Job Interview Tips for Older Job Seekers

Interview Tips and Strategies for Older Workers

Senior man being interviewed by blur business people
laflor/Vetta/Getty Images

It’s not legal (or ethical) for employers to discriminate against job candidates based on age.  However, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. Employer perceptions about age do often influence hiring decisions.

When there is a large applicant pool, as there is for many jobs, it can be hard to prove your age was held against you because there are many candidates who apply for every job.

However, if you are an older job seeker there are steps that you can take to help minimize the impact your age might have on your interviewing success.

Interview Strategies for Older Job Seekers

First impressions matter. Your appearance is definitely an issue, especially for jobs where candidates are often younger than you.  Make sure your interview attire is in a current style.  Pay attention to skirt length, tie width, lapel width, color, and fit. Keep in mind that appropriate interview attire may not be what you wore in the past.  If you’re not sure what to wear, take a look at these fashion tips for older job seekers, speak with a stylist or knowledgeable sales person and consult friends and family who are younger than you.  

Fix your hair. What you look like shouldn’t matter, but it does. Your hairstyle is another factor to consider when cultivating a more youthful appearance.  Talk to a stylist about a more youthful cut that is still age appropriate.  Consider coloring your hair to get the gray out and take years off your appearance.

Consider your experience an asset.  One way to capitalize on this asset is to bring a portfolio of relevant projects to your meeting and turn the interview into a show and tell experience.  Older workers might also showcase their experience by thinking of the interview as a consulting engagement.  Be ready to discuss some of the problems and challenges which such an organization might face and some of the solutions you envision.

Get the right tech skills. Most jobs have taken on a heightened technological profile in the digital age.  Employers looking for candidates who have the latest skills may fear that older workers will not keep up with technology trends.  Make sure you know what technology is most valued in your target field, take steps to master it and be ready to share how you have applied this technology to your work.

Get references ready. Securing written recommendations from past supervisors and offering them as evidence during or after the interview can be a useful mechanism to prove that you respond well to supervision of all kinds. Talk to prospective references to discuss some of the age-related perceptions you are trying to combat and discuss ways that they may be able to support those efforts in their recommendations. 

Focus on the future. Older candidates who are forward-looking about their professional life will have an advantage over those who appear to have already achieved their goals.  Be prepared to speak enthusiastically about what you hope to accomplish in the next phase of your career within the context of your target job and employer. 

You’re not ready to retire. Employers often fear that older workers are biding their time until retirement and will be less aggressive about learning what they need to know to excel on the job.

 You can counteract this possible perception by designing, carrying out and communicating a professional development plan during the interview.  Be prepared to discuss seminars, workshops, professional meetings and online tutorials which you have completed recently and what you have learned. 

Refresh your interviewing skills. If you haven't interviewed in a while, you may be surprised that interviewing has changed. Many interviewers now employ ​​behavioral interviewing techniques.  You will need to provide examples of how you have applied sought after skills in various projects and roles.  Employers are also now more focused on evaluating how candidates have produced results and impacted outcomes. So you will need to review each of your past jobs and be prepared to describe situations where you applied relevant skills and the results which you generated.

Address being overqualified. If you are downshifting your career, as many older workers do, employers may view you as being overqualified for the job you’re applying for. You can combat this perception by clearly describing your enthusiasm for the specific duties associated with the work.  It will help if you can reference how satisfying it was for you to carry out similar functions in the recent past. Here’s a selection of interview answers for older applicants.

Address being unemployed. Unfortunately, being unemployed can impact your chances of getting hired. So, if you have been out of work and are an older applicant you have two strikes against you. Here are suggestions for how to respond to interview questions about being unemployed.

Show your willingness to work for a younger manager. Employers may have concerns about the willingness of older workers to take direction from younger supervisors.  You can reassure employers by sharing examples of how you have thrived under the direction of younger managers.  Your opening may come when asked about your ideal supervisor.  Here's how to respond to questions about working for a younger manager.

Keep it positive. It can be discouraging when it seems like what you’re doing isn’t working. Consider each interview another chance to get hired and do your best to be upbeat. Your posture and body language provide an opportunity to exude energy and vitality.  Stand up straight, practice having a spring in your step and reach out to all the people you meet with enthusiasm. Make sure your voice is vibrant and not monotone. Think about projecting an energetic aura at all times. Here’s how to stay positive during a job interview.