As today’s job hunters know, getting a face-to-face interview can feel like a career coup. It probably means you’ve sailed through numerous e-mail and phone screenings, and are in a terrific position to sell your skills and experience to a new employer.
But you’re not home free. Career experts say midlife job seekers have some blind spots, and are prone to subtle, sabotaging gaffes. “One big problem is they often assume they are pretty good at interviews,” says Amanda Augustine, job search expert at The Ladders, the online employment site. “They’ve usually done a lot of them, and have likely been on both sides of the desk. But just because you’ve been in hundreds of interviews doesn’t mean you can’t brush up on your skills.”
Here are seven of the worst things you can say during your precious 30 minutes.
“Am I over 18? You’re kidding, right?” While interviewers can’t ask how old you are, at least not legally, they are allowed to ask if you’re over 18. Many do so, just to see how sensitive you are about your age. “Of course it’s a silly question,” Augustine says. But even if you think a jovial response makes you seem relaxed about how old you are, save it for the next time you get carded at Safeway. Instead, just smile, and say, “Yes. I am over 18.”
“I’m ready for a change.” As true as this may be, it’s a terrible way to sell yourself to a potential employer, especially in this uncertain job market, says Roy Cohen, career coach and author of The Wall Street Professional's Survival Guide. “I had a client say this recently in an interview, and really, why would any other company be interested in him? It gives the impression that he was bored, his experience was growing stale, and he was unmotivated. Otherwise, why would he stay in his field so long?”
So when they ask why you’re looking for a new job or exploring a new field (and they will), “answer with something that shows you’ve given this a lot of thought, without any negativity. You don’t want to sound like someone who copes with an unsatisfying job by bailing out.”
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“I've got 25 years of experience.” While you may think such statements make you a shoo-in, they are more likely to make you sound like a dinosaur. “What the interviewer hears is `I'm so bogged down in what I believe I already know that I'll be difficult to work with,’” says Rosemary Hook, a recruiter in Austin, Texas. “You paint yourself as unfriendly to learning new things.” Besides, in many industries, what was happening even five years ago is ancient history: Concentrate on your most recent experience, and how it applies to this company.
“I love Tweeting!” You’ve no doubt heard that admitting you can’t master your iPhone marks you as a technophobe, and that’s a pervasive complaint employers have about applicants of a certain age. But touting your tech skills in ways that aren’t relevant may seem like you’re over-compensating, says Laura M. Iwanycky, a recruiting manager for Progressive Insurance. If you’ve used social media in the past to boost sales or create employee engagement, highlight it as part of your professional skill set.
“I see myself staying in this job until I retire.” While you might think such a statement demonstrates your commitment, avoid putting the r-word in their heads. Employers rightfully want applicants with plenty to give, not someone looking to coast through the last few years of their career, says Augustine.
“Tell me a little about the benefits.” “Think of a job interview like running for the Presidency,” says Hook. “You must appear vibrant and healthy, able to bring energy to the job regardless of your gray hair.” Asking about healthcare too early in the process may knock you off the short list.
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“No, I don’t have any more questions.” Almost all interviewers will end by asking you what else you’d like to know. Don’t squander the opportunity to score more points, Augustine says. Some of her favorites:
*If I were to join this organization and be successful, what are the three things I would accomplish in my first 90 days?
*How do you see me stacking up against your other candidates?
*What is the time frame for hiring, and how would you like me to follow up?
The point is to leave on a note that conveys your enthusiasm and professionalism.
Finally, don’t be shy about talking around your age in constructive ways. “One of the great things about older workers, for example, is that they often have older or grown kids, and the ability to be more flexible in scheduling,” says Augustine. “If that seems like it’s important to this job, by all means say so.”