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Overcoming age in the job interview

mature candidate

Age doesn’t have to be a factor in the job interview

Mature candidate

Today’s post focuses on the mature candidate as part three of a 3 part series on age discrimination in the job interview. Lessons from this post can be used for all age demographics.

I mentioned in Post 1 of this three-part series that I would jump at the opportunity to hire the two mature candidates below. You can read about Einstein and Leonardo de Vinci post here.

mature candidate

I would hire both of these candidates as long as they didn’t make their age an issue in the interview.

I am trying to recruit a mature candidate 

As we speak, I am talking to a mature candidate who is late in their career. This candidate brings a wealth of knowledge and training wisdom to the table. He is quick to smile and everyone feels comfortable around him. This guy doesn’t make fun of his age, put his age down, or disrespect anyone. He leverages his years of experience by making others with less experience around him better. This candidate is a force multiplier and any company would be happy to have him. He focuses on his expertise and his age doesn’t enter into the picture. 

How do I personally overcome ageism?

The first step to avoiding age discrimination is to match your level of experience to the role. I absolutely decline resumes that show 20 years of experience when the job only asks for 7-10 years of experience. I decline resumes with 5-6 years of experience when the job is looking for 2 years of experience. Someone with 5-6 years of experience has more skills and consequently higher salary expectations than the budget assigned to a role looking for 2 years of experience.

Candidates with 20 years of experience should apply for roles that are looking for this level of experience.   

Why I am hired 

As a mature candidate, I was hired into my current role because I have 20 years of experience. A candidate with 20 years of experience will have job knowledge that is gained with years of experience. Because of my tenure, I have experienced more scenarios than an entry-level HR professional. I was able to accumulate my 10,000 hours and learn from the experiences that a wide variety of scenarios and multiple companies provided on multiple continents. I don’t say this to brag, I say this to make the point. You don’t gain that experience in 3-5 years and the CEO didn’t want 3-5 years of experience. He wanted 20. He wanted a mature candidate.  

I don’t begrudge my experience. If anything, I appreciate my level of expertise and only pursue opportunities where the hiring company is looking for candidates with 20 years of experience. I am literally “too old” for entry or mid-level position. If I apply for these jobs, I won’t be declined for my age, I will be declined because I am over-qualified and probably looking for a salary that is out of the budget. It will be assumed that the level of work will be boring and my salary requirements are out of the position’s budget.

A candidate that is uncomfortable with their age will unconsciously bring up their age in the interview. 

Here are a few examples of how mature candidates signaled they are NOT comfortable with their age or perceives someone younger generations:

  1. I gave a tour of the company to a more experienced candidate and as we went past the customer service area, the candidate said: “Wow, you have a lot of younger people working here”. This was a totally irrelevant statement. Customer service at our company is an entry-level position. The majority of this department is made up of employees who are early in their careers. On the other hand, our technologists have an average of 15+ years of experience. The comment was a flag that “age” was a thing for this candidate. Throughout the rest of the interview, further comments reinforced the insecurity.
  2. A senior candidate tells me that “This reference is before your time” or “You are too young to know about this”. This statement points to our potential differences. These statements subconsciously separate us. It is similar to the difference between using the phrase, “We made a mistake” and the phrase “You made a mistake” or “You do this”. The inference is that we are NOT on the same team. This candidate could have come up with a phrase I am familiar with but instead pointed to our differences.
  3. Addressing someone a few generations younger as “youngster”, “kiddo”, or “”. How do you imagine mature candidates feel when someone refers to you as “-” or “over the hill”? Because we don’t know how everyone will react, we should avoid these references.

In all of the above instances the mature candidate referenced age where it was completely irrelevant. As candidates, we can talk about the company décor, talk about the commute, or talk about the benefits. These are all relevant to the job. Years of experience may be relevant, but age in the workplace is not. 


I recently addressed a room of mature candidates who were looking for job search advice after a recent layoff. I estimate that the average age was 50 – 55. As I looked around the room, I thought that most of these folks would have a hard time landing a position regardless of their qualifications.   

This is a very presumptuous assumption but this room appeared as if they had stepped right out of the year 2000 – 2010.  The clothes, the eyeglasses, and the haircuts were all dead giveaways to another era. This audience was employed with the same company for the past 10-20 years. The assumption was that they would retire with this corporation and didn’t need to pay attention to their presentation layer. How they presented themselves led me to question whether or not they had kept up with professional practices.  They looked like they became comfortable in the year 2000 and hadn’t moved forward since. 

Some readers may be thinking that I am an ass by judging the book by the cover. Yes, the room could have been filled with geniuses. My point is that landing a job is a competition, and we don’t want to give away points because of a poor first impression. 

Convey confidence, not insecurity

Landing a job offer is about conveying confidence you can do the job. The first step to conveying confidence in your professional acumen is paying attention to your personal presentation layer. I don’t need to see hipster jeans and baseball caps worn backward. I just don’t want to see the year 2000. I don’t need to see the latest extreme fashion. No one wants to see extreme fashion in the workplace. I want to see current and appropriate for the position.

For those of you who are looking for more clarification on your presentation layer, I have a Pinterest page which shows various dress recommendations for the various industries and age groups.

The mature candidate has had the most opportunity to learn and become successful. We need to convey success. Looks and qualifications are two different things. Most of the folks I was helping were highly qualified, but if we want to stack the deck in our favor, we should look and sound current with the times.

Differentiate yourself

I’d like to share one last mechanic I employ when coaching a mature candidate. I always suggest candidates list hobbies and personal interests at the end of the resume. I blogged about what makes a great resume and specifically mentioned personal interests. If you are over 50, give the reader a picture of who you are that will separate you from the other impersonal resumes that only list accomplishments. List activities that show you are doing at least one of the below:

  • Learning a new skill
  • Physically active

Stereotype reinforced

The mature candidate is stereotyped just like other age demographics. This demographic has a stigma of avoiding new methodologies and technologies. The common saying, “At my last company, we did it this way” is a perfect example of telling the interviewer we are stuck in the past. Interviewers want to hear different ideas but also want to hear that you are open to new ideas. If the interviewer gets the feeling that the method from your prior company is the only way or the best way, they will get nervous.   

If you run, practice yoga, bike, motorcycle, golf, or hike, list this physical activity and break the stereotype. One thing I hear from more experienced candidates is that they don’t want to list a personal interest because they are not yet an expert. This is exactly what I want to hear!! Everyone wants to work with people who are open minded to new ideas and learning new skills!

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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