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Acing a Job Interview After Age 50

By Joe Turner
The Ladders Contributing Editor
September 14, 2009

Have you used one of these common complaints?
    "I was fully qualified, and it makes no sense.” 
    “They simply don’t know how to hire.” 
    “They told me that I was overqualified.” 

These are the sort of comments job seekers often make to Randy Block, a seasoned career-transition coach and consultant in the San Francisco Bay area. If you're an "older" job hunter, more than likely you already know that the ultra-competitive job-search process is especially hard on you. Part of the challenge you're facing is a major generation gap between Baby Boomer job hunters and the Gen-X hiring managers of today. As Block noted, "Thirty-somethings don’t want to hire their parents. Unfortunately, that's how we often come across — as their parents."  You can succeed during interviews with younger hiring managers, but you'll want to think and act differently. Here are five places to start :

Show passion for your work
As Block notes, relationships are based on shared values. He believes that shared values make up most of what we call “chemistry.” Chemistry is enhanced when we meet others share an interest. This extends to your work, profession or industry.  If there is little passion or commitment from you for your work, how can you expect others to get excited during the interview? On the other hand, if you consider yourself driven or committed to what you do for a living, you'll most likely hit it off with a hiring manager who has the same interest — whatever that person’s age.

Be upfront about what’s in it for them
Nowadays , employers want to know what you can bring them. Older job seekers may shy away from bragging opportunities like this. But this is one talking point you need to be prepared to get.  Tenure and duties won’t cut it. The best way to prepare for an interview is to focus on your personal brand. Prepare a personal brand statement for yourself — a simple sentence that offers three very important selling points about you. First, it should say who you are. Second, it should articulate your greatest strength(s). Third, it should explain the biggest benefit that you bring to your next employer.  The purpose of your brand is to go beyond mere duties and job listings and get to the "what's in it for them" benefit that will make the employer sit up and take notice.

Offer guidance
Block has found an important disparity between older job seekers and younger hiring managers: Boomers want to be led, while Gen Xers want to manage. Yet in coaching sessions with young managers, he observed that their leadership skills typically lag behind their management skills.  If you're a Boomer, take note and realize that you might not get the visionary leader you hoped for in your next hiring manager. However, Block says that this might just be an opportunity.  He has discovered that most young managers need help and guidance. They actually appreciate being mentored, coached or advised. They recognize the need, but look at it as a temporary or project-based opportunity.  This may open up an opportunity to sell yourself as a consultant whose many years of expertise can be useful in the role of a temporary coach or mentor. This may be a great meld between the "management versus leadership" dichotomy and increase your opportunities, especially considering companies are hiring more consultants during this economic downturn. As the economy improves, that 1099 contract could well turn into a salaried position.

Think short-term
According to Block and other employment analysts, many companies today view their short-term survival needs as paramount . They're looking for players who can hit the ground now and help them grunt through the next six to nine months. That will require a change in your marketing approach : P hrases like "long-term" and "strategic" won't have the sales impact of a year ago.  Rather than emphasize the long haul in your resume and interview marketing, look instead at selling yourself as an expert who can get in and fix immediate problems quickly and efficiently. Downplay any talk about long-range solutions ; instead, focus on clear, results-oriented achievements for short-range problems.

Talk money
Money talks, and it talks loudly. Money can also trump age, so try to get as close to the money as you can when you describe who you are and what you bring to the table.  Keep in mind that all organizations have only two basic needs: revenue and productivity. This is what keeps any top manager up at night. If you can help them, they will seek your advice and counsel. Therefore, come to the interview armed with specific examples of how you can solve their money (or productivity) problem. Your past achievements are examples of how to tackle the similar problems they face today. If you can show yourself to be the problem-solver they need, you'll quickly rise to the short list of candidates. Your goal is to become the "go-to" person for their short-term revenue or productivity problems.

Gen Xer s need your help. Focus on ways you can help their short- term "survivability" through this recession, and get as close as you can to their revenue or productivity concerns. Talk money, and focus on how you can help them produce immediate results. A younger manager would have to be very shortsighted not to explore a working relationship with someone more experienced. Capitalize on your wealth of experience to make a positive difference in the lives and careers of Gen Xer s.