By TUCKER MAYS & BOB SLOANE, Principals, OptiMarket LLC
There has been a plethora of advice for job seekers on how to conduct a successful interview. However, there has not been much focus on the toughest interview of all, the one you face when you are over 50. The over 50 age group has the highest rate of unemployment today and the highest level since the Great Depression. And, it takes this group longer than ever to find a job — over a year for most and two years or more for many.
Interviewing is especially challenging for executives over 50 because most recruiters and company hiring authorities have a bias against hiring older workers, most of whom are not good at interviewing to start with. Promoted up through the ranks or recruited to better jobs with new companies, they never had to learn how to interview seriously for a job while out of work.
Below are five important ways the over 50 job seeker can win the interview.
One: Pre-Empt the Age Issue
As this is the most important thing you must do, I will devote most of this article to this critical need. Know that the elephant in the room is 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, you.
Don't be defensive about your age. Instead, subtly introduce examples in you 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 executives.
At age 50 or over, there are few challenges you have not faced, or solutions you have not considered or tried. You have learned what action steps work best for certain situations and what do not. Because of this experience, you are 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 in your career.
You have learned that people are a company's most valuable asset. It is a given that companies with the best people usually perform the best. Knowing that, you have discovered over time how to quickly assess who should stay and who should go, and how to make those who stay even better. You have helped them to 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. At 50, your extensive business experience enables you to make better decisions across a broad array of alternative courses of action. From whom to fire and whom 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 in which you quickly identified drivers impacting performance, and implemented solutions that improved sales and/or profits.
As few executives are born leaders, this ability takes time to develop. At your age, you will most likely have more proven leadership experience than those younger than you. During interviews, describe examples of challenging situations where you led teams, initiated new programs and projects, spearheaded a company's shift to a new direction, or motivated your people to achieve aggressive goals.
Further, leaders are decisive. They evaluate options, choose what they believe is the best course of action and commit to it. You must do the same in a job interview. After researching the company, be very clear on the ways you would leverage your extensive experience to help them achieve their goals.
Two: Describe Your Flexible Management Style
As there is a perception that over 50 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, the loss of a major client or a new government regulation.
Three: Cite Success Working for a Younger Boss
Recruiters and companies are concerned that executives over 50 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 human resources personnel, describe examples in which you enabled a younger boss or bosses to succeed, grow and advance their careers.
When interviewing with prospective superiors who are younger than yourself, ask them 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 will 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.
Four: Adapt a Flexible Compensation Position
You will have a significant advantage over younger candidates when you are willing to accept less salary up front in exchange for greater performance-based bonuses 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.
For executives over 50, reducing salary requirements can often be the key reason they get an offer. And in most cases, they end up making more money over the long run from deferred compensation received for good performance.
Five: Describe Intrapreneurial Achievements.
Over 50 executives are often perceived as being too corporate. 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.
The bottom line is that, at its heart, interviewing is selling. To win, you must sell yourself more convincingly than other qualified candidates competing for the same job.
OptiMarket LLC is an executive job search coaching firm co-founded in 2001 to help executives over 50 find their next job in the shortest time possible. Mays and Sloane have also co-authored the book Fired at 50: How to Overcome the Greatest Executive Job Search Challenge. For more information, please visit www.firedat50.com.