Those of the baby boomer generation, job hunters aged 50-plus, face major job hunting challenges. One is a culture gap between themselves and Generation X hiring managers who are in their thirties or forties. Highly seasoned job hunters often give younger hiring managers the perception they are interviewing their parents. How can baby boomer job hunters overcome stereotypes and see their employment interviews result in job offers?
According to Mary Ellen Williams, author of “Land the Job You Love: 10 Surefire Strategies for Jobseekers Over 50,” the most common stereotypes younger interviewers have about older candidates are:
- Settling for the job and will soon leave when they find a better one
- Lack some of the skills of their younger competition
- Lack energy and enthusiasm
- Not flexible enough for today’s workplace
How can you effectively deal with these stereotypes?
Hiring managers may or may not ask you directly if you don’t think you are over-qualified for the available position. If you are asked, come up with anecdotes that indicate how you would find ways to enrich your job, make it more challenging and increase the value of your contributions.
This question may be worded in a more complex way. For instance, the interviewer may ask why you are applying for a staff position when you had been a manager for several years. You could reply that you previously found great satisfaction in being an individual contributor and would like to return to this role. You might explain that you are looking to do more hands-on technical or project work. This is what former sales manager Dr. John Trebillas did when he began working for Tomah Products, a specialty chemicals firm. Instead of supervising a group of sales representatives, he worked with Tomah researchers as a consultant to develop products for new markets.
Hiring managers have additional concerns that you could be bored or unmotivated. Alternatively, they may have their own insecurities and worry that you may try to steal their job. During your interviews you need to avoid sounding patronizing or think you have all the answers. Ask job-related questions and show the interviewer respect.
Mention length of time in a job and the various duties of your job assignments. However, this is looking backwards. Also look forward by developing a sentence that tells people who you are, what your greatest strengths are, and the biggest benefit you will bring to your next employer. This sentence is often called your personal brand. Its focus is informing the employer “what’s in it for them” if they hire you. Hiring managers will sit up and take notice. Your personal brand statement can stimulate your interviewers to ask you questions. This sentence can go in your summary section of your résumé. Discuss this in your interview as well.
Settling for the job?
Hiring managers may worry you will soon leave for another position. Perhaps they think the salary will be too low for you or the duties are beneath your skill set. Find an opportunity to say you would like to focus on actually doing a job than looking for one. You might make a commitment by saying that you are ready to make at least a two-year commitment to the company. This is what Dr. Trebillas did when he accepted a position with Tomah Products.
Sometimes the hiring manager may worry that your skills are out of date compared to younger chemists. Keep your skills up to date. You can do this by reading research journals in your field and attending technical conferences. Also study the employer and use this knowledge to ask questions during your interviews.
Some hiring manager’s worry older job candidates may lack energy and enthusiasm. Get a good night’s sleep before your interview. Show interest in the job opening and its requirements. Also show interest in the employer’s industry and relevant trade associations.
Lean forward slightly in your chair while having discussions. This projects interest and high energy. If you are presenting an employment interview seminar, try to schedule it at the time of day when your energy level is highest. Find professional and even personal interests you share with the hiring manager. These shared interests will stimulate your discussions and help to form a bond with the hiring manager.
Develop some anecdotes that you tell during your interviews that indicate flexibility in different workplace cultures. For example, I spent much of my industrial chemistry career developing new products for various oil industry and paper industry applications. I find ways to insert these into the employment interviews noting how different these workplaces are than chemistry laboratories.
Employers increasingly focus on their short-term needs. They want new employees who can “hit the ground running” and quickly make solid contributions. Sell yourself as an expert who can fix immediate problems quickly and efficiently. Focus on clear, results-oriented achievements for short-range problems. Your goal is to become the “go-to” person for their short-term revenue or productivity problems. Therefore, come to the interview armed with specific examples of how you can solve their money or productivity problems. Your past accomplishments are examples of how to tackle similar problems they face today.
John Borchardt was a chemist, freelance writer and devoted ACS career consultant for over 15 years, until his sudden passing in January 2013. He was the author of the ACS/Oxford University Press Book “Career Management for Scientists and Engineers,” and had more than 1500 articles published in a variety of magazines, newspapers and encyclopedias. As an industrial chemist, he held 30 U.S. and more than 125 international patents, and was the author of more than 130 peer-reviewed papers. John’s advice, insights and articles helped hundreds of scientists improve their professional lives, and he will be truly missed.