It can be difficult if you’re aged 50+ and are looking for a new job. Here’s what to do if you want to turn your next interview to your advantage.
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Did you know? When you meet someone new face-to-face you only have seven seconds to make that first impression. That is all it takes. In the time it has taken for you to enter, shake hands, say hello and sit down, the interviewer has already made several assumptions about your character and suitability for the job.
So, no pressure.
The next thing to know is that it takes a considerable amount of time to reverse a bad first impression — more time than you have in an interview process. It could take months. So, you need to get it right first time.
Now, you have been around long enough to have a pretty good idea of why you didn’t get a job that appeared to be made for you. They think you are ‘too old’, ‘over qualified’, ‘too expensive’, ‘technologically incompetent’, ‘tired’ or ‘unable to work for a younger manager’.
These are the common biases that employers have about those of us who are aged 50+ and it is now your job to change their minds. And you have to do it all in an interview.
So, here is a guide to avoiding the eight most common mistakes made by mature-age job seekers:
1. Look the part
If you don’t look up-to-date, you will have immediately aged yourself. You need to look like you belong in that workplace, which means the smartest suit you can afford for a corporate environment, or something that shows an awareness of style at a place that is more relaxed (such as a technology company).
That goes for hair, make-up and jewellery too. If you are not sure, get advice from someone who has some experience, especially if they are in the age group of the people likely to be interviewing you. Your recruitment consultant, hairdresser, boutique shop assistant or adult children may help.
It is a fine balance, looking age-appropriate, up-to-date and interesting. Get it right and you are instantly ahead of the game.
2. Ban brick mobile phones and hotmail
Do not take a daggy old phone to the interview. Borrow someone’s fancy new smartphone if you have to (get a quick lesson first on using it convincingly) and leave it on the desk as you do the interview.
Turn off the ringer when you sit down and their first impression will be that you are comfortable with new technology.
The personal email you use may also tell them a lot about you. For a lot of companies, Hotmail and Yahoo addresses will mark you as a tech dinosaur. Set up a new Gmail address that sounds professional but do not add your birth year. One look at you and your email address Johnbrown58@gmail.com tells them exactly how old you are.
3. Use the right lingo
The words you use can carbon date you. Job names have changed over the years. You may be talking to the head of ‘People and Performance’, rather than Human Resources so don’t comment on ‘the strange new title’. Act as though you have heard it all before.
Depending on the job, familiarise yourself with the buzz words. You don’t have to pepper your conversation with them (it is better to just understand what they mean), but you have to be able to talk about things such as social media marketing without smirking.
Start looking for expert social media bloggers or dedicated ‘influencers’ on LinkedIn who blog about the area you want to work in and take note of the terms they use and how they use them.
4. Make the most of LinkedIn
For corporate jobs, if you don’t have a LinkedIn profile, you won’t even get a look in. Get a professional looking photo of yourself that looks like the best version of you, in colour, smiling. Taking a good snap of yourself on a phone is fine and suits the relaxed atmosphere of LinkedIn.
Don’t go back longer than ten years in your work history and talk about key achievements in those jobs, rather than listing your responsibilities.
Bring a modern smart phone with you to the interview, and leave it on the desk
5. Be ‘high energy’
You have to give the impression of someone who is full of the joys of spring. But do be curious, enthusiastic and friendly. Watch your posture. Show humility.
It doesn’t hurt to pretend to yourself that the interviewer is the most interesting person you have met all week — it will show on your face. But don’t be too eager, act as though you are someone who is fielding a number of opportunities and you are definitely not desperate.
6. Working for younger bosses
You know they are wondering if this is going to be a problem, so forestall them by mentioning a former boss or colleague that you enjoyed learning from. Drop in a reference that indicates they were “Gen Y”, or a woman who took time off to have her first baby, or not that long out of university.
7. Can they afford you?
If you think they might be worried about your salary expectations, do some research to get an idea of what they may be prepared to pay. Ask a recruitment consultant, use your network of contacts to find out the going rate and don’t be afraid to ask the interviewer.
If the amount is lower than you thought, and you want the job, let them know you are prepared to be flexible. There are other ways to structure it, you may negotiate for more holidays, reduced hours or other non-monetary benefits that are valuable to you.
8. Answering tricky questions
You need to be honest and authentic in your answers, but also strategic.
If you are asked your greatest weakness (aside from realising that the interviewer is not very original), you should talk about how you identified a weakness (one that wouldn’t preclude you from the job you are going for) and then developed a plan of action that helped mitigate it. Then, it looks like a strength.
If you are asked if you are over-qualified, you can acknowledge your experience and tell them how much you enjoy doing the work that the job requires.
If they ask why you have been out of work for so long, remember that you are a successful person and there are any number of reasons you could take a break from work, including taking care of family (but best not to mention grandchildren), travelling, renovating a house, indulging in a hobby. You don’t need to let them know that it has been tough.
Have you felt as though you were being unfairly judged about your age during an interview? Let us know below.