Don’t let ageism in the workplace stop you from landing your next job.
It can be frustrating to deal with both the job search and interview process in general. Add concern about age discrimination in the workplace to the mix, and it can feel like a never-ending, uphill battle. Unfortunately, age discrimination is prevalent in our society. A 2014 Bureau of Labor Statistics survey on AARP reported that 64 percent of workers have seen or experienced age discrimination in the workplace, while 58 percent of adults believe age discrimination begins among workers in their 50s. With one in five U.S. workers clocking in at 55 or older, these stats can seem disheartening. Still, with the right mindset and interview strategy, there are ways to overcome age discrimination during the interview process and prove that you are the right candidate for the position, regardless of your age.
How can you handle an illegal interview question when it's asked?
In 1967, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) was signed into law to forbid ageism in the workplace against anyone 40 or older. Any interview question that asks about your age or infers how old you are is illegal for interviewers to ask — period. Many interviewers know to avoid those questions, yet some will still ask some variation of the question, "How old are you?"
If this happens to you, you have a few options:
1.) You could respond with, "That's an illegal interview question to ask, and I'm not going to respond to it." This is a valid response, though it likely won't win you any brownie points towards a second interview.
2.) You could respond by sharing your age and leaving it at that. This approach isn't going to get you very far in the interview process either.
3.) The third option is to respond with your age and immediately follow up with the benefits your age can bring to the job position. For example, "That's an interesting question. I'm forty-nine, and as such, I've seen a lot of ups and downs in this job market, and I'm familiar with how to handle these high and low periods. I've had plenty of time to make my share of mistakes during my career and face many of the issues that arise in departments like this, which puts me in a position to support the team and quickly handle difficult situations should they arise." This type of response shows how you add value to the position and organization, which helps to take the focus away from your age.
Avoid screaming how old you are
It's common to be nervous during an interview and say things to distract from this nervousness. Be yourself and remain calm while avoiding sharing things specific to your age, like joking about how old you are or saying things like "I am old enough to be your [father, mother, grandparent, etc.]."
Consider your wardrobe and overall presence
Avoid interview faux pas that will show your age, like men wearing pleated pants or someone dressing up too much (depending on the company culture). Research the company and its culture to get an idea of what's appropriate to wear to your interview.
Also, taking a little extra effort to update your appearance can go a long way in an interview. Update your hairstyle and makeup, get your teeth whitened, and make sure you're clean cut and shaven. You don't want to be someone you're not, but you do want to look your best.
Listen to what the needs are, and effectively market your experience
Put yourself in the interviewers' shoes, especially if they are younger than you. The last thing they want to hear is how great you are and how much better you can do the job than they can. You might not even intend to come off that way, but if you're sharing all that you've accomplished during your career, it might intimidate the interviewer in this scenario. Instead, use your maturity to ask questions and listen to what the needs of the organization and department are. Doing so will allow you to choose specifics from your experience to share that can address the needs mentioned.
If the question about your age doesn't come up, yet you sense it's an issue, you could choose to bring it up yourself. You might say, "I'm sure you have a lot of questions about my age and how that might impact my ability and drive in this position. My years of experience allow me to be quick on my feet with the knowledge to handle situations quickly and efficiently ..."
To further "sell" your age in a positive light, you might share that you have more time and flexibility in your schedule now that your kids are grown, and you would love to focus and put extra energy into everything that's required to get the job done effectively.
As you explore the adventurous landscape of interviewing, see your age as an asset, rather than a liability. Doing so gives your interviewer the opportunity to easily see those assets, too. Going in with the right mentality, while utilizing the tips above, will emphasize your skill set and strengths for the interviewer while taking the focus away from your age, thus helping you combat age discrimination.
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