Savvy Strategies For Overcoming Unspoken Age-Bias

Martin Yate CPC
35 Years in
Career Management
You don’t often face illegal questions about age at job interviews anymore, but the age question is always posed, even when it remains unspoken. When common sense tells you that your age is being used against you, leaving the interview without addressing the issue and making an argument in your favor is folly. The challenge then becomes, “How do I deal with it?” Here is a strategy to help you turn this liability into an asset.

When and How to Address Age Discrimination
There are two occasions when you should address age discrimination. The most obvious is towards the end of the interview, when the interviewer gives you an opening with, “Do you have any questions?”
Tackle the issue head-on by saying, “Jack, if I sat in your chair looking at me, a seasoned professional, I’d have a bunch of age-related questions that I couldn’t ask, but I know that you can’t make an intelligent decision without taking all the issues into account.
“If I were sitting where you are, I’d be considering issues like energy, drive, and manageability. I’d wonder how well you’d get on with a team where everyone looks to be X-years younger. I’d be thinking about your keeping current, keeping up, and fitting in.”
When you so accurately target a hiring manager’s age-related qualms, you make points for your candidacy. You can then proceed as follows.
“Allow me to answer these questions. I just turned _____. That gives me x years in the profession, and y years doing this job. In those years I’ve gained considerable problem-solving experience. I’ve made my share of mistakes, but I’ve done them on someone else’s payroll.” Smile, then continue with a selection of the following points, personalized to your background and experience.
· “I have x years’ experience doing exactly what needs to be done in the job. The job is about problem identification, prevention, and solution in the area of _______.” Give one personal and one group triumph, examples that show you (and the group) working to solve the problems that get in the way of your department contributing to profitability.

· “Crunches happen even in the best-run departments. My x years’ experience means I have a frame of reference for possible causes and solutions. I have the knowledge and the commitment to do whatever it takes to meet the challenges we face individually and as a team.” Give an example relevant to the profession and your job: “You’ll find me a calm, steadying influence, someone who doesn’t get flustered, and who is totally committed to getting the job done, no matter what effort it takes.”
· “Turnover costs the company money, gives you extra work, and can make you look bad. Statistically, people stay on jobs for about four years.Hire another thirty-something and you know that she will constantly be haggling for promotions and possibly your job, and will probably be gone in four years. “I might be a good reason to try something different. I’m sick of change, I’m technically current, and I stay that way.” Give examples of how you keep current. “I’m not looking to change again, and even if I retired at 65 you’d still have me x times as long as someone younger.”
· “I’m not looking for a promotion: I really like this job. This is work that I want to do, not a stepping-stone to greater things, as will be the case with many of the other candidates. I don’t want your job; I want this job, and I’m not looking to change again in four years. I want to find a first-class team, settle down, and, over time, earn my place as a trusted member of your inner circle.”
· “You’ll come to see me as someone who is a positive influence, someone you can rely on to do the work, someone who can be trusted, and most of all someone who will have your back in all things and at all times.”
· “A manager’s job, first and last, is to get work done through others. Experience has given me the maturity and understanding to know that when I do my job well, I make my boss’s job easier. Most younger candidates don’t know this, and even when they do, they don’t realize how crucial this insight is to smooth office functioning.”
· “I will bring balance to the team. If all your customers/clients are in their twenties, most will be reassured by my maturity, plus I will naturally resonate with older customers/clients because of the experience and maturity and I offer.”
· Then finish with, “There are benefits to hiring me: I’m competent, conscientious, calm, motivated, and experienced. You asked whether I have any questions? I guess my biggest question is this: I want the job [why], I can do the job [why], and I want to be on your team. What do I have to do to get the job?”
You really can bring all these benefits to a hiring manager and a department. Take the time to think about each of these points and personalize them to your profession and work experience. The result will be an ability to share some unusual benefits that only you can offer.
If you feel the interview is being influenced by age concerns, don’t wait until the end to address it. Without telegraphing your apprehensions about the interviewer’s bias, you can tack these earlier comments onto the end of any one of your answers.
Age Discrimination Gives You a Unique Opportunity
Customize this strategy to your profession and experience and you will do more than answer that hiring manager’s unspoken question: you will make a series of unique arguments in favor of your candidacy. Interviewers are more likely to see you as a unique and special asset—an experienced professional who is unusually perceptive, balanced, focused on the issues.
Implement this strategy and your confidence will increase; you’ll be making good arguments for your candidacy, and it may well help you turn one or more of those job interviews into job offers.

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Martin Yate
Copyright 2013
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  • Anonymous

    I understand the age discrimination issue from an older person’s standpoint, however how do you combat age discrimination in the opposite direction? I’m 26 (officially working as a manager since 24 unofficially since 21) and my coworkers/interview panels keep looking at me oddly because they have children my age. My youngest peer is mid to upper 30s. I actually had one ask why they should hire someone three years older than their child. Since the question was entirely ludicrous I responded with “simple I’m the only one who got the second interview (the front desk told me so and I didn’t have to ask) so obviously there’s something you liked. So go with how you feel.” I got that job and ended up leaving for a full-time position two years later but I’ve noticed there’s a big reaction when they realize the nearly ten years experience equates to a 26 year old.

  • Anonymous

    Bold strategy, Martin. This is an example of one who is confident in their ability and prepared to address the “elephant in the room.” Thank you for taking the time to share it with us.