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Interview Ageism: Why I decline candidates over 50


Would you decline 63-year-old Bill Gates? 

Job Interview Ageism

Last week we discussed the topic of age discrimination in the job interview and a few of my personal theories on why job interview ageism exists.

Before anyone gets into a huff

Candidates are not declined because of their age. Qualified candidates of all backgrounds are declined because the company is afraid their attitude will upset the company culture. If you are a qualified candidate, it isn’t your age that will decline you. Usually, it is your attitude around your age that won’t fit into the culture. 

Candidates are declined because their attitude points out differences in a negative way. The specific attitude that points to negative differences vs. diversity as a positive that get the candidate into trouble. This is often a symptom of a larger outlook on life which isn’t limited to age, race, size etc.

We all want to work with colleagues who treat us as equals vs. someone who thinks they are better than me because of their age, size, or knowledge. This applies to both candidates younger and older. If someone has 10 years more experience than me, it is obvious they know more than me. I assume they are more skilled than me. This doesn’t have to be pointed out with subtle insults or unintentional comments about my age that make me “feel different or less than”. These comments, even the unintentional ones come off as condescending. Personally, I want to be hired or not hired because of my job knowledge and experience. Not my age or because I am an Insta model.

It’s not age, it’s self-consciousness about age, size, shape, etc.

If a candidate is self-conscious about age, their physical size, or qualifications during the interview, we assume this will probably show up in customer interactions. If you reveal a negative attitude about your potential difference in an interview, you are probably not going to be hired. You won’t be declined because of your age. You will be declined because of how you handle your age and how you make your interviewer feel. If you are comfortable with your “difference” and handle your difference with grace, it shouldn’t be a barrier. The way to handle any “difference” with grace is to not bring up your “difference”.  

I hire candidates over 50 on a regular basis

There are many positions where we are looking for candidates who have 15-20 plus years of experience. These candidates are in their 50’s and 60’s. There are two defining qualities that lead to hiring:

  • Confidence that the candidate has kept up with their industry practices and is open to new ideas. We don’t hire candidates who give us the impression they are practicing their craft the same way they were 15-20 years ago.    
  • The candidate is comfortable with themselves. Consequently, this candidate is easy to work with, train, be trained by, and discuss new ideas with. The candidate is comfortable with their intellect, qualifications, physical appearance, the emotional state of mind, etc. No one wants to be around anyone who is always putting down their looks, weight, lack of hair, or age. 

We want your authentic self. We want your diversity and the experiences that come with a long and successful career. No one wants to work with anyone’s baggage.  

We have all met a physically beautiful person who is nervous or conscious about being overweight. We didn’t think they are overweight but by bringing it up, an elephant was introduced to the room. What am I supposed to say when I hear someone comment on their weight or age?

No one wants to hire a candidate if the candidate comes with an elephant

After talking with 1000’s of candidates, in my opinion, if you are positive, confident, and comfortable about your “perceived” “difference” you have a real shot. By comfortable I mean, the difference doesn’t’ come up! Address your topic of expertise in a confident and articulate manner and people will listen. We are hiring you for your expertise, not your “difference”.

Uncomfortable with your “differences”

I won’t decline a candidate because they are diverse in background or age. I do decline candidates because they make other people uncomfortable about their “difference”. Like most employees, I want to work with people from all walks of life. As it relates to age, this doesn’t mean we need to go out and buy skinny hipster jeans and wear baseball caps backward. It means to dress current for your age and industry. We can dress conservatively while still showing your boss and your customer “current”. 

We hire candidates for their expertise and their ability to focus on expertise. Successful candidates don’t allow their differences to become a distraction.

Who do you want to work with?

I want to work with people who are current with modern professional practices in finance, HR, development, marketing, and product, etc. 

A few years ago, Wal-Mart showed a string of television commercials which featured the role of the professional greeter. I really appreciated these commercials and unfortunately, I don’t see this role at Wal-Mart anymore. These commercials help me make my point. Greeters are comfortable with themselves and typically late in their careers. They smiled, said hello to everyone and handed out stickers to the little wee ones. Imagine yourself interviewing candidates for this position. You absolutely need employees in these roles who are comfortable with themselves. Greeters should not be embarrassed or self-conscious about their physicality. The customer won’t appreciate the self-consciousness. Greeters need to be comfortable and confident when their friends and relatives walk through the door.


No ageism here

The Greeters interview

Can you imagine hiring a candidate for the role of greeter if they make a negative comment about their age? Someone who is comfortable with themselves wouldn’t think about making a negative comment about themselves or anyone else. 

  • “I saw commercials on TV showing a bunch of old folks doing this job. As an old-timer, I am qualified”
  • “I saw the commercials on TV and saw a bunch of old folks at the front door. Wal-Mart needs some younger blood in the role, not those old timers. I am 30 and can bring a fresh perspective.”
  • “I figured this job doesn’t take any skill. All you need to do is say hello to people when they walk through the door”. (candidate made a negative comment about the role)
  • Showing up to the interview with clothes that are 10 years old and showing their age

All of the above will land you a declination.

I probably wouldn’t hire someone late in their career if they showed up in hipster jeans and a baseball cap on backward. The perception is they are trying too hard to be early in their career. Conservative khaki’s and a polo shirt or button-down is completely appropriate.

It’s all in your attitude 

In most instances, it is your attitude and how you communicate that attitude visually and verbally. It’s our outward cues that will determine if discrimination will be experienced. If you want to minimize exposure to discrimination in a job interview, appear current, comfortable with yourself, and avoid bringing up your potential difference.

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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