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Job Interview Skills for the Over-50s. How to be Fully Prepared

Whether you’re returning to work, or making your next move, be fully prepared with our over-50s job interview tips.

James Marsh
James Marsh
A published author, as well as a corporate and lifestyle media professional, James works across content, marketing and consultancy.

Congratulations on landing an interview! You’re one step closer to landing the job. Just one more thing to go: the interview.

Interviewing for jobs when you’re over 50 can be challenging. There’s a strong possibility that you’ll be interviewed by someone younger than you, who may hold preconceptions about your skills and adaptability. Additionally, the interview might be held online, rather than face to face, making it harder to build rapport.

Here’s some tips on how to ace a job interview at 50 (and beyond).

Remember that the Interviewer Wants You to Be the Right Person for the Job

People don’t have time to hold interviews for the sake of it. That you’ve been asked means that your CV and cover letter were strong, and the interviewer believes that you have the right qualities and characteristics to do the job.

Your interview is your opportunity to prove their foresight to be correct, and to show them that what you offer is more than words on paper.

If you’re the right person, it means that the employer can make the hire and move on to other things. So, don’t go into your interview with negative thoughts of them looking for reasons to reject you.

If they didn’t think you could do the job, they wouldn’t waste time interviewing you.

Why a Job Interview Can Be Difficult in Your 50s

Ageism is a real problem, and it's something that many people over 40 have experienced in their job search. (Over 60% of those over 45 say they have experienced age bias in their job search.) But there are things you can do to minimise the effect of ageism and take back control in your job interview.

In the interview, talk about your work experiences and how your skills and knowledge can benefit the company. Share examples of how you have solved real-world problems in your previous roles. It's also important to reassure the interviewer that you are looking for a long-term position. Talk about your career goals and how you see yourself growing with the company. You can also mention your willingness to learn new skills and be flexible.

By following these tips, you can increase your chances of landing the job, even if you're returning to the workforce or have been out of the careers market for a while.

Preparing for Your Job Interview

If you’ve got an interview, don’t let nerves or excitement distract you from the work that lies ahead. Acing your job interview takes preparation.

Take some time to review the original job advert and re-read the job description. Read any information that’s been sent to you. This will refresh your memory of the position and help reinforce what the company is looking for in a candidate. Spend some time looking at the company website and LinkedIn page. This will give you a better understanding of the company’s culture and values. You can also use this information to come up with some questions to ask the interviewer.

Understand how the company describes itself, its aims, ambitions and ethos, who the key people in the business are and the role that you have applied for. Look for key words and phrases (such as the brand proposition or mission statement) and reflect them in your interview. You'll be demonstrating that you understand both the company and the role.

Next, take a look at Glassdoor. This website allows employees to anonymously review their companies. Reading through these reviews can give you some insight into what it’s like to work at the company. It can also help you identify any potential red flags.

Once you’ve done your research, it’s time to start practising your answers to common interview questions. There are a number of resources available online that can help you with this. You can also ask a friend or family member to help you practice by conducting a mock interview.

Finally, make sure you dress professionally for your interview. First impressions are important, so you want to make sure you look the part.

Have a Mock Job Interview

Feeling nervous or rusty? Ask a friend or family member to role-play an interviewer. Have them ask one or two difficult questions. They don’t need to give feedback – it’s more about getting used to speaking about yourself. Thinking up answers and saying them out loud are two very different things. Practice, practice, practice!

It’s a great opportunity to think about the kind of questions you might be asked, so you can prepare yourself to answer them. Of course, you’re not going to know for sure what you’ll be asked, but it’s a good way to have a head start on your responses.

Are You Having a Virtual Interview?

Many interviews are now carried out remotely, using a web conferencing app, such as Zoom or Teams. If you’re not meeting in person, you’ll want to be prepared.

A day or so before the interview:

1. Test all your equipment using the same programme or app the interview will utilise – make sure both the camera and microphone are working. Make a test call, to check that everything’s working correctly.

2. If you’re planning on sharing your screen to show something, make sure that you know how to do this, so that it looks seamless during your interview. Ensure that you have any unrelated windows and apps closed. Nobody wants to see your email history or a random message from a friend popping up part-way through your interview.

3. Try to raise your device so your camera is at about shoulder height and not looking up at you. You can place it on books to do this, but make sure it is stable.

4. Look at what’s behind you in the shot. Remove anything that is not work-like and aim for a neutral background. Some video conferencing tools let you add a blur or artificial background in the settings. If you’re planning on using one, it’s important to test it to make sure that it works and that you’re not caught out on the day.

5. Check your lighting – a place with natural light is best. Sitting in the shadows can make us look older and even a little menacing, when it’s important to look sunny and bright!

6. Ensure you won’t be disturbed by partners, pets or anyone else. Turn off your phone and any email or app notifications.

7. Interviewers and recruiters often do a little research on you before the interview. How? Make sure your LinkedIn profile is up to date. (Only 17% of over-50s are active on LinkedIn, so get ahead of your peers.) Check there’s nothing on your personal social media channels that is inappropriate or consider setting them to private.

Is It a Face-To-Face Interview?

If your interview is in person, plan to be in the local area at least 15 minutes before your interview. Use your phone’s mapping system to calculate your journey time. Make sure that you’ve allowed plenty of time to accommodate for traffic jams, delayed trains, or any other unexpected hold-ups. You can always sit in a nearby coffee shop until it is time to make your way to your meeting. If you’ve made notes, it's a great time to get them out and refresh your memory.

