Glassdoor, word of mouth and the overall online image of the company for clues.
What stereotypes might you need to work against?
A stereotype is defined as “a widely held but fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a particular type of person or thing.” Many of the stereotypes about older people have been shown by research to be mistaken.
Nevertheless, negative stereotypes persist. Many people have the idea that older people are unhealthy, lacking in energy and enthusiasm, memory-impaired, unproductive, set in their ways rather than innovative, uninterested in learning new skills, uncomfortable with new technologies, out of touch with new trends or resistant to following younger leaders. They may believe you aren’t really interested in the work but are just looking for a paycheck for a few years until you can retire. They may think you won’t be willing or able to work long hours when necessary.
How can you counteract those views?
You can demonstrate that the stereotypes don’t apply to you.
Look healthy. As much as possible, be healthy. Are you exercising enough, sleeping enough, eating nutritious foods? Beyond these basics, both women and men can looking healthier by using a facial exfoliant, moisturizer and quality hair products to create a healthy-looking glow. Good posture also conveys vitality. (I find that the only way I can maintain good posture is by regularly doing an upper-body-focused exercise routine. Just “trying to stand up straighter” only works for about three seconds.)
Convey energy and enthusiasm. Develop stories from your recent work history about successes you accomplished that demonstrate energy and passion. For example, tell about wins you achieved by going above and beyond requirements, working hard or working quickly, motivating others with your enthusiasm, and so on. Go above and beyond in interviews by being better prepared than others, e.g., by researching the company and industry thoroughly, and/or by preparing a 30-60-90 day plan. And be ready to talk about career goals. If you aren’t interested in getting promoted, that’s fine, you can still show an interest in learning new skills and taking on additional responsibility
Show you’re still sharp. If you tend to forget dates and figures related to your work, review them thoroughly before interviewing. Take a few notes during interviews and then review and add to them immediately afterwards, so that your thank you notes and subsequent interviews are well informed.
Prove you’re still highly productive. Be prepared with specifics about all you’ve accomplished in your current/recent roles.
Show that you’re innovative and creative by telling relevant STAR/SOAR stories.
Update your skills. A new certification or coursework not only improves your abilities but shows that you’re a lifelong learner, still in high gear and not downshifting! There are so many online courses and tutorials. Free-trial subscriptions to various tools and applications can give you a chance to study them for a month.
Embrace new technologies. If you’re a bit techno-phobic I sympathize, but pulling out a paper datebook or mentioning “I’ve never used Zoom before” won’t exactly give you a tech-savvy image.
Keep up on the relevant trends for your profession and industry. Join professional associations and groups. Read work-related blogs and news.
Show you’ll work well with younger colleagues and a younger boss. Show respect and gain rapport by listening actively, asking good questions, and keeping your own answers focused and concise – usually a minute or less. Rambling at great length is a trait people may associate with bosses – or with that elderly uncle who monopolizes dinner table conversation every Thanksgiving. Show you won’t dominate conversations.
Don’t call attention to age differences with remarks like “I guess this dates me, but…” or “younger people like yourself.” It’s not that you need to hide your age, but going out of your way to point to your age – or worse, the interviewer’s – will distract from what’s relevant and can easily come across as patronizing.
If you’re willing to work evenings and weekends, say so. Give examples of times when you’ve pulled a long haul to complete a project successfully and on time. This will go a long way to show you’ll fit into today’s open-ended work life.
If you don’t want to work evenings or weekends, try describing how your efficient, focused working methods have made that extra time unnecessary. If you can’t sell that to employers, look for companies that place more value on work-life balance, or consider a different line of work that’s a better fit.
Capitalize on what the years have given you.
There are also positive stereotypes about over-50 professionals: that we’re mature, trustworthy and stable, with good judgment–in other words, wisdom. Think about what you’ve gained from experience. Have you solved so many problems over the years that you’ve become a go-to for troubleshooting and turnarounds? Have you learned to remain calm and competent while others are losing their heads? Develop interview stories that vividly illustrate these valuable abilities.
Keep it all in perspective.
There’s hardly any job seeker who doesn’t have something that may count against them in interviews. Maybe it’s their lack of a certain skill, or a gap in their work history, or their funny-looking nose, or that they say “basically” too often. Your age is only one factor. And not every interviewer is ageist. Many will perceive you positively as a seasoned pro.
And remember, overcoming age discrimination is only one aspect of getting ready for interviews. Make sure your overall interview preparation is top notch, and you’ll have every possible advantage over the under-prepared competition – whatever age they may be.