Embarking on a mid-career change can be both exciting and intimidating, but nothing quite compares to the anxiety that comes with preparing for the job interview. If you want to level up your interview chops, feel more confident, build rapport with your interviewer, and give yourself a fighting chance to get to the final round, follow this playbook.
The Mid-Career Job Interview is Different
How long has it been since you’ve gone on a job interview?
When you get to mid-career, job interviews are different. The most evident shift is that you will likely be older than your interviewer, which can create some challenges during the process. The age difference may lead to potential age bias – conscious or unconscious. Your interviewer may feel uncomfortable and this could surface as a certain overall reticence, or questions about how tech-savvy you are, or whether you’re up to speed with the latest trends in the industry.
You may also feel uncomfortable having to sell yourself to someone with less life and work experience. As a result, you risk coming across as impatient or dismissive (even if it’s similarly unconscious on your part).
1. Be Positive and Relaxed
To avoid walking into the interview with a chip on your shoulder, flip the script. Don’t program the interview based on your fears or insecurities. Yes, ageism is real, but that doesn’t mean that every younger recruiter or manager is going to be biased against you from the start.
Your job interview can actually be an opportunity to bond with your interviewer by opening up about your unique experience and perspectives. In fact, if you adopt this attitude, and take an open and relaxed approach to the interview – including open facial expression and body posture – you can set up the interview for success and even defuse whatever lingering awkwardness or even ageism that your younger interviewer might have brought with them into the room.
Look for opportunities to ask open-ended questions and indicate your overall openness to feedback, learning, and growth. Dispel any notion that you are smug, set in your ways, or threatened by new ideas, processes, or tech.
Another reminder: recruiters are actually your friends. They may work for the employer, but if they’re professional and serious about their job, they want you to succeed. After all, the quality of the candidates they recommend reflects on their judgment. Check out these tips on researching recruiters on LinkedIn. It might give you some additional ideas about how to approach your job interview.
2. Don’t Fear the ATS, Go Around It
If you have made it to the interview, you will have likely made it through the dreaded ATS (applicant tracking systems) most employers use to screen and filter applicants.
On the other hand, if you’re reading this and are having trouble landing interviews in the first place, make sure to optimize your resume and online profile by using relevant keywords (usually from the job descriptions) and highlighting pertinent experiences.
But don’t let the ATS be the stumbling block that keeps you from getting interviews. The best way to get asked to interview is by tapping your network. As a mid-career professional, you should be focused more on relationships and less on cold job applications. It may take longer, but you’ll have greater success. Most of all, when you do connect, the value of the referral will put you on a much more solid footing going into the interview.
Follow Established Best Practices for Mid-Career Job Interviews
If you’re rusty at job interviews, you don’t have to fly blindly into the meeting. Remember some of the tried and true pre-interview steps you can take to reacquaint yourself with the process:
3. Research the Company and Position
Use your LinkedIn network to connect with a person who may have insight about the company or the position you’re applying for, ideally someone who is a 1st or 2nd-level connection. Research the position, manager, department, and salary range. This information is typically available from the recruiter, and it helps you negotiate the best compensation package. You can also use tools like Glassdoor to research typical salaries for similar positions.
Browse through the company’s website, financial filings, press releases, and interviews to learn about the company’s leadership team, vision, values, and latest news and align your answers with them.
Keep in mind that the interviewer is not just there to evaluate you, but you’re also there to evaluate them. So, ask your own questions about the company, the position, and the people you’ll work with to determine if they are the right fit for you and, at the same time, spot possible red flags.
4. Prototype Your Interview
While you should conduct a search on common job interview questions (there are many helpful listings) and make a list of the ones that you think might apply to you, take a more proactive step by conducting mock interviews.
Work with a friend or a colleague and spend at least an hour or two rehearsing how you’ll answer the most likely questions you expect to receive. If you really want to get good at this, don’t limit your exercise to one session. The more practice you get the better you’ll perform. Bonus points to your colleague if they sneak in a question that you didn’t expect and/or act a bit aggressive or snarky with you. Let them push your buttons!
Don’t just go over the questions and come up with answers. Actually have them play the role of the interviewer, set a timer for 20 minutes, and see how far you get. After each run, discuss what went well and what you could improve on. Consider recording your mock interviews on video and watching the replays for even more insight on things like body posture, maintaining eye contact, rambling, or fumbling in your answers.
As you and your colleague are working together, think about the interviewer’s point of view. What are they trying to determine about you for this particular job? Parse the top accomplishments, lessons, insights, and expertise from your resume, and create concise talking points that you can use to answer questions.
5. Be Prepared for Virtual and Automated Interviews
As more and more companies turn to virtual and even automated interviews, it’s crucial to prepare: mentally and technically. Technical issues can easily derail a potentially successful virtual interview, so master and test your technology and internet connection ahead of time to avoid any potential mishaps. Needless to say, if you’re unable to show up smoothly and confidently on a Zoom or a Teams call, you’re going to have major points taken off your assessment.
