En español | At a certain point in each career, interviewing for a new job may feel a bit “been there, done that.” After all, it's not uncommon for people to switch jobs more than a dozen times over the course of their careers, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Interviews sometimes may feel familiar and even perfunctory.
But there are some common mistakes that people age 50 and older need to watch out for, says human resources (HR) expert and consultant Diane N. Gallo. Some of the approaches you used earlier in your career might not work now because of how the hiring process has changed, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic started. “Many [mistakes made] are in relation to presentation, some technology,” she says.
Here are nine common missteps mid-career job seekers make in interviews, along with tips to help you avoid these errors.
1. Inexperienced using video technology
Even before the pandemic, recruiters and hiring managers were shifting to video interviews, especially in the early rounds of decisions. By now, employers will expect you to be comfortable with this technology, Gallo says. Ask about the platform the interviewer will be using — often Zoom, Microsoft Teams or Google Meet — and do a couple of practice sessions using that particular technology. Usually, you can download the platform free of charge and ask a friend or family member to do a mock interview with you. Learn how to mute and unmute yourself, and explore some of the platform's other bells and whistles such as chat messaging and video backgrounds so you look knowledgeable, she says.
While you're job seeking, you may also want to subscribe to a high-speed internet connection, if you don't already have one. Job interviews can be tense enough even without the video glitches that can happen with a slow Wi-Fi signal. If you need financial assistance paying for high-speed internet, consider using the federal Electronic Broadband Benefit.
2. Ignoring ‘production values’ in video interviews
While you're testing out the video platform, pay attention to the way you look on screen, Gallo says. Planning a good video interview today means being a bit of a multimedia producer, too. Find a quiet place to do the interview that has a comfortable chair and an attractive background without too much clutter.
Elevate your laptop so that you're not looking down at its camera and ensure you have proper lighting so you look ready for your closeup, Gallo adds. Investing in an inexpensive “ring” light — available online for $20 or less — produces a flattering effect that helps you look your best on camera, she says.
Pay attention to your appearance for a video interview the same way you would for an in-person interview, Gallo says. If you need a good haircut, get one. Make sure you look neat and professional, not overdressed. And test how your outfit looks on camera. “Big prints don't work really well. And you might not think of that, because that may be how you normally dress,” she says. Treat your video interview with every bit of seriousness you would an in-person interview and prepare accordingly.
3. Disregarding pandemic safety measures
If your interview is in person, be sure to ask about any COVID-19 provisions that the office has in place, Gallo says. Find out if you are required to wear a mask or abide by other rules and requests — and do so. Many offices have gone to great lengths to put measures in place to keep employees safe, and this is your chance to show you're both a team player and attentive to details.
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4. Not reviewing your résumé and LinkedIn profile
Be sure to brush up on the finer points of your résumé before you sit down with the interviewer, says Damian Birkel, founder of Professionals in Transition, a nonprofit that helps people find jobs, and author of The Job Search Checklist: Everything You Need to Know to Get Back to Work After a Layoff. If someone asks you a question about your résumé, you should be prepared to answer it off the top of your head. That may be hard to do if you haven't reviewed the document for a while or if you've been customizing your résumé for each job you apply for — a practice that generally is considered good to do.
While you're reviewing your résumé, make sure it matches your LinkedIn profile, Birkel says. Interviewers and recruiters may see discrepancies as red flags.
5. Winging it
"A lot of times, people think they understand the job or understand the company because they have ‘done it before,’" Gallo says. “And they don't do enough homework on that role in the company they're interviewing for.”
It's important for older applicants to show they are able to help the employer achieve the goals it has set for its future. Look at how the role for which you are applying may have changed and how it might change in the next few years. What new technology is affecting how it gets done? What other teams will you work with? How will your role affect other departments and how can you bring value?
If you walk in with preconceived notions and without having done your homework, you could be at a disadvantage, she says.
6. Being uncomfortable with a younger recruiter
It may feel odd to sit down with a decision maker who may be decades your junior, but this is an opportunity to “show interviewers that you can work well with young coworkers or a boss who's younger than you,” says job search and interviewing coach Thea Kelley, who writes the “Great Job Sooner” blog and is author of Get that Job! The Quick and Complete Guide to a Winning Interview. Listen more than you talk and avoid sounding condescending. “Let's share our expertise concisely and respectfully, and at the right time and place,” she says.
7. Sharing old stories
You may have some great work stories from 15 or 20 years ago, but be aware that those tales may make you seem dated, Gallo says. When you think about the anecdotes you may share to illustrate strengths like problem-solving, communication or conflict resolution, think about recent examples you can offer.
"People are looking for specifics that parallel what they're looking for [now],” Gallo says.
8. Forgetting that your skills are more than your jobs
If you're interviewing for a job that might require new skills, stop and take an inventory of all the things you actually do, Birkel says. For example, you might not manage a budget in the job you have now, but if you've helped run a nonprofit or served on a school board, you have experience making decisions about where money goes.
Think about your community service and volunteer work and other responsibilities you have. What skills do you use on a regular basis? Could those be important skills in the job for which you're interviewing? Your experience includes all of the things you do, so during the interview highlight any transferable skills you might have, he says.
9. Counting yourself out
One of the most important mistakes to avoid is counting yourself out or worrying too much about ageism. “Many job seekers overestimate the effect of ageism on their job search. Many hiring managers value the maturity, stability and good judgment of older employees,” she says. And with the tight labor market leaving many jobs unfilled, according to the BLS, your knowledge and experience are valuable commodities, Kelley adds.
She advises job seekers to be aware of the specific stereotypes some interviewers may hold, and proactively take steps to debunk them. “To overcome the stereotype that older people are out of touch with new trends or tools, get up to speed through online reading, taking a course, attending conferences and expos, making coffee dates with knowledgeable people, and so on. Refer to these activities in interviews as appropriate, as well as in your résumé and on LinkedIn and/or other social media,” she advises.
Interviews may have changed somewhat, but some elements are still universal. Do your homework before the interview, be prepared to showcase your skills during the meeting, and follow up with a note or email thanking the interviewer and expressing interest in the job, Gallo says. Those good practices will never go out of style.
Gwen Moran is a contributing writer for AARP who specializes in business and finance. Her work has appeared in many leading business publications and websites, including Entrepreneur, Kiplinger.com, Newsweek.com, and the Los Angeles Times Magazine.