Four Interview Lines That Make You Look Too Old

I don’t know how prevalent age discrimination is. I do know that many of my middle aged and older friends seem to be having problems finding the next gig. They tell me that today’s hiring managers don’t give experience adequate respect.

I’m not so sure.

The world gives confusing messages about age. Beatles songs are still incredibly popular almost 50 years later. But then, managers in their late 20s seem to spend all of their time texting. Kids still wear peace signs and tie-dye. Information used to be hard to find. Now it’s on your phone at your whim. In the family, elders are respected. In business, agility is preferred.

Today’s company is streamlined, data driven, performance oriented, increasingly transparent and accountability centered. Hiring organizations want and need people who embrace new technology, enjoy learning by making mistakes and are willing to give new ideas a try. A person who has all the answers, avoids taking risks, has more wisdom than sense or wants a direct conversion of experience into seniority or status is dead weight.

When they interview older people, hiring managers are looking for clues that the candidate can perform at the same level (or better) than younger people. It’s not so much that they are discriminating. They are wary because the stereotypes come from real experiences.

So, it’s up to you to prove that your age is an asset.

Here are some phrases that are likely to derail your job hunt. Avoid using them in interviews. More importantly, wrap your brain around the fact that these phrases are symptoms of hardening of the attitudes. That’s what employers are really trying to ferret out.

Back In The Day (BITD)…

The further you are from your astonishing experience, the less relevant it is. Being able to say that you have been mowing grass since before there were lawnmowers proves that you’re old. Knowing that you were the Omaha’s most famous landscaping contractor BITD will help the interviewer dismiss you. Prior glory is almost always code for ‘hasn’t done much lately’.

When I was with…

Lots of companies come and go. Don’t bore your interviewer with old stories from companies they’ve never heard of. Make your experience relevant by comparing it to a contemporary problem. When I managed those contracts in the 80s, I learned some valuable things about subcontracting. Always translate your experiences into value for the interviewer.

Here’s how we used to solve that problem…

Technologies change very rapidly. Make sure that your examples of problem solving, change management or organizational success involve solutions that are still relevant. Better yet, distill your experience and apply it to the problem at hand. Move from how it used to be done to what you would do now.

That new approach will never work

What works in organizations and in business is a mystery and a surprise. The conventional wisdom has been wrong over and over again. You can almost bet that the thing that used to be impossible will be possible in the morning. Never, ever let your experience lead you to tell an interviewer that something is impossible. Be delighted that it could work.

Whether or not age discrimination is the problem, your job is to persuade the interview team that you will improve the culture, that things will be better because you are there. Focus on the company and the work.