Mentally, even post-pandemic, you may still harbor grudging discomfort around conversing on camera. This is where your mock interviews are going to be especially helpful. If you’ve prepared the content side of the interview and know how you’re going to respond, you can concentrate on the performance side of the interview, making sure you hold eye contact, smile often, nod appropriately, and even use some hand gestures to liven up and emphasize your key points.
Pro Tip: Do not use a virtual background for your video job interview! In addition to making you look weird by fuzzing out the side of your head, virtual backgrounds invite the question: “What are they hiding?” Remember that in the WFH era, even if you’ll be coming into the office for most of your job, you’re still going to be making some video calls from your home office. Your home office should not be your kitchen. Or your bedroom. You must create a real “set” that communicates a professional business profile. It can and should be a simple, real background (evenly, brightly lit): a credenza, a bookshelf, a wall with some appropriate framed art or posters – you get the idea.
If you’re unsure what this should look like, there are oodles of videos on YouTube you can reference for ideas and support.
6. How to Handle the “Overqualified” Question
One of the most frustrating and biased questions you’ll get is the dreaded: “Do you think you’re perhaps overqualified for this position?” (or some variation thereof). As triggered or flustered as you might get by this question, you must handle it with grace and thoughtfulness. Avoid being defensive or reactive.
Start by understanding that they may actually honestly wonder why you, an experienced older professional, would want to do this job – a position that would seem to be something you’ve done before, or may have even outgrown. Yes, it sounds ageist, but it may not be intended that way.
To respond, start by setting the context for your interest in the position. You can explain that, from everything you’ve done, including managing teams if applicable, you’re looking to do what you love, and this position fits the bill. Explain that you’ve already done your corporate climbing, and now you’re excited to go even deeper and provide greater value in the particular area.
Accentuate that while your goal is to do what you’re passionate about, you also want to lend any support you can to your manager and team, including mentoring and encouraging leadership.
Finally, focus on the future. Share how the lessons you’ve learned throughout your career will benefit the organization and how you’re excited to put them to good use in this position.
For more detail on how to handle this question, see my blog article on this topic.
7. How to Talk About Your Experience
Another common frustration I hear from mid-career professionals is that “No one wants to hear about my experience.“
Actually, they don’t want to hear about your “war stories.” Remember, because they don’t have the benefit of age and hindsight, they may not fully understand the value that your experience offers.
The solution is to bring yourself into the present. You don’t have to cite chapter and verse about how you learned your lessons, or how you first implemented a solution. If they ask you how you would approach a given situation, address it directly, and from their perspective (as best you can). Don’t overcomplicate it, embellish it, or condescend to them because you don’t think they’ll get it.
8. Prepare for the “Tell Me About Yourself” Question
This is a popular one that never used to be on an interviewer’s list. The “Tell me about yourself” question is a bit of a trap. It’s designed to put you on the spot and test both your self-awareness and your emotional intelligence.
You want to come across as confident but self-deprecating. It’s an opportunity to address the personal values that you bring to your work, your sense of purpose, and what drives you to do what you do. It is also a way to share your aspirations for what you’d like to work towards in the position. Another important aspect of this question will be your attitude towards teamwork and collaboration. If it’s possible to weave that into the conversation, talk about the importance of supporting and mentoring others (which should be seen as a real plus for someone with your experience).
Make sure to cover this question in your mock interviews so that you can easily and eagerly address it. Your authenticity and alacrity in answering this question could add significantly to the positive impression you make in the interview.
Bonus Tip: It’s Not Too Much…
I recommend that you always send the interviewer a handwritten “Thank You” note via snail mail. Yes. You read that right. As in putting a stamp on an envelope and dropping it into an actual mailbox.
This applies to any first job interview (it is indeed overkill for subsequent interview rounds), whether in person or virtual. It is an over-the-top gesture that signals your sincere appreciation for the time, and your interest in the position. Whether you get the offer or not, the gesture will stand out. Don’t dismiss this idea!
To ensure that you don’t forget, or get cold feet, write, sign, seal, and stamp the note in advance and mail it as soon as you leave the interview or end your video call.
Remember: Job Interviewing is Networking
This may sound like heresy, but getting the job is not the point of a job interview.
The point of a job interview is to instigate a relationship and to be of service to that prospective employer in that interview. If you get the offer, so much the better.
The interview is an opportunity to be (and show) your best self. Act as if you already have the job and are having a 1:1 conversation with a colleague about important issues in that department at that company. Be curious, inquisitive, and be of service through your answers.
Make the interview an opportunity to learn more about the company, culture, and the future. Don’t focus on selling yourself. Show genuine interest in the interviewer. Be curious about their background, experience, and perspective and build connection and rapport. And if you don’t get the job, you will have made an ally. And that ally might just refer you to another open position, or make referrals for you.
Are you feeling perhaps a bit more confident about your prospective interviews? Do you have any additional tips for colleagues based on your own experience?