Tell Me About Yourself….Interview Tips for the Over-40 Applicant

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Closing in on a new job? Interview strategies and tips for the KAA-Boomer applicant.

You’re over 40, maybe even over 50 or 60, and you’re looking for a new job. Maybe you want to advance your career, maybe you want to scale back your hours or want less pressure, maybe you’ve tried retirement and miss working, or maybe you’ve been downsized. Whatever your reason for being on a job hunt, it’s probably been a few years since you’ve been in this position. You know times have changed, so you’ve revamped your resume and are ready to take on the interview process. But that’s changed too. For a start, you’re likely going to be interviewed by someone much younger than yourself, and you’ll be facing all sorts of stereotypes about older individuals and their abilities in today’s workplace.

Here are some tips to help you persuade interviewers that your age is an asset and that you are the perfect candidate for the job.

Take stock of your appearance

It may sound shallow, but first impressions count, especially in the workplace. Looking mature is fine, looking old is not. If your suit or hairstyle looks 10 years out of date, interviewers will wonder if your skills are out of date, too. Whether you’re male or female, you should consider:

  • investing in a contemporary but age-appropriate business wardrobe.
  • carrying your portfolio in a contemporary briefcase.
  • getting a professional to style or colour your hair. Don’t do it yourself because the results can look fake or unnatural.
  • investing in new eyeglasses.
  • staying fit. It’s more important to come across as a high-energy person than looking younger. Exercise, eat right, and get enough sleep. And if you’re overweight, shed the pounds.

Watch your body language and posture

Appearing confident, energetic, and agreeable in an interview situation is vital for any job seeker, but it’s especially important for older candidates.

  • Give a firm, confident handshake not too limp but not bone-crushing either.
  • Sit up straight and lean slightly forward in your chair. This projects your interest and engagement. When in doubt, take cues from the interviewer.
  • Relax. Don’t fidget.
  • Maintain eye contact.
  • Don’t sit with your arms crossed. This can make you appear unfriendly or arrogant.
  • Show your enthusiasm by keeping an interested expression. Nod and make positive gestures in moderation.
  • Smile. Younger people can be intimidated by older, more experienced individuals. A friendly open expression will establish a relaxed conversation.

Stress your willingness to learn

Mature workers still face the stereotype that they aren’t willing to learn new things and don’t possess up-to-date skills. You can counter this.

  • If you’ve taken courses and attended workshops, seminars, conferences, and other professional development events throughout your career, make sure the interviewer knows.
  • Stress that your technological skills are up to date, particularly as they relate to the job you’re interviewing for.
  • Reassure the prospective employer that you sought out and paid for learning opportunities on your own, if applicable.
  • Convince the interviewer that you are more than willing – and would enjoy – getting up to speed in any areas in which you may be lagging.

Subtly suggest that your work ethic is unsurpassed (in possible contrast to that of younger workers).

Be sure prospective employers know that your references will vouch for your reliability, hard work, and stable employment record.

Convince employers that your maturity is an advantage

Your maturity is an advantage because your experience makes you an expert problem-solver. Having successfully survived difficult situations, different work environments and different teams, older workers can apply their knowledge and experience to make better judgments than a young person might make. Explain that maturity and experience have taught you to keep an open mind to better or more appropriate ways to solve a problem.

Stress your maturity and interpersonal skills

Your maturity is an advantage because you are able to deal with people of all ages and backgrounds. Difficult clients are less likely to make you flustered or upset. You’re able to “roll with the punches.”

Be prepared for hard questions

Be prepared for interview questions that might be inappropriate, difficult, leading, and borderline or downright illegal.

When interviewers ask: They mean: Your response:
Where do you see yourself in five years?
What are your long-term goals?
Is this job a bridge to retirement?
How long are you going to stick around?
If you’re obviously over 50, deal with the retirement issue head on. Reassure the interviewer that you are excited about this position, have a lot to contribute and that you plan to continue working for a long time. “I can’t imagine not working. I love what I do.” or “I don’t want to retire because I enjoy the social engagement.” Keep it positive and enthusiastic.
Don’t say, “I’m not retiring because I can’t afford to.” Or “What else am I going to do?”
What are your salary requirements? We can’t afford you. Respond with a cool, noncommittal answer. If pressed, give a salary range based on your research. For example, “I’ve researched the salary range for this position in our area and have found the typical salary range to be $60,000 to $75,000. Is this what you have in mind?”
Aren’t you overqualified for the position? We can’t afford you.
You won’t fit in with our younger employees
Include only the past 10 to 15 years of relevant experience on your resume. Emphasize your strengths and accomplishments, not the length of your experience. Remember to stay positive and address the real reason the interviewer is asking the question.
I have a friend who graduated from McGill. When were you there? How old are you? It is against the law to openly ask you how old you are so some interviewers will try to pry the answer out of you in other ways. Respond with humour. For example, “Oh, sometime in the last millennium!”  Or just avert the question with “I’m extremely energetic and committed to my field and expect to working for a very long time.”
If pressed, call them out (with a smile). “If you want to know how old I am, I am old enough to have amassed extensive experience and skills.”
Whatever your response, keep it positive, no matter how annoyed you might be.
This position requires tremendous stamina and the pressure can be intense.
This is a fast-paced environment.
We often work long hours.
You’re too old.
You won’t be able to cut it.
Use this type of question as your cue to discuss your drive, energy and enthusiasm. Give specific examples using the STAR technique, where you describe the Situation, Task, Action and Result. Also keep in mind that this type of question reveals clues about the job’s demands, hours, deadlines and overall expectations.Focus on your physical pursuits – tennis, sailing, running, golf – that give the message that you are fit, healthy, and energetic.
How would you describe yourself?
Tell me about yourself.
I don’t think you’ll fit in with younger workers or won’t take direction from younger managers. Give examples from your professional and personal life that highlight your enthusiasm for new projects, enjoyment of working in multi-generational teams, passion for life etc. For example, “I’ve learned from every manager I’ve had.”Again, give examples of your energetic lifestyle to dispel any notion that you can’t keep up with younger workers.
You haven’t worked in a while. I don’t think you can handle this job. Give a brief synopsis of what you’ve been doing during this time – upgrading your skills, volunteer work and so forth – and what you’ve learned from these activities. Stress that you may not have had a paying position, but you’ve never stopped working.

If you’re returning to the workforce or just looking for part- time work, you still need to express enthusiasm and commitment. Don’t say you’re bored or need something to get you out of the house or that you need extra money or that you’re lonely, employers are looking for the same attributes in an employee whether you’re young or old, full-time or part-time: engagement, a good work ethic, commitment, enthusiasm and ability. And like any job applicant of any age, it’s up to you to sell yourself and convince the interviewer or interviewers that you are the perfect candidate.

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