Archive for interviews

Busting the Myths of Age in Your Interview

In my previous post, “Three Ways to Avoid Age Discrimination with Your Resume”, I discussed ways to tailor your resume so that employers would not assume you are too old for the job. Those techniques can improve your odds of landing an interview, but it does not completely erase the potential for age discrimination. Once you are face-to-face with a hiring manager, you can’t hide those gray hairs. You must prove to the hiring manager that you have the advantage of experience and NONE of the perceived disadvantages.

Employers fear three primary myths about older workers, and it is up to you to bust those myths in the interview:

  1. “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” – Managers often believe that older workers are more set in their ways, and that only younger workers are comfortable learning new skills, particularly technology skills. Unfortunately, many of us DO know older workers who perpetuate that myth every time they say “Oh, my kids understand all that techie stuff, but I could never get the hang of it.” Dispel that myth in the interview by slipping in mention of the social networking sites you are active on, the blog you write, the web site you have created, or some other current technology you have recently learned to use. Be prepared with a recent example of how you quickly mastered a new technology, new process, or new certification.
  2. “Older workers aren’t comfortable taking orders from younger managers” – Prepare an example story of a strong, positive working relationship you have had with a much younger manager or co-worker.  Don’t talk about how you “showed them how it’s done”, but instead focus on the valuable perspectives and respect you exchanged and gained from each other.
  3. “Older workers won’t put in the long hours” – Let’s face it, many companies like hiring younger workers because they seem more ambitious, more energetic, and less encumbered with family commitments. It’s easier to expect them to work those 80-hour weeks. While I would not recommend signing on to a company where 80-hour weeks are the norm, you should let a potential employer know that you are ready, willing, and able to put in extra effort when the need arises. Come prepared with a recent story of a “crunch time” where you had to burn the midnight oil to get the job done.

One other caveat – be careful not to let the conversation inadvertently stray into areas that emphasize your age difference. For example, if the hiring manager talks about expecting a first child, don’t start talking about your grandchildren.

Once you have busted the myths of older workers, then you can emphasize some of the positive attributes – experience, maturity, perspective, and responsibility – that give you an advantage over the younger competition.  Your years of experience are valuable to an employer. Don’t let their myths keep them from seeing your full value.

What Should I Ask in the Interview?

Preparing questions to ask the employer is the first and most important thing you should do before an interview. Realize that you are going into the interview to make a sale. A good salesman never begins his pitch by just talking about the product. He asks questions of his potential customers to understand their needs and hot issues.

In addition, it is at least as important for you to determine if the job is a good fit for you, as it is for the employer to determine if you are a good fit for the job. So, you should come in with almost as many questions for them as you expect they would have for you.

Finally, don’t wait until the end of the interview to start asking questions. The most effective interviews are ones where there is a conversational back-and-forth interchange between the interviewer and the candidate.  That starts in the first few minutes.

Here are 10 of the most useful and important questions you can ask the interviewer:

  1. Is this a new position or am I replacing somebody? – Early in the interview, you want to know if this position is due to company growth (good), replacing somebody who was promoted (also good), or replacing somebody who was fired or quit (not so good).  In any case, it sets the stage for asking about the goals for a new position, or about potential changes compared to the previous job holder.
  2. What are the most important skills for this job? – Of course you should have thoroughly analyzed the job description beforehand.  But it can also be helpful to hear the interviewer’s perspective on which particular skills he or she views as THE most important for the role. Then you can better position your accomplishments to demonstrate those key skills.
  3. What do successful employees here have in common? – This not only gives you more perspective on the traits you should emphasize about yourself, it also gives you insights into the company culture as a whole.
  4. What is the biggest challenge for our team in the next six months? – Knowing something about their challenges and headaches can give you ways to position yourself as the needed solution. Note also that the question uses the term “our team”, which subtly gets the interviewer to think of you as already being a team member.
  5. What would you want me to accomplish in my first six months? How will we measure success? – You want to know their clear expectations for performance in that role, and how it will be measured.
  6. What are the different career paths? What training is available? – Asking this question shows the interviewer that you are interested in staying with the company for the long haul, and are up for bigger challenges. However, save this for a little later in the interview. You don’t want to give the impression that you are not interested in the current assignment.
  7. How would you describe your management style? – Just as the hiring manager will want to know your work style and what motivates you, you need to know how he or she manages and motivates team members.
  8. How would you describe the company culture and values? – Remember, you are not just signing up to fill a job description. You have to evaluate your fit in the organization as a whole. Do you share the same values that they do?
  9. How long have you been with the company? What attracted you here? – This is a great question to build rapport with any interviewer. Getting them to talk about why they came here can give you more personal insights into what makes the company worth working for.
  10. What do you like best about working here?  What do you like least? – Like the previous questions, these questions deepen rapport with interviewers, by getting them to share their personal experiences.  Ultimately, the candidate who is most likely to get hired is not always the most experienced one, but it is usually the one the interviewer most TRUSTS to do the job.

Do not, however, make the mistake of asking about salary, benefits, vacations, flex time, salary, etc. during the interview. They need to know you are interested in the challenges of the job, not the perks.  They will give you that information in due time, hopefully when they make you an offer.

In summary, remember that a good interview is a conversation, not an interrogation. Use it as a chance to size them up and build rapport, in addition to selling your skills and experience.