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Age related interview question: How old are you?

age related interview question

Just because it is illegal doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen

Age related interview question

How would you answer the question “how old are you?” in a job interview?   Although the question in itself isn’t illegal, discriminating against a candidate based on the answer is when age is not a factor.  If you need to be 18 years old to do the job, this question is legal.

The above being said, I would say that in most cases, this is an absolutely the wrong interview question and for the most part if you are being asked this question in an interview, the interviewer didn’t know any better.  They asked the question and will base their overall opinion on not just your answer, but how you answer.  This question usually throws folks for a loop and will cost them the interview.  Are you going to let some dumb ass ruin your opportunity?  Not in this economy.

If you do not answer this age related interview question, avoid the question, or hesitate in your answer, the person interviewing you will have no choice but to think that even YOU as a candidate feel you are too old to do the job.  This is a shit sandwich and you need to take a big bite.

When I practice interviewing skills with folks over 40 I always ask a few age related interview questions.  I won’t ask it in a real interview of course (hey, I am a paid professional) but I want folks to be prepared for it because most people conducting job interviews don’t know any better.  It’s usually is not their fault and I blame it on the person that sent them into the interview ill prepared.  Put into perspective, we have all driven over the speed limit and yes, we put lives in danger.   Sometimes we knew what we were doing, but often times we just didn’t realize what the speed limit was.

When practicing interviewing skills, the classic answers I usually hear are along the lines of:

  • “I am old enough to have experience but young enough to do the job”
  • “Isn’t that an illegal question?  I don’t have to answer that”.
  • I get no answer.  Just a blank stare that reeks of disgust, mistrust, and attitude.  Their look says “did you REALLY just ask me that question you little punk ass?”

All of the above answers just lost any and all momentum we had and any rapport that was previously built.

Remember, the company called you in.  They can determine your approximate age based on your experience and education.  They found a picture of your online somewhere and they still called you in.  You are physically sitting in front of them so are not going to tell them anything they do not already know.  Own it.

How many times have you told a young person something similar to the following?

“You need to believe in yourself before you expect others to believe in you.”

“You need to like yourself before anyone else can believe in you.”

It’s called eating crow, so dig in.

Again, is it an illegal interview question?  In most cases yes.  Does age affect job performance?  In most cases no, but fight that fight AFTER you get the job offer.  Avoiding the question or making a scene gives the company the reason to decline you.  You want to receive an offer and THEN have the option to figure out the “why and the ignorance” behind the question.  Only then do you make a decision to work or not work with the group.


Lets put this into perspective.  If you know a job requires 8 years of experience and you only have 5 years of experience, how would you answer the pertinent question “how many years of experience do you have?”   You are not going to say “I only have 5 years of experience” and be embarrassed about it with head hung low.  You aren’t going to avoid the questions and you are not going to lie.  You are going to OWN the question and make it your bitch.  You are going to look your interviewer straight in the eye and with confidence say:

“I have 6 years of experience.  I feel that I learned a ton in those 6 years because 3 of them were in a very fast-moving environment and everything was accelerated.  I have 6 years of experience on paper, and I feel my knowledge reflects closer to 9 years of experience.  During 18 months of those 6 years, we added 25 employees to our group I was teaching others how to do this particular skill.  I went to conferences and read 4 books on the topic.”

BOOYYAHHH!   We didn’t use the word “but”, we didn’t hide from the question, and most importantly, we didn’t lose momentum.  Let’s revisit the original age question.  Let’s think about how a 28-year-old candidate would answer this question.  They would probably say something like:  “I am 28 years old, and I feel like I am in great shape.  I run a few miles a day, and I eat healthy and last month I ran a 5K race.”

The way to avoid calling attention to the question is to answer it in the same way someone younger would.  I would much rather hear something like this: I am 45 (55, you pick the number) years old, and I feel like I am in great shape.  I run a few miles a day (practice yoga, play on my Wii, play golf), and I eat healthily.  Last month I ran a 5K race (took a 5-mile hike, practice soccer with my son).“

“I am 50 years old but I feel better than ever.  I swim 3 times a week and am remodeling our kitchen on the weekends.  Right now we are putting in a granite counter and that thing weighed 400 pounds but we got it in”.

