You don’t often face overtly illegal questions about age at job interviews anymore, but the question of age is always there, even when it remains unspoken.
If you sense that your age could be an obstacle in the mind of the interviewer, how do you address the issue without appearing confrontational? Here are some strategies to help you turn the liability into an asset and leave the interviewer with a positive impression.
You know an interview is drawing to a close, when the interviewer asks, “Do you have any questions?” This is a golden opportunity to tackle the issue head-on by saying, “Sherrie, 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 informed 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 cooperate 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. Here are some sample responses you can tailor to your situation:
“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. Statistically, people stay on jobs for about four years. 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 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 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.”
“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.
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.