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What you need to think about when interviewed by a younger interviewer

younger interviewers

Are you ready for this interview loop?

Interviewed by a younger interviewer

Interviews are stressful enough but being interviewed by a younger interviewer can add additional psychological complications.

First, put yourself in the less experienced person’s shoes. If you were a 20 or 30 something and interviewing someone 10 -20 years your senior, how would you feel?  More than likely, you are going to be a little nervous. This is why making the younger interviewer feel comfortable and important is the NUMBER ONE thing you can do to increase your chances of success with any demographic. No one wants to interview someone who makes him or her feel uncomfortable. If they don’t feel comfortable interviewing you, they are not going to stick around and see if they are comfortable working with you.

Your number one goal is to treat your younger interview as an equal

I am generalizing and being a bigot here, but I am trying to make a point. I know the following stereotypes effect ALL demographics. The younger interviewer may lack a few personal or professional qualities and these should NOT come as a surprise to any candidate regardless of experience level. This younger interviewer could be a gatekeeper, peer, or potential manager so you absolutely need to treat them with the same respect you would a similarly experienced peer.  I have talked with candidates after being interviewed by a younger interviewer and the fact that one of the below is mentioned tells me that respect was lost. Although the candidate doesn’t think their disdain showed, trust me 9 times out of 10, the younger interviewer took notice as well and the game was cut short.  Don’t let any of the below throw you off your game (and yes, I am generalizing here).:

  • The younger interviewer may be dressed significantly more casually than you are
  • The younger interviewer may not have the polish, manners or consideration that you do
  • The younger interviewer probably won’t have the interview experience that you do
  • The younger interviewer may not recognize the brands on your resume, including Fortune 100 companies
  • The younger interviewer may ask more tactical or day-to-day questions than strategic questions.

I could have checked all of the above bullets when I was in my 20’s and early 30’s and I would have been a little uncomfortable interviewing a potential boss. When I first started interviewing C level execs, I know I was nervous, but over time, I learned a lot about how to handle myself from these more experienced candidates.

Over 40 stereotypes

As with any group, there are stereotypes. Assumptions are made and questions will be asked, but they will all point to 3 questions:

  • “Can you not just do the job but improve the role?”
  • “Do you have a passion for the work?”

Regardless of your background or what demographic you represent, the first two requirements “can you do the job” and “do you have a passion for the work” are pretty straightforward to prove. Prior jobs, bullets on a resume, and a few job-related interview questions on your experience make this one relatively binary.

In my opinion, the third bullet is the most important.  Will you fit in?  Can I work with you?  If you are over 40, there are a number of possible stereotypes (as unfair as it may be) working against your demographic. 

  • Not up on technology or resistant to technology
  • Not willing to work long hours because of family or health
  • Do not understand, or worse, do not want to understand social media
  • Not willing to roll up your sleeves and do the grunt work
  • Stuck in an old-fashioned way of doing things

All of the above are very tough jabs, and unfairly so.  I understand this.  Every group has stereotypes that are battled on a daily basis. The candidates that win this game are the ones who convey that they have broken the stereotype. They are comfortable with who they are, and what they represent.  As much as we need to “break the stereotype”, what is even more important is to not reinforce the negative stereotypes.

The first bullet listed above is “technology”.  If you come into an interview with an old flip phone, a day planner for a calendar, or mention that you resist Facebook, you are reinforcing the stereotype.

I have a good friend that is Asian and there are a number of things you will not catch him doing.  You will not see him wearing a camera around his neck or driving a lowered Honda with a big exhaust pipe and racing stickers.  In his mind, no professional corporate image is going to be reinforced with either of these images and to some degree, these things are only going to make his friends feel uncomfortable.  “Uhh dude, do you know what you look like with that camera around your neck?”  You don’t rike my camura?  It’s a Cashio doggy.”

It’s not what you say, it’s what people hear

Some of the most innocent things candidates over 40 say to a younger interviewer will end an interview. It isn’t intentional, it isn’t mean-spirited, and sometimes the person interviewing the candidate isn’t even able to figure it out, but they walk away with the feeling “the candidate talked down to me”. If I hear any of the below bullets in an interview, the candidate is probably working against themselves.

  • You said:  “You are young, you still have plenty of time to experience x, y, and z.”
  • They heard:  “You feel that your experience makes you more knowledgeable than me.”
  • You said: “This is before your time but” . . . (You want to call your age out, start with this!)
  • They heard: “I am obviously older and wiser than you.”
  • You said: “Kiddo, young fella, young lady etc”:  Addressing anyone with these terms of endearment is not endearing and I do hear this on a regular basis.
  • They heard: “You call me what I assume you call your child.  If I am looked at like one of your children, how will I be treated?”
  • You said: “I am impressed, you did really well with this interview.”
  • They heard: “You weren’t thinking I had the experience or the knowledge” and what they felt is that they were not looked at as an equal. 

You can score neutral points if you can subtly show that you recognize what is important to this demographic.

  • Like all demographics, younger people want to be treated as a peer, not like someone who is “less in any way”.
  • This generation wants to work with people who are passionate about their product or service. This isn’t “just a job” and no one wants to work with co-workers who look at their position as “just a job”.
  • The opportunity to learn new skills and concepts.

One way to show equality is to ask for an opinion. This is something you would ask of a peer or someone with a similar amount of experience as you. You do not have to ask a technical question.  The following are questions, which ask for a personal opinion and usually have a positive answer.

  • “What attracted you to work at Acme Publishing?”
  • “What do you like about working here?”
  • “What advice would you have for anyone that starts with this company?”

We absolutely need to speak to not just this generation, but ALL demographics the same exact way you would speak to someone your own age or with your own background. Just because they are interviewing you doesn’t mean they are not as nervous as you are. They probably do not have as much interview experience as you so make it easy on the younger interviewer.  Drive the conversation and answer the questions you know they want to hear answers to before the questions are asked. I still believe the best way to control an interview is explained here.

One way you can get a younger interviewer on your side is to convey that you are there to help them just like you would be there to help a peer. You colleague with peers, trading new ideas back and forth, challenging each other in a productive way. Do the same with a younger interviewer and your age will not be an issue. Teammates and equals are hired.  Parents, bosses, and know-it-alls are declined.

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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