Turn Age into an Advantage During the Interview

by Rachel Vilsack

Yesterday we covered some common interview questions and how you may want to prepare your answer. Not all interview questions are legal. Employers are prohibited from asking certain personal questions during a job interview. Questions like “are you married?” and “what is your national origin?” are not allowed before a conditional offer of employment. However, employers may legally ask questions that allude to the answers they are interested in, including “are you willing to travel?” and “do you have the legal right to work in the United States?”


The Issue of Age

A common issue for mature workers is interview questions that directly – or indirectly – deal with age.


Specific questions about your age or date of birth are not allowable during a job interview, but a potential employer might infer some information from your resume or application material, if it asks you to provide dates of employment.


On a resume, this information is yours to control. Instead of providing exact dates of employment, you might offer a number of years of experience. Consider using a functional resume which highlights skills and experiences, rather than dates of employment. Make sure the skills are relevant to your career objectives, and show the employer how your extra experience can be valuable to them.


During a job interview, you may need to deal with stereotypes about older workers and address these directly with the employer. One perception is that older workers are slower to catch on to technology or new workplace cultures or rules. Reassure the employer that you are a quick learner and comfortable with change. Describe the technology or computer skills you have or the steps you’ve taken (like a workshop or class) to improve your skills.


Questions and comments on age can go both ways. Be mindful that you don’t dominate the interview by attempting to show what you know. Pay attention to your language, too. If your interviewer is younger than you, it does not mean that he or she doesn’t have experience or expertise in their field. Avoid using phrases that point to a perceived inexperience, like “you’re not old enough to remember this…”


The Choice is Yours

Deciding which questions and how to answer them is ultimately up to you. I’ve met job seekers who’ve shared their interview experiences where age discrimination is present. While I sympathize with their frustration, I always point out that it did teach them one thing; they were able to cross one business off their list of potential employers.


If you believe you are the victim of age discrimination, you can contact the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or learn more from the Minnesota Department of Human Rights.


Check out this  post on how job seekers with less-than-perfect work histories or criminal records can approach difficult interview questions. 


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