How to Handle Age Issues on a Job Interview

In theory, age discrimination should not factor into a job interview: if a company is professional and law-abiding, the interview should be about your qualifications alone. Unfortunately, however, age discrimination does sometimes occur. Whether you are perceived as too old or too young, there are ways to overcome obstacles related to your age. Start with Step 1 to learn more.

Part 1 of 2: Recognizing Issues Related to Age
1. Understand why an employer might discriminate based on age. When employers have job openings, they often have certain kinds of ideal candidates in mind. For the most part, they are usually concerned with finding candidates with the appropriate experience and abilities (including physical abilities, when relevant). Sometimes, coinciding with these qualifications, employers develop a “vision” ideal candidates who fall into a particular age bracket. For example, a new innovative technology company may be searching for new engineers and imagining that most of their best candidates will be between 22 and 32 years old. If you fall outside of that age range, the company may have concerns about your candidacy.
2. Recognize the ways that an older age can affect your candidacy. If you are older than the imagined ideal age range for a given job, an employer might think you will lack state-of-the-art skills or technological abilities. In addition, you may be perceived as less innovative. The employer might also have concerns about health issues or your retirement.
3. Consider the ways that a younger age can affect your candidacy. If you are younger than the imagined age range, an employer might doubt that you have sufficient skills, knowledge, and maturity. In addition, an employer may worry that you will not be able to gain the respect and authority necessary for a supervisory role.
4. Identify questions related to your age. Understand that employers may not ask you directly about your age, but they may ask other questions that are designed to estimate how old you are. This makes it more difficult to identify potentially illegal discrimination. Some of these questions may include:
- When did you graduate from high school (or college)?
- Are you married?
- Do you have children?
- How old are your children?
- What are your long-term career goals?
5. Know your rights. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA), which is enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), protects all applicants, candidates, and employees over 40 years old from discrimination due to their age. This protection extends to hiring, compensation, promotions, terminations, and the conditions and privileges of employment. People under 40 years old are not protected, however, and there are other exceptions as well – if age is considered a bona fide occupational qualification (BFOQ), employers may use it to make decisions. For example, if a TV producer wants to cast a role for a teenager, he or she can legally discriminate against anyone too old to play the part.

Part 2 of 2: Overcoming Age-Related Obstacles
1. Know when you can refuse to answer. Questions that are illegal (or not recommended) under the laws that govern employment do not have to be answered. Unfortunately, you will have to weigh your right not to answer against your desire to be perceived as a cooperative, attractive candidate. That said, you can absolutely refuse to answer:
- How old are you?
- What year were you born?
- Are you of retirement age?
- When do you plan on retiring?
2. Respond to age-related questions professionally and courteously. Whether the question you are asked is illegal or not, you should not respond rudely. The best option is generally to recognize the problematic nature of the question, deflect it, and redirect the interviewer’s attention to a related qualification.
3. Answer questions truthfully. Regardless of whether a question presented to you is legal or illegal, you should not lie. Answering the question is fine, and so is refusing to answer an illegal question, but lying is never appropriate. Keep in mind that any lies you tell might get discovered, anyway.
4. Aim to reinforce your qualifications with concrete examples. No matter what questions your interviewer throws at you, remember to circle back to your qualifications, stressing your skills and your ability to be successful at the specific job. Providing concrete examples that illustrate these qualifications may help you overcome potential age discrimination. Explain, for example, that you were able to increase efficiency by developing an innovative process.
5. Work to demonstrate your maturity if you are on the young side. If you are worried that employers will think you are too young, use the interview experience to show your maturity, professionalism, confidence, and courtesy. Focus on your experience, emphasizing your past successes. If you are interviewing for a supervisory role, provide examples of your ability to lead and earn the respect of others. These tactics will help the interviewer see you as ready to handle the job.
6. Show interviewers that you are up to date if you are on the older side. If you are worried that employers will think you are too old, use the interview experience to demonstrate that you are up to date in your field. Emphasize your technological skills, if relevant. Show that you are mentally and physically able to do the job successfully, and provide examples of recent experiences that are relevant to the job at hand. These tactics will help the interviewer see you as an asset to the company.


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