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Head Off Age Bias in a Job Interview

Be prepared to answer these four questions.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This article was originally published in the May 2011 issue of Kiplinger's Retirement Report. To subscribe, click here.

Your résumé rose to the top of the heap, and you made it through preliminary screenings. Now all you have to do is ace the interview. Job interviews can be nerve-racking, especially if you haven't been on one in many years. And, as an older applicant, you may have to prove that your age is not a drawback.

But if you know what kinds of questions you'll be asked and you have savvy answers ready to go, you'll be several steps ahead of the game. Here are four questions you should be prepared to answer on your next job interview.

Do you have the energy and skills to get the job done? Stereotypes that older workers are slow or out of touch do exist. Bill Coleman, a vice-president at, says you can combat that stereotype before you even open your mouth by dressing in polished and modern attire. That doesn't mean you should borrow clothes from your grandchild -- you can look current in age-appropriate clothing.


You can also demonstrate that you are energetic by walking briskly and speaking enthusiastically, Coleman says. Another tip: Pulling out your iPhone or Blackberry to turn it off before the interview begins will send a message that you have embraced current technology.

Of course, you will want to offer plenty of examples of your professional accomplishments. However, it is critical that those examples be recent and tangible, says Bruce Hurwitz, chief executive officer of Hurwitz Strategic Staffing, a New York City executive-recruiting firm. You may be proud of the major client you landed two decades ago, but that is unlikely to impress your interviewer. Instead, Hurwitz recommends giving an example from the last few years, such as, "in 2009, I increased sales 500% to $175 million."

Why are you reentering the workforce, and what have you been doing during your time off? If you were laid off, took some time off to care for a sick spouse or are going back to work for financial reasons, you can be honest about that. What’s more important is how you’ve spent your time away from the office, according to Mary Greenwood, author of How to Interview Like a Pro (iUniverse, $15).

If you've been volunteering or working in your industry as a part-time consultant, talk about the experience you've gained from those endeavors. You can show that you are up-to-date in your field in subtler ways, such as using the latest industry jargon. "Mention a cutting-edge book you've read, or make reference to some new industry regulations," Greenwood says.


Why are you willing to accept a demotion or lower salary? You indeed may be overqualified if you have worked three decades in your field. Greenwood says you can turn your experience into a selling point. She advises saying: "I've done everything in this field. I saw this job, and this is the part I enjoy the most, so for that reason I am willing to take a pay cut."

If you've been out of the workforce for a few years, Charles Purdy, a senior editor for, says to admit you have a few things to learn and therefore are willing to take a job with less prestige and a lower salary. Purdy says to reframe your career move in a positive way by saying something like, "I don't think of this as a step back; I think of it as a step to the side."

Will you fit into the company's culture? This is a question that you're unlikely to be asked directly, but one that you can be sure is on your interviewer's mind. "On paper, everybody can do the job, so they're going to pick the person who seems like they're going to fit best with the boss," says John Challenger, chief executive officer of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, a staffing and career counseling firm based in Chicago.

Even if the person on the other side of the desk is young enough to be your child, that doesn't mean you can't establish an authentic connection. You may discover that you and your interviewer share the same hometown, love skiing or have volunteered for the same charitable organization. You can learn a lot about your potential employer before the interview by researching him or her on professional networking Web sites, such as LinkedIn.