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When the Job Interviewer Thinks You're Too Old

If you're over 50, here's what to say to convince a hiring manager that you've got what it takes

By Paul Bernard | October 28, 2012
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Paul Bernard is the founder and principal of Paul Bernard & Associates, an executive coaching and career management consulting firm based in New York City.

As many 50-plus job hunters are sadly discovering, age discrimination is alive and well among hiring managers. But as an executive coach and career management adviser, I’ve found that far too often people use their age as an excuse for not finding work.
 
How to Land a Job After 50
 
The truth is that you can land a good position after 50 if you know how to overcome the perception during job interviews that you’re too old. In fact, I have three clients in their 60s who found high-paying and meaningful jobs in the past year. Granted, they had to work harder than my 25-year-old clients. But they were successful by being persistent, resilient and resourceful.
 
(MORE: How Women Job Seekers Can Beat Age Discrimination)
 
The best way to combat age bias is to make sure interviewers have no doubt that you've got the drive, enthusiasm, dedication and focus of a younger worker as well as valuable skills derived from your years of experience. You’re nimble and have a background that will help an employer save money and avoid making mistakes.
 
7 Things to Say in an Interview
 
Here are seven ways to play up your strengths and convince the interviewer that you’re not too old:
 
1. Prove that experience has taught you when (and when not) to take risks. Politely tell your interviewer that while younger employees may have a tendency to act on instinct alone, you combine intuition with a veteran’s eye for risk analysis.
 
Explain how your career has taught you the importance of due diligence before making important business decisions, perhaps by recounting a situation where your input helped redirect the misguided initiative of a younger, less experienced colleague.
 
For instance, a client of mine is the chief operating officer at a small logistics firm, where a young senior marketing manager decided to change the firm’s logo without consulting anyone. After my client noted that the logo switch could lead to significant stakeholder risks and internal political issues, it was changed back. My client, to his credit, had quickly snuffed a couple of fires before any significant damage was done.
 
2. Note that you’re an innovator, but not someone who's constantly looking to reinvent the wheel. One of the workplace stereotypes about people over 50 is that their best ideas are behind them — they’re not nearly as inventive as their younger colleagues. Blast this myth by recounting a recent time when your fresh idea proved to be a winner.
 
Did you find a new way to cut costs and improve departmental efficiency? Recast your company’s marketing strategy to incorporate new trends in social media? Introduce software to streamline  operations?
 
On the flip side, let your interviewer know that years of experience have also shown you that some tried-and-true methods can save money compared with newer, unproven alternatives. For example, to improve the accuracy and timeliness of financial reporting at his professional services firm, one of my clients came up with a “quick and dirty” solution that saved the company from buying an expensive new software package that would have cost $2.5 million and required hundreds of hours in training.
 
3. Demonstrate that you’re flexible. Prove that you’re far from the stereotype of the rigid, unyielding boomer. Highlight a time when you addressed a challenge that fell outside the realm of your official job description or approached a problem in a nontraditional way. But temper this discussion by saying that you’ve also learned over the years how essential an established system or process can be.
 
(MORE: 4 Toughest Job Interview Questions for People Over 50)
 
The latter is especially important at small- to medium-sized companies that are experiencing growing pains. You might want to discuss, for example, a case where you set up a management system that made a former employer more efficient without losing its creativity. 
 
4. Explain that you’re skilled in social media, but also know the importance of one-on-one connections. Be able to speak fluently about the strengths and weaknesses of social media applications and how you’ve used this technology in the workplace. One of my 50-plus clients recently launched a Twitter presence for her boutique architecture firm that has kept the company current on industry trends much more efficiently.
 
If you need social media pointers before your interview, read Shelley Palmer’s insightful book, Overcoming the Digital Divide, or take an online class with an organization known for its social media courses, like mediabistro.com.
 
Emphasize that you’ve also come to appreciate the all-important business skill of person-to-person interaction. Talk about how you’ve networked to land new business for your employer or to build strategic joint ventures.
 
5. Highlight your collaborative skills, but make sure the interviewer realizes you know how to make tough decisions on your own. Another stereotype about 50-something employees is that they do well only in structured, bureaucratic environments where the various levels of a firm’s organizational chart don’t always mesh.
 
(MORE: Hometown, Pa.: A Case in Finding Work Over 50)
 
Tell your interviewer that you see great value in collaborating with a wide range of workers, especially younger employees. Recount a project that necessitated buy-in from people throughout the company and how the project benefitted from your role in fostering effective teamwork. Maybe you’ve mentored young associates or had a 20-something colleague act as your reverse mentor, teaching you new skills.
 
Don’t forget to note that you understand a manager must lead and make tough decisions when necessary and that you’ve done this throughout your career. 
 
6. Enthusiastically point out that you embrace change, but also know that change can be difficult. Bring up an example of how you realigned strategy at a previous employer to complement updates in the firm’s technology or management structure. But note, too, that real change takes hard work and patience.
 
7. Finally, create the impression that you’re high-energy and loyal. Debunk the myth that baby boomers are slow-moving; let your interviewer know that you have no problem working long nights and weekends, when necessary, describing a recent time when you went beyond the call of duty. Talk about how much you like to be challenged, thrive under pressure and are looking for a position that will push your boundaries.
 
If asked about hobbies, be prepared to talk about any physical activities you do in your spare time. Also point out that you're not planning to retire anytime soon and have no interest in bopping around from job to job. Stress that, unlike some younger members of today’s workforce, you understand the importance of loyalty.

Tell the interviewer you’ve come to appreciate how cultivating a deep relationship with an employer can lead to a richer, more fulfilling work experience. That’s the kind of commitment that just might land you the job.


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