Tips for Older Job Seekers
Part 3: Ace the Job Interview

By Toni Vranjes

November 26, 2010

Older people are facing new challenges in today’s job market. To help with these challenges, Revive My Career is running a three-part series providing tips for job seekers age 40 and older. The first part examines getting started, becoming tech-savvy, and connecting with others. The second installment helps you prepare job-search tools and find job openings. This third part explores the steps to a successful interview, focusing on research, etiquette, body language, and attitude.

Prepare for the Job Interview

Hopefully all of your hard work will result in an interview. If you do get an appointment to speak with an employer, do your homework before the big day. Being knowledgeable about the company will help you make a good impression, says Yesenia Evangelista, of the California Employment Development Department (EDD).

Research the company’s business model, its recent performance, and its long-term prospects. Dig deep. You don’t want to join a company that’s on the verge of collapse.

Also, try to learn more about the position itself. What is the salary range, and what are the specific duties? And how does the job fit into the overall structure of the company?

Use many different tools for your research. You often can find a public company’s annual report and other useful information on its website. Also search online for relevant articles from reputable news sources. Visit the public library to find other relevant information. You may also want to call the company receptionist and ask basic questions about the business.

When you finish your research, write a list of questions to ask toward the end of the interview, says Evangelista, an EDD employment-program representative in Los Angeles. The questions will convey your interest in the company, and the answers will help you determine if the company is a good fit for you.

Since you don’t want to bombard the interviewer with questions, ask no more than five, Evangelista adds.

Here are some examples:

  • What is the company’s philosophy?
  • What is the work environment like?
  • What are the company’s strengths and weaknesses?
  • What are the company’s short-term and long-term goals?
  • What do you like most about working for the company, and what do you like the least?
  • What are the most challenging parts of the job?
  • How long has this position existed?
  • Who would be my supervisor?
  • When can I expect to hear from you?

Evangelista says that a particularly good question to ask is, “How did you get to this position?” This gives the interviewer an opportunity to talk about himself or herself at length, which makes the person feel good, she says. And this question also shows that the job seeker is ambitious, according to Crystal Prendiz, an EDD employment-program manager in Los Angeles. In this way, the interviewer may remember you in a positive light.

In addition to preparing your list of questions, you need to make sure you have the right clothes and accessories. Appropriate attire and a neat appearance will help you make the right impression. So don’t wear a neon-pink outfit to the interview, and pay attention to personal grooming.

Candidates for white-collar jobs should wear dark-colored suits, and they should project a professional image, Evangelista says.

Here are her tips regarding appearance for white-collar job interviews:

For men:

  • Wear a navy or dark-gray suit (solid color).
  • Wear a long-sleeve shirt (white or color-coordinated with the suit).
  • Wear a tie and belt.
  • Wear dark socks and conservative leather shoes.
  • Wear a minimal amount of jewelry.
  • Have a neat, professional hairstyle.
  • If you wear aftershave or cologne, apply a minimal amount.
  • Your nails should be neatly trimmed.
  • Carry a portfolio or briefcase.

For women:

  • Wear a black, navy or dark-gray suit (with skirt long enough to sit down comfortably).
  • Wear a coordinated blouse.
  • Wear neutral pantyhose and conservative shoes.
  • Wear a minimal amount of jewelry.
  • Have a neat, professional hairstyle.
  • Your makeup should be subtle.
  • If you wear perfume, apply a minimal amount.
  • Your nails should be manicured and clean.
  • Carry a portfolio or briefcase.

In your portfolio or briefcase, place work samples, lists of references, letters of recommendation, a copy of your resume, and your diploma. It’s a good idea to have these items on hand, in case the interviewer requests any of them. Also, bring a pen and a small pad for taking notes during the interview.

If you’re seeking a job that’s not white-collar, dress less formally. For example, a man interviewing for a construction job could wear a polo shirt and khakis, and a woman interviewing for a warehouse job could wear a nice blouse and pants, Prendiz says.

Before the day of the interview, practice with a family member or friend.

