A few years ago during a job interview, a young recruiter asked what I hoped to be doing in five years. I suppressed a guffaw. It's a question recruiters have been asking for decades with the goal of learning about an applicant's career ambitions. The fact that I was pushing 60 at the time was what made it funny to me.
In my head, I said "In five years I hope to be collecting Social Security and laying on a beach in Hawaii, you little Pipsqueak" but out of my mouth came something like "I want to be working in a vibrant newsroom like yours, teaching younger journalists how to maintain professional standards by my example."
Midlifers get lots of advice about how to compete with younger applicants on job interviews. I'd like to throw out a few tips of my own based on nothing but personal experience. I'd point out to skeptics that I landed a job here at Huffington Post and will share that I had other offers before taking this one.
1. Emphasize your experience -- and yes that means acknowledging your age.
Lots of people tell you to make your resume age-neutral, meaning remove the years you graduated school. To those people I have to ask: Really? You think I'm going to pass for someone right out of college?
I would respectfully suggest that instead you emphasize the skills you acquired because of your experience -- your wisdom about workplace dynamics, your maturity at dealing with conflict, your grace under pressure and track record of success.
2. For those who lost their last job in the recession and remain unemployed in the corporate world, add what you learned from that experience as well.
Unemployment is a humbling thing -- and something we can grow from. Talk about it bluntly, calmly, objectively. You were laid off because of a contraction in the economy, not because you weren't competent.
If you are still eating and sleeping under a roof, chances are you have strung together enough gigs to eek by. In today's parlance, that makes you an entrepreneur. At the very least it speaks to your determination to plow through adversity. I think it's fine to let recruiters know that you suffered some hard times but also that you are someone who gets down to business and gets the job done. Just say it all with a smile.
And if you were smart enough to get some retraining so that you have a skills set that matches up with today's jobs market, discuss that too. Not even Millennials were born knowing how to figure out Facebook's privacy settings. Someone taught them, just like someone taught you.
3. Learn today's lingo but be true to yourself.
If you want to be hired by that insanely awesome company, you need to be confident about your place in it. But be yourself. If they wanted another 20-something hipster for the job, you wouldn't be sitting in the room with the interviewer.
Don't dress like a college student and don't talk like one either. Be yourself.
4. Don't act like a parent.
Nobody wants to work with their mother. This one was the hardest thing for me during interviews. I'm outgoing and personable. It's a trait that made me a good journalist. I make people comfortable when we talk.
But I also nurture by nature. I notice things like the absence of a wedding band on the hand of a 30-something and have to bite my tongue. The point is, I bit my tongue. You are there to discuss a job, not offer personal life advice.
A friend relates the story of being interviewed by a 20-something for a job working on a large travel website. The interviewer actually remarked that my friend was older than his father. Instead of lecturing the interviewer on the inappropriateness of his comment, my friend turned it around and started talking about what he was doing when he was the interviewer's age -- which was traveling the world hitching rides on barges throughout Asia and eventually working in management on a cruise ship. The interviewer suddenly stopped seeing his father and began seeing a fantasy version of himself. My friend got the job.
5. Don't assume that you're the smartest guy in the room.
This is an attitude midlifers slip into sometimes on the basis that they worked at a job for more years than the interviewer was perhaps alive. Truth is, the workforce has changed. And the skills required to do our jobs -- all of our jobs -- are different now than they were 35 years ago. Instead of doing the "been there, done that" thing, accept that your younger colleagues in fact know more than you do about a lot of parts of how to do the job. Treat them as peers, respect their knowledge and share yours freely.
6. Address the stereotypes head on.
We all know what they say about us, that we are techno-illiterates and can't be taught new tricks. Navigating the online world isn't brain surgery. What I don't know about, I know how to find out. I don't think midlifers are techno-illiterates as much as it is that our lives aren't as techno-centric as the lives of Millennials.
A few months ago, an editor asked me if I had a "texting relationship" with a source. I admit I hadn't before heard the term. She meant, do I text with the woman? No, but I routinely call her. Texting relationships feel one step removed from phone calls, but offer the benefit of not disturbing the person if they are asleep. Note to editor: They also are easier to ignore. I called.