Sensitive Questions About Your Personal Situation or Status

Many people consider the issues in this section, such as age, race, and gender, inappropriate for an employer to consider when making a decision to hire. Employers are much more likely to use indirect questions regarding these concerns.

Most employers are wise enough to avoid making decisions based on things that should not matter. They will hire someone who convinces them that he or she can do the job well. A good interview allows you to discuss your strengths without lying about them. Your handling of the interview can assure the interviewer that you are not a stereotype. But in order to prevent misconceptions, you must know what these stereotypes might be and address them.

For this reason, even if your "problem" does not come up in the interview because the law forbids the question or the interviewer is too uncomfortable to ask, bringing it up and dealing with it is likely to be to your advantage, especially if you think that an employer might wonder about the issue or that it might hurt you if you don't address it. However you handle the

interview, the ultimate question you have to answer is "Why should I hire you?" so provide a good answer, even if the question is not asked quite so directly (see chapter 4 for advice on answering this question well).

"Too Old"

Older workersparticularly those over 50have a harder time finding new jobs in the labor market. This group of workers includes a lot of highly qualified managers, technicians, and professionals in trade, manufacturing, and other industries who have lost jobs due to layoffs, downsizing, and other reasons not related to performance. About a third of these displaced workers end up getting higher paying, better jobs; another third get jobs that pay about the same; and the last third end up much worse off.

Why do older workers have such difficulty finding new jobs? There are some commonsense reasons that few people seem to want to talk about. Many older workers have not kept up with the latest technologies, and their skills are no longer in demand. Younger workers often have better training and technical skills and win jobs over older workers without these skills. However, I think there are other reasons that have to do with money and employer assumptions about being "overqualified."

People with more experience tend to be paid more. As anyone who has been in the labor market recently knows, the competition for higherpaying jobs is often intense. Unemployment statistics indicate that the more you make, the longer your job search is likely to be. A rule of thumb is that it takes one month per $10,000 in annual pay to find a new job. If you make $50,000 a year, plan on it taking five months to find a replacement job at that level of income. Of course, this may fluctuate somewhat depending on unemployment rates and the general health of the economy, but it's a reasonable estimate of the average length of time it takes to find a job at various levels of income (though it could take much less, if you use more effective job search methods).

In hiring someone new, most employers try to avoid hiring someone who was paid more in his or her previous position. Why? Because they fear that the person earning less than he or she is used to will be unhappy and will leave as soon as a better-paying job is available. One of the reasons employers hire a person with less experience is that they figure that such a person will be more satisfied with the pay he or she gets. In addition, many of the new jobs being created in the last decade are in smaller companies that just can't pay as much as many more established firms.

However, in the face of this concern about money, there are some things you can do:

Realize that many of the growing small businesses are run by older workers who know what they are doing. Experienced older workers have started businesses and consultancies in droves. If you're not ready to start your own business, put your experience to work by approaching businesses and telling how you can help them do even better.

Be specific. If you know how to develop product, manage, sell, or make any significant contribution, go to the places that need your skills and tell the person in charge what you can do. If you can convince employers that you can help them make more money than you cost, they may just create a job for you. Make sure that you present your substantial experience and good work history as an advantage. For example, you can probably be immediately productive and are likely to be more reliable than a younger worker.

Don't give up. Someone out there needs what you can do, but you will have to go out and find them.

Don't let negative preconceptions about age discourage youthere are plenty of ways to combat them effectively during the job interview. For starters, understand that there are fewer younger workers now, so employers have no option but to compete for the qualified older workers.

To push the interviewer along that path, present your wealth of experience and maturity as an advantage rather than a disadvantage. Older workers often have some things going for them that younger workers do not. Emphasize your loyalty to previous employers, and highlight accomplishments that occurred over a period of time. If you encounter hesitation after the first interview, meet the fear head-on with a question such as "Are you concerned about compensation?" or "If I could reduce your costs significantly, would you be willing to make me a job offer?"

If you have more than 15 years of work experience, draw upon your more recent work for examples of work habits and successes. Select recent activities that best support your ability to do the job you are now seeking and put the emphasis on them. You don't automatically have to provide many details on your work history from earlier times unless doing so is clearly to your advantage.

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