We know it's illegal for companies to reject a job applicant based on their age. Of course, we also know it still happens.
"Hiring managers and companies do sometimes blatantly and subtly discriminate against older workers based on stereotypes such as over qualification or cultural incompatibility," writes Gail Geary, author of The Over 40 Job Search Guide. "The truth is that mature workers are both blatantly and subtly ambushed or discriminated against by interviewers (or even themselves) who are harboring negative stereotypes about age. What's worse is that you can unconsciously reinforce these stereotypes in your resume, interviews..."
With Age Comes Wisdom. Use it.
During interviews, your goal is to minimize any doubts a hiring manager have. You do that by addressing them head-on, writes Joyce Lain Kennedy, author of Job Interviews for Dummies. "The interview won't move forward until you expose and conquer hidden hiring objections." If you think one of those objections is age, you need to bring up. Just be tactful about it.
For example, take the question, "Where do you see yourself in five years?" It could be hinting that you may be closer to retirement than the company would prefer. But it's a perfect opportunity to respond with, "Well, if what I've read about (this company's) head start to market is true, I'd like to be part of the team that not only launches it, but develops the second and third generation, as well." In one motion, you've shown that you've done your homework, understand the company and your role in it, and deflected the subtle zinger that this position may be your bridge to retirement. Also it didn't hurt to put you on the team in the hiring manager's mind.
If you're asked, "Do you think you're overqualified?" Geary suggests you very gently, and with a smile, reply with, "Can you tell me what you mean by 'overqualified?'" This forces the interviewer to lay out the specifics, allowing you to address each one.
Geary recommends practicing answers that are built around the value your experience brings to the table. Be prepared to address the age issue even if it doesn't come up. You want to communicate your ability to work in the company's culture. And, even while you're making age issue a non-issue, Marc Dorio, author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Perfect Job Interview suggests avoiding "'age' as a word or concept, but sell maturity. Literally drop 'age' from the conversation, replacing it with synonyms such as 'seasoned' or 'experienced.'"
Humor defuses many issues, and a genuine laugh can immediately changes the tone of an interview. If you're good at it - and you should really be good you are and that the interview has reached the right comfort level - pick an opportunity when one of the interviewer's questions implies an age-related concern, such as, "How do you feel working in an environment where there is an age difference." You can say, "I understand and have no problem working with older workers. I've done it all my life..."
Understand that the sooner you can get age off the table, the sooner you can get onto your qualifications.
Be Careful of Your Age Discrimination
If you carry the thought that a 27 year-old shouldn't be interviewing you, it'll show, and when it does that will underscore your age. Think of the interviewer as a complete equal, and give them the respect of their position deserves. Marshall Brown advises how to view the young interviewer by asking yourself, "Can you identify younger colleagues who have earned your respect for their smarts and their ability to work well with you? If you can identify someone young and bright that you respect (a daughter, a nephew, a former co-worker), it can help to bring that individual to mind just before an interview and imagine how you would interact with that person. It's a way of priming your mind to be open and can help counter any knee-jerk tendencies to judge."
Finally, Geary gives some obvious suggestions for the interview to communicate strength, but they bear repeating: Use color in your clothing to project energy, sit and stand tall, project mental and physical energy in conversation.
-- Dino Londis