What to Do if Your Age Is an Issue in a Job Interview

Interviewee and interviewer

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In this day and age, it is rare for an interviewer to ask a direct question about the age of a candidate. Asking how old you are, even in a roundabout way, is just something an interviewer is expected to avoid when conducting a job interview, as it is discriminatory and indicates ulterior motives. However, age discrimination remains a significant issue for many older job seekers.

How to Respond if an Interviewer Seems Concerned About Your Age

An unethical or untrained interviewer could pose a direct query about your age. Occasionally, a recruiter might fish around with questions that might yield some insight about your age, like asking when you graduated from college. In many cases, it is common for interviewees to sense some concern or hesitation on the part of the interviewer.

It isn't just the presumption that an applicant is "too old" that is a concern for employers. Rather, it is the assumption (often an erroneous one) that older employees will lack in some critical qualities which will impact job performance.

Common negative assumptions by employers about older workers include:

  • A lack of energy and therefore slow performance
  • Health issues
  • An inflexible approach to changing circumstances
  • Being out of touch with current industry trends
  • A poor grasp of the latest technology
  • An inability to relate to younger workers
  • An inability to relate to those from diverse ethnic backgrounds

Younger candidates are also subject to this question. Interviewers may be trying to determine how low they can go concerning their starting your salary.

Volunteer Information to Counteract Assumptions About Your Age

When it appears that the interviewer has concerns about your age, the best approach is to volunteer information that will counter those assumptions.

Use questions like, "Why should we hire you?" or "What are some of the key strengths that will enable you to excel in this job?", as an opportunity to show the interviewer that you are not only qualified but have all the other assets the employer is seeking.

Emphasize Your Skills

Older candidates who can reference examples of long hours worked on critical projects and quantitative measures of productivity can easily counteract assumptions about lack of energy. By emphasizing creative approaches to problem-solving, older workers can demonstrate their flexibility and their ability to adjust to new challenges.

Older applicants should also present a clear pattern of engagement with professional development activities and reference the latest industry trends to allay fears that they are out of touch. Discussing any leadership roles with professional groups and conference presentations can go a long way to proving this point as well. Older candidates should make sure that they refer to any technology expertise which they have cultivated, especially knowledge and skills acquired recently.

Share Examples

Whenever possible, offer positive examples of teamwork and/or customer contact with a diverse mix of colleagues and clients (concerning age and cultural background). Stories of how you successfully managed or mentored younger co-workers can effectively illustrate this point. On the flip side, sharing stories about how you successfully worked for a younger manager can help, too.

Be Careful About Bringing Up Health Concerns

You don't need to mention good health directly because you may bring up an issue that isn't in the mind of the interviewer. However, if you have a solid attendance record, you could mention that you have missed few, if any days, and can be depended on to show up for work and to be on time. Sometimes, mentioning active hobbies like running, skiing, spinning, and dancing during the less formal stages of an interview can demonstrate vitality and a high energy level.

If the Interviewer Still Asks About Your Age

If the question, “How old are you?” still comes up, there are ways to get around revealing your age. Calmly, shift the focus to the skills and abilities you can contribute based on your experience. Here are some examples of ways to frame up your answer:

  • "I've worked in this industry for many years and will not be slowing down anytime soon. Former employers have embraced age diversity. Am I right in thinking X Company shares the same philosophy?"
  • "My years of experience and continued passion for learning and growing would certainly make me an asset to your company. For the sake of clarity, are you asking my age for a specific reason that I should be aware of?”
  • "If you don’t mind me asking, is there a concern about my skill set or education in relation to this position? I’m confident that my experience and abilities make me completely prepared for this role. And I’d love to briefly highlight some projects that directly apply to this position as well as the great results I achieved."
  • "My age has never been a problem. In fact, my level of experience and maturity would help me contribute a great deal to your company. May I ask you to elaborate on any concerns so that I can fully understand them and explain how I can meet your needs?"

After your response, note if the interviewer withdraws the question or realizes that it’s inappropriate. How they react to your assertive answer will say a great deal about both their integrity and the company’s underlying philosophy on diversity. Though it may feel uncomfortable, know that having this clarity is of utmost importance to your job satisfaction. 

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