When the big day finally arrives, be pleasant and mind your manners:

  • Don’t bring coffee or soda to the interview.
  • Do bring a breath mint, and use it before you enter the building.
  • Leave your cell phone in the car. Or, if you want to bring the phone with you, turn it off before going inside.
  • Once you’re in the building, don’t listen to an iPod, and don’t chew gum.

At the Job Interview

Now, another challenge awaits you: forming a connection with the interviewer. Although your skills and experience are important, they’re less important than the subjective reaction the interviewer has to you as a person, according to Evangelista. It’s vital that the interviewer actually likes you.

Your attitude can make or break the job interview. Don’t walk in with “negative energy,” she says.

“Regardless of how you may feel, you have to walk in there like everything’s fine, like your age will not be an issue,” Evangelista adds.

To project confident body language and a polite manner, she offers this advice:

  • Smile when you meet the interviewer.
  • Have a firm handshake.
  • Respect the interviewer’s space. Ask where you should sit, and place your belongings next to your chair.
  • Sit up straight.
  • If you’d like to take notes, ask permission before the interview begins.
  • Show that you’re interested in what the interviewer is saying. Maintain good eye contact, and be a good listener.

Meanwhile, speak in a professional and focused manner:

  • Use the interviewer’s name.
  • Discuss the skills and accomplishments you have that are relevant to the position you’re seeking.
  • Give specific examples of how you’ve been reliable and punctual in previous jobs.
  • Don’t criticize previous employers.
  • Be friendly and display a sense of humor, but don’t be too casual. Remember that you’re talking to an interviewer, not a family member.
  • Don’t volunteer personal information like your age, marital status, or whether you have children.

Although confidence is good, arrogance isn’t. The interviewer needs to see that you’re friendly and likable.

“Employers don’t want employees who are going to cause problems or conflict,” Evangelista notes. “You need to be able to get along with others.”

During the interview, also show the employer that you’re flexible, since you may have to fill in for other workers occasionally.

“They need someone who has the ability to go from one position to the next in two seconds, and just go with the flow,” Prendiz says.

Stay calm during the interview, and think before answering any difficult questions that arise. Answer all of the interviewer’s questions, unless they’re personally insulting or intrusive, says Tim Driver, CEO of career website Retirement Jobs, which is based in Waltham, Mass.

One possible question that could catch a job candidate off-guard is, “Are you interviewing at any other companies?” Should that question come up, be honest. If the answer is yes, say so, but don’t disclose the names of the other companies, Prendiz advises. Instead, shift the conversation. Discuss why you want to work for the firm at which you’re currently interviewing.

If you get criticism during the interview, take it gracefully.

Meanwhile, watch for signs that the interview is coming to an end. When the time is right, ask your questions.

Afterwards, find out if the interviewer needs any more information from you. Then, try to end the interview on a positive note. Summarize your skills and qualifications, and summarize why you want to work for the company. Be sure to convey enthusiasm.

At this point, find out where you stand, Evangelista suggests. For instance, you could ask, “Do you have any reservations about my qualifications that I can address?”

Don’t talk about salary, unless the interviewer brings it up, she advises. The best time to discuss salary is when you actually get a job offer. One useful resource in salary discussions is the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, which provides wage estimates for hundreds of occupations.

Thank the interviewer, and get his or her business card. Also thank the receptionist and anyone else you met at the company.

After the Job Interview

When the interview has ended, your work isn’t over yet.

You should write a thank-you note that briefly restates your qualifications and expresses your continued interest in the job. If you decide to e-mail a thank-you message, send it that evening. If you plan to send a letter in the regular mail, remember to sign it, and address the envelope to the interviewer’s attention.

If you haven’t heard back after a week or so, follow-up by phone. Let the interviewer know you’re still interested in the job, and find out if he or she needs any more information from you. If necessary, leave a message on voicemail.

When you speak with the interviewer, ask when you should follow up again. Then keep following up until you find out the employer’s decision.

If the company selects you, get the job offer in writing, and think long and hard before making your decision.

However, if the company offers the job to someone else, don’t lose hope. You may feel discouraged, but other opportunities await you.

“If you’re persistent and have a positive attitude, you’ll be successful,” says Martha Escobedo, director of the WorkSource career center in Monterey Park, Calif.

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