The Interview Itself

Here are some tips and reminders – these apply to both face-to-face and virtual interviews.

Be positive. Remember: they want you to be The One! So be positive. Positivity is infectious and people like to work with positive colleagues.

Dress smartly. Modern business wear tends to be smart casual, but don’t be afraid to ask if they have a dress code (you can call the reception desk and ask). It’s better to be too smart, than looking like you’ve come from the gym.

Small talk. No-one wants to dive straight in, so prepare to make some small talk – about the weather, a non-political news story or the local area.

Be enthusiastic. Tell them why you want this job and what it is about the company that appeals to you. Remember, the person interviewing you already works there, and they want someone who is keen to join them, not because it was the only job going. This is where your research into the company and the role will help.

Include everyone in the conversation. If there’s more than one person in the interview, make sure you talk to everyone in the room – and if you can remember each person’s name and use it in your replies, even better.

Be respectful. Make sure you listen to their questions and give the interviewer(s) time to talk and explain. It’s a sign of respect.

You Have Lots of Experience, but Don’t Overshare!

Some people imagine that older workers are stuck in their ways – show that isn’t true by using examples that demonstrate your flexibility and ability to adapt. One of the advantages of being older is you have so much experience and so many examples you can draw on. But keep any example short, stay on point and beware of oversharing. Try to remember “STAR:”

Situation – What was the circumstance that required your help?

Task – What was it you were asked to do?

Action – What action did you choose and why?

Result – What was the result?

If you seem overqualified for the role, the interviewer may be concerned that you are just going to accept the role short-term while you find something better. Take the opportunity to reassure them by mentioning the aspects of the job or company you find exciting or explain that what attracts you is the flexibility the role offers, combined with the long-term prospects.

Know the Technology

Older workers have an unfair reputation for being unable to cope with technology. Show this isn’t the case and that you can use standard business software such as Word, Excel and PowerPoint. Mention other software you may know, especially if there are any programmes or apps particular to the role. If you’re concerned about this, you can complete short online courses in most IT programmes for free.

Watch Out for Unconscious Bias – Yours!

You may be interviewed by someone younger than you. Yes, they are younger but that doesn’t mean they are thinking you are too old, so don’t attribute attitudes to them that aren’t necessarily there. They are only doing their job, so help them by being professional, respectful and listening carefully to their questions.

That said, there is no need for you to emphasise the age difference. Try not to refer to world events from two decades ago, the year you bought your first record or your grandchildren. Instead of saying, “I worked for 26 years as a credit controller,” say “I have over ten years of experience as a credit controller.”

It’s worth noting the inevitability that multigenerational workforces will soon be the norm. Get ahead of the curve and show that you are comfortable being interviewed by – and working with – someone who is 10, 20 or even 30 years younger. Celebrate that you’re an experienced worker with a modern outlook.

Five Difficult Questions Over-50s face in Job Interviews:

1. Why should we hire you?

2. Why did you leave your last job?

3. What are your short-term/long-term goals?

4. What are your biggest strengths/weaknesses?

5. Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?

Think carefully about these and have a positive answer ready. Even the question about a weakness can be turned around. It’s an opportunity to show that you respond to constructive criticism. For example: “I can be a perfectionist and a bit of a stickler for detail. But I’m working on it! And I know the most important thing is getting the work completed on time and to budget.”

Your answers can show how positive you are about the future, what you can bring to the company and what you want to achieve in the next stage of your career. If your age does come up (though, legally, it shouldn’t), try to move the focus away from age and towards experience. Show how you have adapted and thrived in all the changes that have happened in the workplace in recent years.

Do You Have Any Questions?

This is an opportunity for you to show your interest in the company, refer to topics that came up in the interview and mirror your interviewer’s language by reflecting back on some of the issues they brought up.

Have a reserve question ready in case you need one. Some good examples may be:

  • Can you explain how you give feedback?
  • Can you tell me more about the training you offer?
  • Will there be a second interview?

Should I Follow Up After the Job Interview?

Yes! Most people don’t, so if you follow up, you will stand out. Consider writing a short email to the interviewer(s), thanking them for their time and suggesting they contact you if they need any clarification. Sign off with how you are looking forward to hearing from them.

And that’s it. Keep it short and sweet.

Over 50s Job Search – It Needn't Be an Uphill Challenge

Employers are starting to realise the value that older workers can bring to the workplace. Greater experience, less time off sick, greater flexibility and something else are just a few of the things that we bring to the workplace. More employers are driving age-inclusive recruitment strategies that celebrate the skills that older workers bring.

Regardless of the level of job you are applying for and whether it’s a step out of unretirement, or a career move to your next high-flying role, it’s important to celebrate the skills that life has taught you and to recognise that they can equip you to take you into the workforce in a role that’s right for you.

If you’re unsuccessful in your current interview, don’t lose heart. It’s an opportunity to learn what you can do better next time. Take some time to reflect on this and if you feel it’s appropriate, ask the interviewer for feedback that can help you improve. And remember, it isn’t personal. They have just found someone who is a better fit (this time).

Keep looking! Our jobs page is the ideal place to find jobs with age-inclusive employers who are just looking for people like you.