By Martin Yate
While questions about age rarely get asked (they’re illegal, as if you didn’t know), that doesn’t stop the curse of age discrimination playing out at job interviews. It can occur when you are in your 50's, 60's, and older, but it can also occur when you are in your late 30's and 40's.
With age comes experience, a wider frame of reference and greater steadiness, but these invaluable assets can also create blind spots that trip you up – which makes dealing effectively with the whole issue challenging but achievable.
Walk over to the other side of the desk, in your mind, and think about interviewing a candidate ten or more years your senior who’s telling you how much s/he knows. You can easily feel intimidated, worrying about "old dogs and new tricks." Warning sirens about manageability start wailing.
This typically happens because, as job seekers, we are exposed to this discrimination. So, we try every way we know to show how good we are.
Unfortunately, by trying to show that we can leap tall buildings with a single bound and stop speeding bullets in the palm of our hand, we can overcompensate and unwittingly come across as a know-it-all and a potential disruptive influence.
The psychological insecurity that inevitably comes with facing age discrimination, leads to behavior that coupled with our typical responses can create problems rather than solve them.
Where does this leave you after an interview? Quite possibly feeling defensive, angry and increasingly hopeless. Not a recipe for success. What if there was another way?
Start by using your maturity to consciously manage your feelings and reactions, while staying alert for opportunities to counter age-based prejudice. This usually comes in two flavors at interviews, spoken and unspoken; dealing with both in new ways can make a big difference.
Let’s get the spoken discrimination out of the way first.
The blatantly illegal, "How old are you?" doesn’t happen very often, but -- if it does -- you could say, "That’s an illegal question, and I’m not going to answer it."
However, this response rarely results in a job offer. Remember that whatever happens at an interview, you are there to get a job offer and in the process help transform one of your weaker skills into a strength.
A different response might be, "I’m forty-nine." Okay, but this doesn’t do anything to advance your candidacy.
"It’s interesting you should ask. I just turned forty-nine. That gives me X years in the profession, and Y years doing exactly the job you’re trying to fill. In those years I’ve gained experience dealing with all the problems we face in this department (illustrate with an example). I’ve made my share of mistakes and learned from them (pause), and all on someone else’s payroll (smile). I guess the real benefit of my experience and energy level is my ability to…"
Then, finish with a benefit statement(s) about the problem solving skills your experience brings to the job.
Even when age related questions remain unspoken, they are invariably still in mind. So, you have two options:
You can weave in the following ideas at appropriate times during the interview, but if not before, then when the interviewer asks towards the end, "Do you have any questions?"
You can personalize your answer along the lines of:
"Jack, if I sat in your chair looking at me, a seasoned professional, I’d have a bunch of age-related questions that I couldn’t ask. I’d be considering issues like drive, manageability and how well I’d get on with a team where everyone looks to be X-Y years younger, and I’d be thinking about my ability to keep up, skill and energy wise."
Then proceed, as in the previous example, with the benefits that your experience and maturity allow you to bring to the job. You can add any of the following as they relate to the job:
"My experience means that I have already lived through countless crises (be ready with an example that shows you in a good light). They happen in even the best-run departments, but with me you’ll know I’ve already lived through them and know how to handle them calmly, and perhaps my steadying influence can help bring the team together in trying times."
"The average professional stays in a job four years, and the younger your workforce, the faster the turnover. Employee churn is disruptive to meeting the department’s deliverables and that effects your reputation as a manager. Hire another Young Turk and you know that s/he will likely be gone in four years - after constantly haggling for raises and promotions."
"I don’t want your job. I want this job, and I’m not looking to change again in four years. I just want to find a good team, settle down to the work, and, over time be seen as someone you can count on, someone who will stand at your back at all times."
Make statements like these, above, in your own words, and you will do more than address that despicable, but almost always present, age discrimination issue:
Better than crossing your fingers and hoping they see all this - without you saying it.
Successful careers don't happen by accident. Professional resume writing expert Martin Yate CPC is a New York Times best-seller and the author of 17 Knock Em Dead career management books. As Dun & Bradstreet says, "He's about the best in the business." For FREE resume-building advice and to view Martin's resume samples, visit the Knock Em Dead website. Join Martin on Twitter at @KnockEmDead and also on Google+.