Many of us in the boomer generation are confronting a situation we never thought we would be dealing with: launching a second-act career in our 50s or 60s. Yet that is exactly what many of us are doing — bravely ripping up our old resumes and rewriting our life stories so that we can sync up with a world that has changed radically in years since we were last “on the market.”
Here are some suggestions to consider if you are heading into what are likely your first job interviews in 10 or more years. I don’t think it matters where you’re applying — whether it is for a job in your industry or if you’re striking out in a new direction, interviews are interviews. They’re scary, intimidating, and your professional future hangs in the hands of your interviewer.
A wise teacher used to tell me to be 100% engaged and enthusiastic about what I was doing, but to be 100% detached from the outcome. Win or lose, as important and maybe even life-saving as getting this gig may be, it is ultimately out of your control. You can only be the best person you can be. The only way you’re going to get this job is if you don’t hold back on revealing that great person. That doesn’t mean you sell too hard or tell interviewers repeatedly why you’re the exact right person for the job; it just means that you’re you. If you’re having a hard time finding your confidence and your equanimity, think back to a time in your life when things were really humming on all cylinders. Remember that feeling and bring it with you to the interview.
Today, experience, sad to say, is not as valued as it once was. In a world that’s changing so fast, with businesses and industries getting disrupted out of existence, experience may not help you overcome a completely out-of-left-field challenge. You have to be curious, adaptable, resourceful and persistent. In short, you need to be driven by values and qualities of character. This is what a recruiter will be looking for. As an older worker, if you can be quietly inspiring, downplaying your own accomplishments while praising your colleagues, and talking about your life and work experience as a gift rather than as a badge, you may just win them over.
Yes, that’s a real expression in the back rooms of millennial-heavy businesses and departments. Your interviewer will most likely be younger than you are. When older workers present themselves, there’s a good chance that ageism will rear its head. My advice: Ignore it. Not every younger person you meet is going to be dismissive, but be on the lookout for some awkwardness or discomfort. Rather than clam up, shut down or reveal just how infuriating this really is, be smart and strategic. Show (don’t tell) that you have no issue with younger people. Remember:
You should be interviewing them as much as they are interviewing you. Don’t do this from an arrogant position. Don’t sit back in your chair, cross your arms, frown or take out your list of questions so that you can take control of the interview. Be curious. Do your homework. Lean forward. Ask perceptive questions to show that you not only understand the job, but understand the company and the culture. Use your questions as a way to reveal why you could indeed be the right fit for this job. Don’t be afraid to get into a real conversation.
Be willing to reveal things that you could feel a little uncomfortable about. Don’t hedge your way out of questions like: “Why did you leave your last position?” or “How long have you been looking for a job?” Your discomfort is a sure sign that you aren’t right for the position. Spend time prepping for these questions, and find answers that are authentic and show that you are willing to overcome challenges and learn from past experiences. This is a great opportunity to inject some self-deprecating humor into the conversation — and to maybe make a joke at your own expense. A little vulnerability can go a long way toward creating empathy and respect for what you’ve been through.
At the end of the day, your interview has about 10% to do with your resume and about 90% to do with “fit.” Does the interviewer think you’re someone whom everyone else is going to enjoy coming to work with in the morning? As organizations and hierarchies have flattened out because of technology, there is more power in what used to be thought of as middle management. Hiring and firing is more team-driven than ever, so don’t be surprised if it takes a half dozen rounds of interviews to trot you around to all the stakeholders you could be working with. If they don’t “get” you, if there’s no “click,” then do you really want to be working at a company that doesn’t understand and appreciate you for who you are?
While so much has changed in the hiring process, the fundamentals still apply. Remember to thank your interviewer by email immediately after your interview. And, just like in the old days, send them a handwritten thank you note the same day. I advise clients to actually have the note card in their pocket or bag all ready to go, with a stamp already on the envelope. I don’t care how old or how young they are, your interviewer will be impressed with your follow-up. It may not get you the job, but it demonstrates your thoughtfulness and your character.
Remember that if you don’t get the job but have still made a strong impression, you’ve just expanded your network. That young recruiter may turn out to be your biggest new fan and may have just forwarded your resume to a friend of theirs at another company where there’s an opening.
Tomorrow is another day.