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Interview preparation and techniques

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Interviews have become the most daunting part of job search for the 50+ jobseeker, because for many their previous experience was of short half-hour chats with a single interviewer followed by a job offer. Now they face three, four or more different sessions extended over a few weeks, with presentations and / or psychometric tests thrown in. In competency based interviews candidates are evaluated on the quality and detail of every answer.

The more interview practice 50+ jobseekers can get, the better, and if you can arrange practice sessions for your customers, this is invaluable. The availability of cheap video cameras, which can be played through a laptop, allows the session to be recorded, and it can be very helpful to be able to show customers how they come across at interview.

This case study shows how one highly qualified candidate, who kept failing at the interview stage,  was shown what was going wrong and helped to improve his interview techniques.

Case study: Interview preparation and techniques (Kennedy Scott)

When Rajeev (62) first came to Kennedy Scott, he had been out of work for more then five years. He had a disability and had been on Incapacity Benefit for five years. But he had recently been reassessed as capable of working and was transferred onto Jobseeker's Allowance.

Rajeev was a highly qualified accountant. When he started to receive Jobseeker's Allowance, he tried to look for work and was invited to several interviews but had had no success in finding a job. Jobcentre Plus then directed him to Kennedy Scott for further help.

He felt depressed as his disability had worsened and he was under financial pressure because of his mortgage payments. He felt a failure as he couldn't provide for his family.

Warren, the Personal Development Coach at Kennedy Scott, says about his first meeting with Rajeev: "He had a very soft voice. He was swallowing his words and I had difficulty in understanding what he was saying. This was a barrier he had to overcome."

When Warren recognised that Rajeev was feeling very low, he offered him free counselling. "At Kennedy Scott, we buy professional counselling from another organisation. Rajeev was able to benefit from counselling support in parallel with the job search support I was providing. This continued for about seven months until he found a job."

"We then turned to his CV. I needed to review whether his accountancy knowledge and skills were up to date. I came to the conclusion that they were as he was being invited to interviews. His five years out of work were easily explained by his ill health. It was also helpful that he had taken some courses on the latest version of Microsoft Office.

"After that, we needed to look at his interview technique. The way Rajeev spoke gave the impression that he lacked confidence but it was difficult to tell him this and I had to handle it sensitively. So I suggested that we analyse the unsuccessful interviews he had had. I asked him how he felt, leading him into discussing the problem areas and their possible causes. As a result, Rajeev admitted that he didn't give a good impression of himself and that made it easier for me to help him."

It was, nevertheless, difficult for Warren, as a younger man, to coach Rajeev. In the Asian culture in which Rajeev had grown up, older people have to be shown respect. Warren got over this sensitive cultural issue by asking Rajeev to treat him as his son, explaining that he needed to understand him better to help him succeed.

"I had to be sure to adopt the right approach. At first I sympathise with my customers to help them open up but then I have to take a different tack to give them feedback on what they can improve. I always work with examples as I find my customers are more receptive to this approach. When working with Rajeev to improve his interview skills, I told him that if his posture and body language were wrong, if he shrank into himself, he was effectively saying I am not the right person for the job. I also mentioned that if he thought he was good and could handle the job he should say so loudly and clearly..

"From then on, we held some mock interviews. At Kennedy Scott, we try to make them as authentic as possible. We take the ‘candidates' into a special room, where a colleague plays the role of the interviewer. I just take notes or film the session. We run through the entire interview procedure from beginning to end.

"Rajeev enjoyed the mock interviews and was even able to laugh at himself when he discovered what he was doing wrong. We practised several times until he made a noticeable improvement. I also made sure I met Rajeev a day or two before a real interview to bolster his confidence."

In the end Rajeev found a full time job as an accountant with a large company. After five years of unemployment and more than seven months of job hunting, he achieved everything he wanted.

Most of the issues are common to being interviewed whatever the age of the interviewee, although the 50+ person may need to demonstrate drive and enthusiasm even more than a younger candidate simply because of their age.

Impact is important, and candidates who present themselves well and dress neatly and appropriately improve their chances. You could suggest that your customer tries to find out the employer’s dress code so they fit in. Job applicants don’t have a second chance to make that important first good impression.

Get your customer to think through their ‘Difficult Questions’. “What do you not want to be asked of you – and when the interviewer asks it, what are you going to say?” These are some examples of typical questions 50+ jobseekers may be asked.

Typical questions 50+ jobseekers may be asked

50+ jobseekers are often prepared to settle for a lower level of job in moving from a large company to a smaller one, because they cannot get work at their previous level. They will get questions like:

“How will you cope with moving into a very different culture?” In answering this question, they will need to explain how they will find it exciting to be more involved in all that is going on, for instance.

“Isn’t this job too small for you? Won’t you get bored?” needs your customer to explain that they really enjoyed doing this work in their previous job, and are looking forward to the opportunity of concentrating on what they like doing, and do best.

And the question: Aren’t you over experienced and over qualified for this role? requires your customer to explain that although they are no longer wishing to climb the career ladder, they are looking for a fulfilling role to which they could bring the benefits of their knowledge, expertise and experience. Your customer should be prepared to provide examples of how they could make a contribution.

Some questions may relate directly to age: “At your age, shouldn’t you be thinking of retirement?” Current legislation should prevent ageist questions. But if and when they are asked one, it is better for your customer to deal with it in as straightforward a way as possible. Your customer might explain that an age-diverse workforce has benefits for employers enabling them to draw on a mix of skills and experience that can give employers a positive competitive edge. Also, that they enjoy working, and fully expect that an ageing workforce will need to play a greater role in the future.

Some 50+ candidates do not treat the questions with the seriousness they should when interviewed by much younger people, particularly if the interviewer might become their manager. It is critically important that they get across that they will be able to support the younger boss, without either being a threat or putting them down in any way. It is a difficult path to tread. You can help your customer by giving them a practice interview with an interviewer at least 20 years younger than they are.

Above all, remind your customers they are only after a job offer. When they get that, then they can ask their questions, and voice their concerns before they accept, or decide to reject, the offer.

This site is for help and information only. It is not meant as an authoritative guide. It is not meant as an authoritative statement of the law, and future changes in the law and other programmes and initiatives could make it less accurate at times. TAEN, the Department for Work and Pensions and the European Social Fund take no responsibility for your use of the information. You should always take professional advice on any specific legal or financial matter.