How to Deal With Age Issues in an Interview

Interviewing an Older Worker

It’s illegal for companies to reject a job applicant because of their age, but we all know it happens. So, if you’re an older worker interviewing at a startup with a young management team, your age may be the elephant in the room.

During interviews, your goal is to minimize any doubts a hiring manager may have. You do that by addressing them head-on, writes Joyce Lain Kennedy, author of Job Interviews for Dummies. “The interview won’t move forward until you expose and conquer hidden hiring objections.” If you think one of those objections is age, you need to bring it up. Just be tactful about it.

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For example, take the question, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” It could be hinting that you may be closer to retirement than the company would prefer. But it’s a perfect opportunity to respond with, “Well, if what I’ve read about your head start to market is true, I’d like to be part of the team that not only launches your product, but develops the second and third generation, as well.” In one motion, you’ve shown that you’ve done your homework, understand the company and your role in it, and deflected the subtle zinger that this position may be your bridge to retirement. Also, it didn’t hurt to put you on the team in the hiring manager’s mind.

If you’re asked, “Do you think you’re overqualified?” Gail Geary, author of the Over 40 Job Search Guide, suggests you very gently, and with a smile, reply with, “Can you tell me what you mean by ‘overqualified?’ ” This forces the interviewer to lay out the specifics, allowing you to address each one.

Geary recommends practicing answers that are built around the value your experience brings to the table. Be prepared to address the age issue even if it doesn’t come up. You want to communicate your ability to work in the company’s culture. And, even while you’re making the age issue a non-issue, Marc Dorio, author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to the Perfect Job Interview suggests avoiding “ ‘age’ as a word or concept, and selling maturity. Literally drop ‘age’ from the conversation, replacing it with synonyms such as ‘seasoned’ or ‘experienced.’ ”


Humor defuses many issues, and a genuine laugh can immediately change the tone of an interview. If you’re good at it, but only if you’re good at it, pick an opportunity when one of the interviewer’s questions implies an age-related concern, such as, “How do you feel working in an environment where there is an age difference?” You can say, “I understand and have no problem working with older workers. I’ve done it all my life…”

Understand that the sooner you can get age off the table, the sooner you can get onto your qualifications.

Be Careful of Your Age Discrimination

If you carry the thought that a 27-year-old shouldn’t be interviewing you, it’ll show, and when it does that will underscore your age. Think of the interviewer as a complete equal, and give them the respect their position deserves. Career coach Marshall Brown advises asking yourself, “ ‘Can you identify younger colleagues who have earned your respect for their smarts and their ability to work well with you?’ If you can identify someone young and bright that you respect (a daughter, a nephew, a former co-worker), it can help to bring that individual to mind just before an interview and imagine how you would interact with that person. It’s a way of priming your mind to be open and can help counter any knee-jerk tendencies to judge.”

Finally, Geary gives some obvious suggestions for the interview to communicate strength, but they bear repeating: Use color in your clothing to project energy, sit and stand tall, and project mental and physical energy in conversation.

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Image: Iakov Filimonov/