How to answer the tricky questions potential employers are prone to ask a 55-plus job applicant.
Statistics Canada has stated that in 2011 approximately one in four individuals in the workforce would have been age 55 or more. This age range cohort is expected to continue at this size as baby boomers age and individuals continue to stay at their current workplace or re-enter in another role with another organization. In my role as a human resource consultant, I am also constantly meeting more and more individuals who retired at that dream age of “freedom 55” only to find themselves desiring to re-enter the workforce.These individuals bump into some interesting work re-entry challenges. For instance, most employee candidates in the age range of 55-plus today are very healthy, highly motivated and highly skilled. Yet these workers face labels such as “older worker, mature worker, senior and/or elder”, all of which in our society seem to denote a vision of old, feeble and in a downward spiral. No wonder people are offended and/or at the very least uncomfortable with these unfortunate labels.
So, how does a 55-plus potential employee get past these labels and find a good job that will bring satisfaction for as long as he/she continues in the workforce? One of the strategies is to anticipate potential awkward interview questions and to provide ready-made responses that dispel the myths of ageism. Here are some of these questions and issues.
Two of the common interview questions, “What are your long term career plans?” or “Where do you see yourself in five years?” often create awkward moments for older workers. The response strategy is to provide some type of answer that isn’t specific but yet will prevent further probing. Some sample responses include the following:
“If you’re asking how long I would stay with your organization, the answer is that I would stay as long as I am challenged and experiencing job satisfaction”; or,
“I’m the kind of person who thrives on challenge and as long as you can offer a challenge, I’ll be here.”
A second awkward interview question relates to the myth that older workers will not take direction from a younger leader. Although reference to age is a prohibited human rights offence, you might still experience the following blunt question, “How do you feel about reporting to a younger person?” The best way to answer this question is to once again provide a response that is somewhat indirect, such as the following:
“I’ve always had strong respect for good leaders no matter what age or gender.”
“There are a lot of young people in the workforce that have made significant contributions early in their career and I respect that.”
Another question the older workers will often be asked is related to the issue of being over-qualified. The question may be asked as follows, “You seem to be over- qualified. What specifically interests you in this job?” And/or the very blunt question, “Aren’t you over-qualified?” This type of question can be particularly offensive to the older worker, so hold your temper and formulate a neutral answer. This could be as follows:
“I agree, I would bring a good deal of experience to your organization/company.”
“I don’t believe in the concept of over-qualified. I find there is always something to learn in every new job.”
Mature dog ready for new tricks
Another key challenge encountered by older workers, especially those who remained with one employer for a good length of time, is the perception that change will be difficult. The implication is that learning a new organization and perhaps a new way of doing things will not come easily and will prevent the worker from adapting quickly to the new work environment. The question might well be stated as follows: “You’ve been with ABC company for a long time, what makes you think you could make the adjustment to a new organization?”
How are you at IT?
In this case, you need to focus on your transferable skills and the many changes you’ve already successfully encountered in your earlier work-life. Provide a response to the issue as follows:
“I’ve been a dedicated employee for XXX years and during that time, I was promoted three times and undertook several new changes just for the sake of learning. I am confident I will fit into your company in a short time.”
Finally, employers also frequently make the assumption that older workers lack information technology skills. While this may be true in some cases, it is not necessarily the norm. You can provide two responses such as the following:
“Actually, I have been working with proprietary CSM software for a number of years and I am very proficient in using the Microsoft office suite.”
“I have always been a quick learner and while I am familiar with the common software, I am confident I can quickly learn your customized software.”
While this article is only able to deal with some of the more common issues, older workers do need to pay attention to their potential answers so that they don’t inadvertently talk themselves out of a job. It’s bad enough that society has created labels that tend to downplay the contribution older workers can make.
Barbara J. Bowes is president of Legacy Bowes Group and is a member of the “over 50” group. She is also a Free Press columnist and CJOB radio host. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.