The Career Coach is In

Take a young interviewer seriously


I am in my fifties and have been job searching for several months. I have gotten called for a number of interviews.  Everyone I have interviewed with is younger than me, but some of them have been kids!  It's hard to take them seriously, but I know that I have to if I want a job.  Any thoughts?
So much about how the world of work used to operate is no longer applicable in the 21st century, including the idea that age always equals senior status.    
If you grew up under the old world order, the new one can be quite disorienting.  But if you can't take your interviewer seriously, they are unlikely to view you as a serious candidate. Your condescension is going to leak out, no matter how hard you try to hide it.

So you have to work yourself to a place of openness to the specific characterisics of your interviewer. Just as you do not wish to be viewed as an out-of-touch old fogey just because of your college graduation date, your interviewers do not want to be dismissed as wet-behind-the-ears and clueless simply because of their comparative youth.

A good place to start is for you to examine the assumptions that have you defaulting to defensiveness whenever confronted with a younger supervisor. Think about the people you have worked with. Has age always equated to wisdom and effectiveness among your colleagues? Can you think of examples when older did not mean wiser in a colleague? Can you identify younger colleagues who have earned your respect for their smarts and their ability to work well with you? If you can identify someone young and bright that you respect (a daughter, a nephew, a former co-worker), it can help to bring that individual to mind just before an interview and imagine how you would interact with that person. It's a way of priming your mind to be open and can help counter any knee-jerk tendencies to judge.

I would also encourage you to raise the issue of age in an interview. That way, you can both address the elephant in the room. "I am very comfortable working for people who are younger than I am, but I wonder if you have any concerns about working with someone my age?" Your interviewer may say that age isn't an issue, she has supervised a wide range of people and ages. If so, relax and treat her like the in-charge adult she is clearly conveying herself to be. If she's uncomfortable, then simply say "It looks like you may have some concerns. Please give me the opportunity to address them."

It may help if you take a stab at one or two, and immediately knock them down with counter-examples. "I imagine that you may be worried I won't take direction well from someone younger, but my last boss was also younger than me, and we had a great relationship. She is one of my references, so you can raise the issue with her."

You may overcome the problem, or not, but at least the interviewer can see that you are open and responsive to possible concerns and that's a start. And although I know that you may not fully believe your answers now, if you keep at it, you may find that age stops being such a hot button for you and you can actually focus on the person sitting across from you.


Karen Chopra

 |  May 5, 2010; 5:00 AM ET  |  Category:  Interviewing Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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