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The Ohio Department of Aging

Ohio Department of Aging Boomerang: It all comes back to you!

Boomerang: It all comes back to you!

My Community - September 2010

Was it something you said?
While interviewers can't ask your age, they will still want to know about it

Federal law prohibits employers from considering age in hiring decisions, but that doesn't mean they won't ask about it. For example, most employers, upon seeing gray hairs on a job candidate, will not immediately set out to determine how old you are for the sole purpose of eliminating you from consideration, but they may ask probing questions to determine if your apparent age will have an impact on your ability to contribute to the organization. These questions can provide an opportunity for you to debunk a few myths about older workers and turn perceived negatives into positives.

Most employers, upon seeing gray hairs on a job candidate, will not immediately set out to determine how old you are.Here are some assumptions about seasoned workers that many hiring managers may make, based on your perceived age:

  • You are settling for less because you can't do better, or you are just looking for a place to wait out retirement.
  • You have lost your edge, have outdated skills, are less flexible and are unwilling or unable to learn quickly.
  • You are overpriced and overqualified.
  • You won't be satisfied with the available position and will want more, in terms of responsibility, than the company can give.
  • You won't project the right image for the company, or could cost more in the long run.

You know that these stereotypes don't apply to you, so it becomes your job to make sure the interviewer figures this out as well. Instead of disproving these misperceptions, which can be nearly impossible to do if they are deeply ingrained, focus on selling the positives, such as life experience, relative career and home life stability, high motivation and professional connections. Most importantly, catch yourself if you start buying into the myths, and never underestimate or undersell your value.

Do not, under any circumstances, go into a job interview unprepared. Know as much as you can about the company, the industry, the job and the person or people with whom you are interviewing. You can find out much of this on the Web, but also can glean a lot of useful information by calling ahead and asking questions. Armed with this information, you can present your skills and experiences in a way that directly shows the employer that you can do the job well.

Be prepared for age-related questions, such as:

  • "What are your long-term goals?"
  • "Where do you see yourself (or your career) in 5, 10 or 15 years?"
  • "What are your salary requirements?"
  • "Are you able to cope with fast-paced working conditions?"
  • "Can you work late if we need you to?"
  • "Why are you applying for this job when you can do better?"

While honesty is usually the best policy, it may be best to employ a little deflection in your responses to questions like these. Emphasize the achievements you hope to make or the skills you hope to acquire or pass on to co-workers. Reassure the interviewer that you are excited about the job. Know the current salary range for that position and use those numbers if the salary question comes up. Emphasize strengths and accomplishments, not the length of your experience. If it seems obvious that the interviewer is concerned about your age, keep a sense of humor about it, but don't make fun of yourself.

The single best thing you can do in an interview is relax. Divorce yourself from the notion that the only goal of an interview is to get the job. An interview provides many opportunities to enhance your job search and further your career. You have a rare opportunity to converse with professionals in your desired field, learn more about available jobs and get to know people who might know people who are looking for someone just like you. If you appear to be at ease and confident about your ability to help the company, the interviewer may just find himself feeling that way, too. Even if you don't get the job, you may gain one more link in your network, which can ultimately lead to job search success.