By Rhonda Collins,
I Start Wondering Columnist
Your excellent cover letter and perfect resume got you invited for a job interview. Now you want to clinch the deal, but as an older woman, you may have the legitimate concern that you won’t be seen in the same light as you were in your 30s.
In fact, research by the San Francisco Federal Reserve Bank, as reported in a 2019 Harvard Business Review article, found that “callback rates about jobs were lower for older applicants, with women having lower callback rates than men.”
This is likely because of a false assumption that older workers are less productive. The Harvard article cites research demonstrating that mature employees are not only less likely to be “exhausted” than their younger counterparts, but they “are healthy, have a strong work ethic, are loyal to their employers, and are more likely to be satisfied with their jobs than their younger coworkers.”
To help counter these employer prejudices and allow seasoned women to ace their job interviews, follow these two steps: Preparation and Presentation.
Step 1: Preparation
Doing your homework prior to the interview is the most important step you can take to make the meeting go smoothly and to set yourself up for success.
Research the Employer
Read a few articles about the employer’s history, reputation and predictions about their future viability. Learn the organization’s mission, vision and goals for the future.
Based on your findings, ask yourself if the organization is a good fit for your values and interests and whether they have a culture that supports older employees and women.
Research the Questions You Might be Asked
First, consider what questions you will get. Today, you can find many lists of typical interview questions, including these:
One trend is situational or behavioral interviewing. These questions require you to consider a past experience or hypothetical situation and explain how you would act in those circumstances. Pay particular attention to questions related to ethics and decision-making as they are popular.
Pick a few questions from the lists provided here and write your answers. Even if your interviewers don’t ask the questions you select, just considering your answers ahead of time will put you in an interview mindset and remind you of accomplishments, items on your resume needing explanation, and your approach to workplace issues.
Rehearse Your Answers
In addition to composing the answers, I encourage clients to practice saying the answers out loud without looking at notes. You might record yourself or ask a friend to do a mock interview.
Also, consider your personality as you prepare. For example, extroverts--who often want to be friendly and connect with the interviewer--might practice being brief with answers and staying on-topic. This way, the interviewer is able to get through her list of questions without running overtime.
Likewise, introverts – feeling uncomfortable sharing so much information with strangers – might rush their answers. Being too brief means the interviewer doesn’t get a complete picture of their strengths.
Preparing for Challenging Inquiries
Sometimes, clients ask me how to answer questions about gaps in their employment history or other non-typical items on their resumes. The most important rule is always to be honest, but don’t feel compelled to share every detail.
For example, someone asked about being unemployed for a long time might respond: “About a year ago, I developed a serious illness, but I’m fully recovered and ready — in fact excited! — to get back to work.” Practice your answers until you are comfortable explaining your unusual situation.
Ask the Right Questions
Next, prepare questions to ask the interview team. These questions can be even more important than the questions they ask of you because these questions help determine whether the job is right for you. Also, with thoughtful, articulate questions you appear intelligent, well-prepared, and insightful.
Plan to prepare six or seven questions. Recognize that your opportunity to ask questions typically comes at the end of the interview, and some of your questions might get answered along the way, so have more than you think you need.
At the top of your list should be questions regarding what’s important to you in a job. For older folks, it might be flexible hours, retirement benefits, socially conscious practices, technology knowledge requirements, or available training. If you also prefer a culture that values older employees, be sure to ask how the company cultivates this environment.
You also may have some questions that stem from the research you did on the employer, such as announcements of new product lines, events, or policies. Including those questions will demonstrate that you’ve done your homework.
Below are a few questions I recommend to clients:
If you are interviewing with the person who will be your supervisor:
What is your management style?
What strengths or personality would be best for the person in this position?
For anyone on the interview committee:
Where do see this company/organization/unit in 5 years and what will be the biggest challenges to get there?
I read that your mission/vision is … How do you encourage employees to follow it?
What Must They Know About You?
The last bit of preparation involves reflecting on what the employer needs to know about you. What are your most important strengths (values, credentials, expertise, skills, attitude)?
Select your three strengths that are most important or relevant for the position. Make sure to share those before leaving the interview. If you don’t discuss them in answers to their questions, you can say something at the end, such as, “I have one more thing I’d like to share with you: I believe I am a great fit for this position because I am/have . . .”
Step 2: Presentation
Now that you have prepared for the interview, the next step is to present yourself well during the meeting. This involves having the right attitude and projecting poise and professionalism.
Having a positive mindset regarding the interview’s outcome is essential. I remind clients who are anxious about an interview that this is your interview with the employer, as much as it is their interview of you! You will meet your potential colleagues and hopefully see the space where you’ll work.
Also, it’s your opportunity to decide if this job/organization is a good fit for your personality, interests, needs, and career goals. When you go into the interview with this attitude, you will feel more in control and less nervous, letting you appear more confident.
Another attitude to project is eagerness for the job. Some research suggests that what employers want – much more than specific skills or education/experience – is employees who have enthusiasm, ethics, a positive attitude, and a high energy level.
Remember, you already have greater expertise and wisdom than most younger candidates for this position. Demonstrate your eagerness with your high energy, passion for the field, interest in the company, and engaging body language—which will propel you to the top of their candidate list.
Dress for Success
Having been in the workplace for many years, you know how to dress professionally. What you may be wondering is if you should wear a suit to the interview when many offices these days encourage their employees to dress casual.
Purdue Global University tells job-seekers that no perfect interview dress code exists. Your strategy is to determine what people in the company wear by looking at their website or talking to a current employee. Then wear something similar or one step up from that attire.
One easy way to leave a positive impression is to connect with the interview team members by looking at them as they speak and listening closely to their questions so you can answer appropriately.
Another is to use interviews’ names. To assist with this tactic, ask the interview scheduler for the names and titles of the people who will be at the meeting or for an agenda with names if multiple meetings are part of the interview process.
While my grandmother believed it’s not polite for a woman to boast, try to ignore that advice when you interview. This is your time to brag about your skills, years of experience, and extensive knowledge. You also show your humility by describing what you learned from your accomplishments and sharing credit with co-workers.
Finally, always send a formal thank-you within 24 hours of the interview. A snail-mailed handwritten card is no longer required; just send your appreciation in an email.
These two steps – being prepared and presenting yourself well – have helped many job seekers. I hope these tips will help you ace your next interview and secure the position you want.
Have you tried any of these suggestions? I Start Wondering would love to hear your best ideas for meeting a potential employer.