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Ageism at the Interview

Linda Wiener

For many job seekers, the interview is the most difficult part of the job search process because of its impact on the hiring decision.

An interview is similar to a sales meeting, only you’re forced into an unfamiliar marketing position where you’re both the salesperson and product. You usually have less than half an hour to convince the interviewer that you’re the best candidate for the position.

Part of convincing an interviewer you’re right person for the job is your ability to demonstrate that you will be a good fit in the organization.

Addressing Long-Term Employment

Surprisingly, long-term experience with one company may be an albatross when you’re searching for a new job. While dependability and loyalty are still valued, in today’s marketplace, the average stay at a job is less than three years.

While age is a qualification for some occupations (e.g., pilots, firefighters, bus drivers, etc.), chances are you’ll have to redefine your skills and experience to better market them to prospective employers to win in an interview.

Because some employers may have a negative view about extended service with one company, be prepared for questions about your ability to deal with change or how well you can adapt to a different corporate culture during the interview.

Facing a Younger Interviewer

Being interviewed by someone much younger than you can add unexpected stress. This is very common in today’s marketplace, and many interviewers are skilled at masking their personal thoughts and feelings. So it’s quite possible that an older candidate can test a younger person’s core beliefs about aging. Be prepared for the possibility of encountering trick interview questions or having to address unspoken biases.

While it may be in poor taste for an interviewer to ask age-related questions, in some instances it may not violate employment law. For example, “How old are you?” is not necessarily an illegal question. If you really want a position, though, and think an interviewer’s question may have been motivated by poor judgment rather than negative age perceptions, temper your responses accordingly.

If an interviewer asks your age and does not hire you or labels you as overqualified," you may have recourse under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act. However, if you’re not offered a position because another candidate was better qualified, that may very well be the case –- the hiring manager may have gone with a candidate who had more relevant work or academic experience. If that happens, it may be time to self-assess and retool.

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