When the Interviewer is Younger than Your Own Kids

in Working

If you’re a working KAA-Boomer (born between 1946 and 1964), you may have noticed that the people who are making significant business decisions are getting younger and younger.

Many older job seekers now regularly find themselves being interviewed by recruiters or managers who are 20 years younger than they are – often the same age as their children!  So how does an older applicant manage this situation and turn a potentially negative experience into a positive one?  Try using these tips:

  1. Papa, don’t preachOlder employees sometimes unintentionally talk down to their younger co-workers and this can spill over into an interview situation, especially if the older candidate thinks he or she has more experience than their possible new boss, or if they think the interviewer isn’t interested in understanding what they can bring to the organization.To ensure this doesn’t happen, answer questions succinctly and then provide more extensive information through conversation. This tactic is called Tell-Ask-Talk.

    In Tell-Ask-Talk, you respond directly to what you’ve been asked and end with a question. This allows you to engage the interviewer in a conversation where you can both express thoughts in a more informal context.  For example:

    Interviewer: Tell me about yourself.

    Interviewee: As my resume shows, I’m a communications specialist with 20 years of experience, excellent writing skills and a great work ethic. But I also have extensive research experience and graphic design skills – will these bring value to this position?

    Interviewer: Your research skills will be critical, but our marketing department handles all graphic design requests. What we need in this department is someone with great media contacts, can write amazing press releases and who can provide our executive team with some media coaching.  Have you done any of that?

    This method allows the younger hiring manager to articulate important aspects of the job and allows both parties to remain respectful of each other. In fact, Tell-Ask-Talk is a good interview technique for any applicant.

  2. Emphasize relevant experienceDon’t put every single job you’ve ever had on your resume. In fact, don’t put anything on your resume or discuss anything that you did that dates back more than 10 years — unless they are extraordinary or the only example of experience you possess that meets the employer’s needs.And don’t date your educational accomplishments because, let’s face it, you probably graduated from college before the interviewer was born!

    When mentioning a past accomplishment, talk about it as if it happened today.

    During the interview, focus less on your decades of experience and more on what you can offer the company.

  3. Emphasize your flexibility and creativityOne of the stigma older workers face is that they’re rigid in their thinking.There’s an attitude out there that to be able to “think outside the box” and come up with truly original ideas, you must be under 35.  So it’s important for older candidates to give examples of their flexibility and creativity.
  4. Show excitement and energyAnother stigma against those over 40: that they’re less energetic and more cynical.To dispel this, answer each question with enthusiasm. Make sure he or she knows of certain aspects of your personal life that demonstrate an energetic outlook – such as being an avid tennis player or skier – and provide plenty of examples from your professional life that do the same.

    Make sure your appearance reflects energy as well – that you’re wearing age-appropriate but stylish clothes, that your eyeglasses and hair reflect today – not 1980, and that your teeth (which yellow with age) are white. And watch your posture. Slouching and shuffling are interpreted as being tired and old.

  5. Do not be defensiveDon’t say anything that hints of defensiveness, such as “I may be older but that doesn’t mean I can’t do the job!”Instead, show that you’re open and adaptable by saying things like “Thanks to my years in this industry, I was recently asked to lead a workshop on the emerging technologies that will transform the way we design this product….” You’re noting your extensive experience and that you possess the very latest skills – a powerful package.
  6. Show respect to your interviewer’s position, regardless of ageUnderstand that many younger people don’t process information in the same way that older people do. The younger professional has grown up in a culture of fast eye/brain coordination and many think in shorthand. This doesn’t mean that they’re being disrespectful to you or missing important points you’re trying to make. It simply means that they digest information faster and work in a culture that is much more attuned to your young adult children than to you.So, what to do? Respect that your young interviewer is in that job because he or she earned it.  Trust them to listen to you with respect and remember that you would not be in that interview if the organization didn’t believe in your ability to bring value. Many young hiring managers are far more tolerant and engaging of older workers than you may think.

    Regardless of whether you feel you’re connecting well, mid-way through your interview ask how you’re doing. Young adults are accustomed to checking status and progress. Don’t be afraid of an honest answer. This will allow you to continue in the right direction or to make adjustments and save your interview.

  7. Use your interview as an opportunity to learn about the culture of the organizationOne of the great things about younger interviewers is that they’re not afraid to question or of being questioned. They embrace inquisitiveness and see it as part of a creative and constructive process.Use your interview to learn more about the company. Find out if the person interviewing you is a wunderkind in the organization or one of many. If you’re joining a company with many young managers, you’re going to need to embrace the youth culture and adapt to that organization’s style.

    During the interview, ask about this with excitement and show your genuine desire to be a part of it.

A final thought

No matter how you believe your interview has gone, once you’ve completed it, do the old fashioned thing: express your thanks and follow up with a written thank you to everyone you met.

Some young professionals appreciate the personal touch of a handwritten thank you that is personal to them, while others live in e-mail, so ask which method they’re prefer you to use when following up.

Either way, a sincere thank you is always professional, indicates a continuing and genuine interest and shows the young professional you appreciate their time and interest.

Barbara Jaworski is Canada’s leading expert on boomers, chief KAA-Boomer of the Workplace Institute and author of Rebel Retirement – A KAA-Boomer’s Guide to Creating and Living an Explosive Second Act.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Anna Zappia October 7, 2011 at 12:00 pm

Thanks for these tips. They really reinforce information received from my company-provided transition counsellor and give new ideas for consideration. It is very difficult to express some of your suggestions in the written format, so that the resume submitted entices the younger hiring manager away from assuming you’re old and decrepit! Many of your thoughts are really appropriate for any age group for good interviewing practices. The stories I could tell you about some of the Millennialists’ attitudes before, during and after interviews – very disrespectful, demanding, vocal about their expectations and not very open to an organization’s needs or expectations. When did that become acceptable?
But, back to us Boomers… One issue I am having some difficulty with, oddly enough, is whether or not to dye my hair!!! I have come to accept and like the way my hair is greying and many people say I look at least 10 years younger than my current age, even with the greying. So, should I be myself and leave it untouched or should I invest in colorants?
Love to hear your thoughts on that adn this would hold true I think for men too.

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