You didn’t think it would turn out this way, but here you find yourself in the mid to later stages of your career, faced with the prospects of selling yourself in a job interview. For some, it’s no problem to be in this situation, for others, these later career interviews can be the toughest of all. With all the experience you have to offer, not to mention wisdom and insights that only come from all that experience, you’re sure you’re the candidate of choice. But interviewing can be especially challenging for executives and professionals well into their careers. If you’ve not interviewed ever – or for many years – your personal presentation may be a bit rusty. You may also face unspoken biases that some hiring decision makers may have about hiring the more mature worker. This is especially true if those interviewing you are significantly younger than you are.
Here are eight strategies to help you ace the interview at this important state of your career:
Pre-empt the Age Issue
In many cases, your age is an asset, and the level of position you’re interviewing for is only suited to someone with the kind of experience you bring. In other circumstances, the elephant in the room may be your age. Should you sweep this under the rug and hope it does not come up or wait until it does and address it then? Neither. All effective salespeople know that the best way to counter a major anticipated objection is to address it first.
Don’t be defensive about your age. Instead, subtly introduce examples in your career history that reinforce your “agelessness”. Do this by making your age an asset. Specifically, describe the special abilities you have gained that are most in demand today that will give you an advantage over less experienced younger candidates.
As a mid to late career professional, there are few challenges you have not faced, or solutions you have not considered or tried. You’ve learned what action steps work best for certain situations, and can discriminate around what doesn’t work. Because of this experience, you’re now able to solve business problems faster than most job seekers younger than you. You can more quickly identify the important drivers impacting underperformance and the best solutions to shorten the time required to improve sales and profit results. Give relevant examples from your experience.
This is one area where your “fit” with the new team is most important. How will you gel with the new team who may report to you? What management style will you bring? Knowing this will be an area fully explored in the interview, be prepared to speak to how you’ve discovered over time how to quickly assess the talent on a new team, and what their development needs are. There will likely be some resistance to the new person being hired, and you need to show how you’ve overcome that in the past. Show how you’ve worked with team members to help them strengthen their innate abilities, make more informed decisions, and work more effectively with others on a team. Cite examples of people you managed who went on to successful careers, or those who struggled, but flourished when you changed their responsibilities to better match their skills.
Good judgment is a highly valued trait for all successful executives. Companies now demand it. Your extensive career experience enables you to make better decisions across a broad array of alternative courses of action. From who to fire and who to hire, to where to cut and where to spend, you are in a better position to make these important decisions than younger executives because you have faced and made more of them. During the interview identify examples in your career where you quickly identified drivers impacting performance and implemented solutions that improved sales and/or profits.
Describe Your Flexible Management Style
Be prepared to dispel any perception that more mature job seekers have become set in their ways and are reluctant to change how they manage. Describe how you modified your approach to fit different challenges and varied business cultures. For example, you could discuss how you altered management style when working on special projects. You had to adjust to changing priorities, make quick decisions with limited information, produce with fewer resources, and manage individuals on a team that did not report to you. You can also talk about how you responded to unanticipated threats to your business such as late shipments, a product recall, loss of a major client, or a new government regulation.
Cite Success Working for a Younger Boss
Recruiters and companies are concerned that mid to late career professionals will have problems reporting to a younger superior. Egos get in the way, and younger individuals may view your greater experience as a potential threat to their job security. During interviews with recruiters and HR contacts describe examples where you enabled a younger boss or bosses to succeed, grow, and advance their careers. When interviewing with a prospective superior who is younger than yourself, ask him or her what their greatest challenges are, and cite specific examples of how you believe your skills and experience can make their job and mission easier. You’ll be less likely to be considered a threat when you demonstrate that you respect their authority and are as committed as advancing their career as you are your own.
Describe Intrapreneurial Achievements
As a seasoned pro, you can be perceived as being too corporate. This may be true – having enjoyed the full resources of larger companies, many are not equipped to succeed in smaller companies where they have the best chance of finding jobs at their age. The best way to counter this objection is to relate examples in your career when you worked on projects with larger organizations requiring “intrapreneurial” skills. Explain how you led or worked on successful projects with cross-functional teams supported by a small budget and lean staff. Then you can stress your unique ability to combine larger company experience with small company skills.
Adapt a Flexible Compensation Position
If you’re able to flex on compensation, it can be a wise strategy, especially if you’re looking to join a small entrepreneurial company that may be in start-up mode or in a period of significant growth. They need your expertise but may not be in a position to pay the full ticket you’d get with a larger organization. In these scenarios, you can have a significant advantage over younger candidates if you’re willing to accept less salary up front in exchange for greater performance-based bonus and/or equity. Companies prefer executives who are willing to prove themselves first and “bet on the outcome”. Decide what minimum salary you need during preparation for interviews. When asked what your salary requirements are, mention that once you learn more about the job requirements and the company’s full compensation structure (salary, bonus, profit sharing, perks, equity etc) you will be in a better position to answer. Also say that given your strong interest in the job, you will be flexible and are confident that you will reach an agreement comfortable for both parties.
With the right kind of preparation, you can show potential employers how your significant experience can be a positive game changer for their business. Educating recruiters and hiring decision makers on the extraordinary value you offer will position you for many years of contribution and ongoing career satisfaction.