by Leslie Rothman
As job seekers prepare for interviews, a common fear among the young and old is that their age will be held against them. In reality, age is usually not a factor and the reason for not being selected is due to a mismatch of work experience, motivation or attitude relative to the job requirements.
Although age-associated biases do exist, most interviewers understand the legal ramifications of asking age-related questions and avoid them.
For the interviewee, a concern over age can become a self-fulfilling prophecy, generating enough anxiety to create an obstacle to interviewing success. It can also be an excuse which hides the true reasons for lack of success in interviews.
Strategies to help you handle this concern:
1. Demonstrate behaviors that dispel beliefs
2. Separate “over or under qualified” issues from age
3. Assume age is your asset, not a liability
Rather than trying to change a bias, focus on common stereotypes that accompany it:
Regarding older workers
- You can’t teach an old dog new tricks – not adaptable and unable to learn
- Older people aren’t up with current technology
- He/she is just looking to ride it out until retirement
- They’ll tell you how to do your job, because they’ve been there
Regarding younger workers
- Young people are irresponsible
- They don’t have a clue, but they have an attitude
- A young person won’t stick it out – and I’ll have to hire and train again
Address potential concerns by preempting them. Create your own list. Ask friends about negative beliefs that they’ve heard. For each belief identified, come up with a specific example that demonstrates how your behavior is different, such as how you’ve successfully adapted to a variety of work environments or changes in work situations. Develop a response that demonstrates ongoing interest in learning new ideas and incorporating new approaches.
If you’re a younger applicant, have examples that display perseverance, commitment, and responsibility, in a past work or school situation. Be ready to incorporate them into responses to interview questions such as:
- Tell me about your strengths
- Why should I hire you?
- How would your co-workers describe you?
- Tell me about yourself
Be honest with yourself and others. If you really aren’t responsible or up with new technology, don’t bend the truth. Instead, develop an actionable plan for improving in these areas.
Acknowledge when your qualifications may not fit the position requirements and separate this from your feelings about age bias.
A younger person recently told me she believed her youthful appearance (i.e. age) was being held against her. When I asked about her work experience, she admitted she had been a stay-at-home mom and had no outside-the-home work experience (no easy-to-translate track record). This was at the heart of her lack of success, not her youthful look.
Similarly, when a position requires 5-8 years of experience and an individual with 20 applies (and happens to be the age of 50) the issue is most likely that the applicant has significantly more experience than the skill, responsibility or pay level of the position.
Identify Positive Attributes
Think about positive attributes of your age, and develop responses and examples that demonstrate them.
For the more senior applicant
- Maturity – emotional and intellectual
- Seasoned – broad understanding of organizational politics, variety or depth of experiences
- Sense of Self – clarity about what is important, balance, self-awareness
- Role model – less need to prove self, eager to support others
For the younger applicant
- Energy and Drive – a desire to accomplish a lot
- Fresh Ideas – a willingness to explore totally new perspectives
- Positive Outlook – a belief that that anything is possible
These exercises will help you believe and sell a strong, confident and upbeat image – young or old.
To quote Henry Ford, “Whether you believe you can or you believe you can’t – you’re right.”