8 ways to ace the interview

You got the call… Now what? Your resume, cover letter and networking efforts landed you an interview. Now it’s your chance to show hiring managers why you’re the right fit for their team. It’s also an opportunity for you to learn more about the position, the team and the company.

For many people, the whole process can be a little nerve wracking — especially if you feel at a disadvantage because of your age. How can you make the most of this important opportunity? We spoke to Mary Eileen Williams, veteran career counselor and author of Land the Job You Love: 10 Surefire Strategies for Jobseekers Over 50, for some of her top tips to help you ace the interview.

Give yourself an attitude adjustment

What’s the biggest mistake mature candidates make? “Feeling that you are ‘less than’ because of your age,” says Williams. Don’t let news reports about ageism get to you, she warns. Mature candidates bring a wealth of experience and skills to the table — attributes you should emphasize in the interview.

Consider the following scenario: when you’re job hunting, you’re marketing yourself as a product or brand. Would a marketer go into a meeting apologizing for their product? No, marketers know how to make the most of qualities like a proven track record of success.

“Don’t go in to an interview feeling apologetic for your age,” says Williams. “Go in thinking about all things you have to offer.”

Know the company

Even if you did your homework before you applied for the job, you’ll want to dig a little deeper now. Employers want to know what you have to offer, and you’ll be better able promote yourself as the right candidate when you understand their business and needs. Do some research online and tap into your network for advice. Williams also notes to look for current information like press releases.

Remember, part of the interview process is to size you up as a potential team member. Interviewers will be looking at personality and chemistry as well as qualifications. They know about you — and you can learn more about them too. Many hiring managers have profiles in LinkedIn, for example, or use other social networking sites for professional purposes. These sites offer a glimpse into their experience and expertise, and you can see what topics they are discussing and groups in which they are members.

Know yourself

When it comes to job hunting, we know customization is key — and that’s no less true for the interview than it is for the resume or cover letter. Not only will have you to be ready to tackle those introductory questions with style, you’ll also need to be equipped to handle behavioural questions like “tell us about a time when…” or “what would you do if…”

Williams suggests going back to basics: namely the job description and your resume. Grab a pencil and underline any keywords and qualifications you see in the job description and jot down examples of successes and experiences from your career.  Try to think like an interviewer — what questions might you be asked based on the information you’ve provided? For instance, if you have management experience your interviewer may want to know more about your leadership style. How did you motivate a difficult team member? How do you evaluate performance and feedback?

Apply the same process with your resume: for every skill you highlight, Williams recommends having at least three examples for support. Don’t worry about trying to get every one down on paper — focus on the best and most memorable points.

Polish up your image

You don’t have to be young to convey a positive and “youthful” persona. For candidates of any age, that means appropriate attire, up-to-date make-up and accessories (like contemporary eye glasses) and good grooming. You’ll also want to make sure your pearly whites are ready to show off. (Williams recommends teeth whitening if you’re concerned about their appearance.)

What about grey hair? “Don’t feel you have to hide your age,” says Williams. Style and grooming is important, so do what works best for you.

Not sure what to wear? Williams advises to “dress for the job you’re after, but take it up a notch.”  Even if the work environment is casual, a more formal look is still expected. When in doubt, a jacket never goes amiss — you can dress it up or down depending on the accessories (like a tie or jewelry).

Ultimately, showing energy and enthusiasm is critical — and your look is only part of the package. Consider non-verbal cues like posture, facial expression, a good handshake and good eye contact as part of your supporting cast.

Take an active role in the conversation

We tend to think of job interviews as a Q&A session, but Williams notes they should be more like conversations with give-and-take. Even the ubiquitous “tell us about yourself” question can set the tone for the exchange. Rather than reciting your biography, target your answer to the position and build on your resume.  (It helps to draw on your brand statement or “elevator pitch” if you have them, says Williams.)

Next, it’s time to inject a question of your own, she advises — such as “Now that I’ve told you about my background, can you tell me more about what you’re looking for?”

Why ask questions as you go along rather than saving them for the end? The answers will offer you key insight into what interviewers are looking for beyond the job description. The more you know, the better you can position yourself as the problem-solver they need. Some things you might want to ask about include the long-term goals for the position, what projects are coming up and how the new candidate can make their job easier.

Defy the stereotypes

Unfortunately, some interviewers may have objections about your age that they won’t voice in questions. Williams says it’s up to you to be proactive and allay their concerns as part of the conversation.

For example, an interviewer might think:

– “This person is set in their ways and isn’t up to new challenges.” Williams notes you can demonstrate through your answers how you’re keeping up with the latest trends and technology. Mention that you’re a lifelong learner capable of quickly mastering new skills — and provide examples — and ask about training opportunities with the company.  

– “This person won’t be comfortable reporting to a younger boss.”  Williams suggests addressing this concern by mentioning that you’ve noticed the company has a diverse workforce and you enjoy working with people of all ages. Point out that reporting to people who are younger than you are has never been a problem for you in the past.

– “This person is just marking time until retirement.”  It’s expensive to hire and train people, so employers prefer candidates who are willing to stick around. They might start by asking “where do you see yourself in five years?” and Williams warns against any jokes about retirement or rocking chairs. Instead, ask about opportunities for growth in the company and convey your interest in taking on new roles in the long term.

Regardless of how you answer, the more important thing is to be honest and genuine.

Bring a “cheat sheet”

You likely know some of the basics of what to bring to an interview — like a pen and paper to take notes, a portfolio of your work (if needed) and extra copies of your resume. You’ll want to bring a list of questions you would like answered too.

However, this isn’t a final exam — you’re allowed a “cheat sheet”, says Williams. While you won’t want to bring in detailed notes, a copy of the job description and your resume can be helpful as a reference. Don’t be shy about making notes in the margins, advises Williams. Jotting down a few keywords can help jog your memory during the interview. (Yes, it’s okay to peek — your cheat sheet can be invaluable if you hit a mental stumbling block.)

End on a positive note

The end of the interview isn’t just an opportunity for you to ask questions: it’s your last chance to bring up any skills and experiences that didn’t come out in the conversation.

Even more important is to end the interview on a high note by reaffirming your interest in the position — especially if you’re worried your answers didn’t convey enough enthusiasm. You don’t have to gush. A simple “Now that we’ve had this conversation, I’m even more interested in this position” leaves a positive impression. Don’t leave without knowing what happens next, advises Williams. If they don’t tell you what the next steps in the process will be, ask.

And the finishing touch? After the interview is over, promptly follow up with a thank you note to each member of the interview team. Thank the interviewers for their time, remind them of why you’re the right candidate and reiterate your interest in the position.

The interview process isn’t easy, but staying positive and keeping these tips can help smooth the way.

For more tips on handling the job interview, see Land the Job You Love and visit Williams’ website at www.feistysideoffifty.com.

Photo ©iStockphoto.com/ Sean Locke

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