Let’s face it: One of the steepest uphill battles people over 50 face comes when they apply for jobs. It’s why older workers stay out of work longer than any other age group and why so many of them report running up against ageism. Job interviews, assuming that they even get that far in the hiring process, are simply the worst. Here are some of the inappropriate questions that they get asked ― and what an appropriate answer could be.
1. “Where do you hope to be in five years?”
The honest, if unspoken, answer might be: “Alive and playing on a beach somewhere with my grandkids.” While the question is intended to assess an applicant’s ambitions or evaluate their attitude toward company loyalty, it is pretty much one that reeks of ageism.
Interview Coach and Co-Founder of Big Interview Pamela Skillings blogged about this question and suggested answering it like this: “I am driven to be the best at what I do and I want to work somewhere where I’ll have opportunities to develop my skills, take on interesting projects, and work with people I can really learn from. Some of the most innovative thinkers in the industry work here and that’s a big reason why I would love to build a career here.”
But reader Debbie King, 55, knows an ageist question when she sees one. She counters with “What if you are an older worker who has already achieved career goals and is financially secure, but chooses to go to work for another reason?” As she reckons, she has another 11 years of a working life ahead of her. She posted this comment on Skillings’ blog: “Going to work achieves several things for me: It keeps my technical skills up to date, it allows me to meet new people and enjoy the camaraderie of my colleagues, it provides interesting challenges on a daily basis . . . oh, and I get paid as well!” King herself writes a lot about cruising.
2. “Why do you want to work here?”
The truthful answer might well be: “Because after two years of being unemployed, I’m about to lose my mind, not to mention my house and that would mean moving in with my elderly mother. Uh, have you met my mother???”
Instead, view this question as a test of your knowledge about the company. Be able to speak in specifics and avoid generalities. You needn’t say things like “The office is super close to my house,” or “I really could use health coverage.” Speak instead about the company’s values and reputation.
3. “How do you see yourself fitting in to the company culture?”
For older workers, this question is an eye-roller. Not since kindergarten has “works well with others” counted for so much. Today, it is a prominent part of the hiring process as employers look for workers who will collaborate and work together as a team. And how that plays out in reality is unfortunately this: If the corporate culture doesn’t value experience, older workers have no currency to trade. If most of the company’s workers are young and single, few have kids and like to end the day schmoozing around the free beer taps, if management threw a 55-year-old man into the mix, would it be like hanging out with Dad?
Before you show up for a job interview, figure out the corporate culture. Do the executives wear suits and ties or jeans and Tom’s? One of the worst feelings is being interviewed by someone younger than your kids. Hold your own, but understand the stakes.
4. “What can you tell me about yourself?”
Obviously, plenty. But what exactly is the interviewer asking for here? Does he want a recitation of your resume? A capsulized version of your hobbies? Is he asking what you ate for breakfast that day or would like to hear how your college freshman doesn’t want to come home for Thanksgiving?
Should you guess or ask for clarification? Skillings says to see this question as an opportunity for you to set the tone and “emphasize the points you most want this potential employer to know about you.” Skip the recitation of your resume and don’t dive into how much you love flamenco dancing, she advises in her blog.
Instead, try a concise, enthusiastic response that summarizes your big-picture fit for the job. This is also a good opportunity to share some information about your proudest achievements and goals. And no, your son getting into grad school should not be mentioned.
5. “Do you have any questions for me?”
One reader joked about how the only question she really wanted to ask was “How aggressive are the meter guys?” Her two hours expired 30 minutes before and she really couldn’t afford a ticket. With parking on her mind, she asked “Does the company provide free parking?” which most recruiters would say wouldn’t help you land the job. Save your benefits questions for the HR person.
Instead try wrapping up the interview by asking what steps are next, what the timeline for hiring is, and let them know when your availability would begin.