If the above answers sound corny on paper, then you didn’t own it.  

Answer the age related interview question with confidence and a smile because if you don’t, someone else will. This answer doesn’t have to be the answer that gets you the job, it just needs to keep you in the game.

If you hesitate on your answer or you avoid the question, you can guarantee that your game is going to be off for the rest of the interview.  Do you really think you have a shot at the position if you avoid the question?   Here are a few more reasons you should answer this question.

  • The person conducting the interview may have made an honest mistake; they really didn’t know the question was illegal.
  • Someone else took the above advice and answered the question.  They didn’t lose momentum in the interview and they still have their name in the hat.
  • Have you ever heard of anyone avoiding a question during an interview and getting the job?
  • If age isn’t a factor, then just give it to them.  If you don’t get the job, you won’t see these people ever again.   If you get the job, you will know that you weren’t judged on your age.
  • Just because you answer the question, doesn’t mean you need to take the job.  You can still decline the offer.

Next time you are asked any age related interview question, don’t hesitate.


See you at the after party,


nasty: an unreal maneuver of incredible technique, something that is ridiculously good, tricky and manipulative but with a result that can’t help but be admired, a phrase used to describe someone who is good at something. “He has a nasty forkball”.

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  • Your heart is in the right place, but you’re providing information that is incorrect. In
    truth, there is NO such thing as an illegal interview question. There is NO
    government document that says that any interview questions are illegal to ask.
    The only issue that the EEOC really puts the brakes on is a candidate’s disability, but it’s not illegal to outright ask about the other protected classifications (age, marriage, sexual orientation, religion, etc…).

    illegal action is not in asking these questions, but rather, comes if an employer
    withholds a job offer or a promotion based on the answers to these questions.
    That’s why most companies have policies in place to keep their interviewers
    from asking these questions but the fact that there are still articles written about this topic shows that not everyone has stricken those questions from their list. But again – they aren’t illegal. The important point about this issue is that free
    speech is protected by our constitution; discrimination is not.

    an employer, I can ask a candidate if she is married, has children, how old she
    is and if she’s a Christian. At that point, I have done nothing
    wrong. If I decide not to hire her because of her answers to those questions, I
    have committed a crime. If I offer her the job (because of, or regardless of
    her answers), then certainly no crime has been committed.

    – good HR departments will have policies in place and train their interviewers
    to ask questions that solely stick to a candidate’s ability to do the job.

    take this one step further – each candidate should be asked the same type of
    questions so if an employer asks a female candidate about their family plans or
    health history, they should ask their male candidates the same questions.

    the issue of illegal interview questions is nothing more than a popular yet
    inaccurate opinion. You can do the research yourself at the EEOC’s website or by placing a call to your local office. If you’d like to get in touch to discuss this in more
    detail, please feel free to do so at

    Lauren Milligan
    Resume Expert/Job Search Coach

    • hrnasty

      Thanks for stopping by and making the clarification. Glad to have another HR person double checking the facts. You are absolutely correct. The questions in itself isn’t illegal, making a decision on that question is. There are jobs where you may be required to be 18 or 21 years old, and here the question is legal. This is just a personal opinion, but I believe that in most cases this question is asked for all the wrong reasons in an interview and the decisions made by the interviewer fall into a very grey area. I do think that decisions are made based on these answers. I believe that it is in the best interest of the candidate to have an answer for the age related question that doesn’t lose momentum. Appreciate you bringing this to light.

  • TakeTheKnocks

    “Booyah! We didn’t say But”… only you did. Right there, it says ‘but I feel my knowledge reflects closer to 9 years experience.’ 

    • TakeTheKnocks,
      I will “take the knock”.  I stand corrected, thanks for stopping by and thanks for the catch!