By Andrea Coombes
A failure to communicate may be one of the biggest mistakes job seekers are making these days, and mature workers may be struggling more than most.
A recent survey found that only 18% of hiring managers said senior-level job seekers have the skills needed for the job—but that’s largely because job seekers aren’t communicating their skills effectively, said Alexandra Levit, a Chicago-based career-trend consultant and author.
Here are 5 mistakes to avoid in the interview process:
Mistake No. 1: Talking about your ‘experience’
There’s a disconnect between what hiring managers are seeking and what job seekers offer in interviews, said Levit, who is a member of the Career Advisory Board, a career-advice center established by DeVry University. The online survey of about 500 hiring managers and about 500 job seekers was conducted by Harris Interactive for the Career Advisory Board.
Rather than generalizing about your work experience, tailor your responses to the job at hand.
Job seekers should “take a very, very good look at that job description,” Levit said.
“Make sure you’re including specific terms and skills that they’re mentioning, and be prepared to talk about how you’ve utilized those skills so they can immediately see how you can hit the ground running in that position,” she said.
A separate survey of 500 hiring managers by Adecco Staffing Services pointed to a similar problem: 35% of the managers said mature job seekers—age 50 and older—were unable to sell themselves. Still, that survey also pointed to a difficulty mature job workers face: 48% of hiring managers said another mistake older applicants make is that they are “overconfident in abilities and experience.”
How to sell yourself without falling into the “overconfident” trap? Communicate how your skills can help that particular company.
“They think that just because they’ve gotten to a certain level of their career that all they have to do is talk about themselves and their experience will speak for itself,” Levit said.
Not so. “Before you go into the interview, know your stories, know your strengths,” said Diana Fitting, Philadelphia-based senior vice president for Adecco Staffing U.S. Be prepared to tell a story about how your skills, for example, helped bring in more customers or prevented customers from leaving.
Mistake No. 2: Talking about the wrong skills
Job seekers often are eager to talk about their integrity, strong communication skills and problem-solving abilities. But hiring managers are seeking senior-level applicants who will go beyond those basic traits to bring a “strategic perspective,” “global outlook,” and “business acumen,” according to the Career Advisory Board survey.
“Cross-functionality is really important,” Levit said. “You can assimilate information and apply that knowledge somewhere else. And you’re accustomed to working with people in different departments.”
Another key trait: global competence. “That’s the ability to understand how business is done in different cultures,” Levit said. “You have to understand the nuances associated with working with people on virtual teams, across time zones, in other countries.”
In talking about your skills, be creative. Did you study abroad in college? “You gained quite a lot of global competency by working in a foreign country for three months,” Levit said. Similarly, volunteer work often yields useful skills. “Just because you’re not getting paid for them doesn’t mean they’re not skills. People make that mistake all the time.”
Mistake No. 3: Fumbling your salary expectations
It’s no surprise that older workers generally command higher pay than younger ones. But how do you deal with that in an interview? Fully 51% of hiring managers surveyed by Adecco said mature workers’ biggest mistake was “high salary/compensation demands.”
To overcome this problem, research the going rate for that position, Fitting said. Check out sites such as Salary.com, Glassdoor.com, Payscale.com, Monster.com and CareerBuilder.com.
Then, “Be honest,” she said. For example, you could say: “This is what I was making. I know I’m not necessarily going to make it as I come into your organization, but I understand X is a fair rate,” she said.
Or, if applying for a position at a lower pay scale, she suggested: “I understand the going rate is Y for this position, and I know I was making X previously, which is a little more. I understand that. I have savings. This is not a problem for me. I’m really here about the opportunity. This is a great career opportunity for me. I see a future for me here. I feel confident I can be an asset here.”
Mistake No. 4: Stumbling over the interview format
For many older job seekers, it has been years, maybe even decades, since their previous job interview. It’s a whole new world, and that can lead to fumbled responses. For example, panel interviews, where four or five people grill you at once.
“That can be extremely disconcerting to someone who hasn’t interviewed in a long time,” Fitting said, adding that job seekers should practice their interview skills by going to as many interviews as possible.
Also, these days employers use what Fitting called “behavioral interviewing,” in which interviewers ask for specific examples of skills.
She offered the example of a journalist interviewing for a job. If the journalist claims he’s great at interviewing sources, the prospective employer might respond with: “Tell me about your most difficult interview and how you used your skills to get your questions answered.”
Employers “want to know in detail how you’ve used that skill in the workplace,” Fitting said.
Also, your interviewer may well be younger than you. If so, watch your references. Don’t joke about, say, the Keystone Kops, Fitting said. Even a comment such as, “I’m a Peter Drucker fan” may fall flat. Depending on the industry, “Your average 25-year-old isn’t going to have a clue,” she said.
Think twice about how you present your work history in the interview. Rather than saying, “I was at X company for 25 years”—a fact that might not seem all that positive to a younger person—talk about how you moved through your career at that company, learning new skills along the way. Talk about how you advanced to different positions or projects. “That demonstrates how you’ve learned through the years,” Fitting said, “and that you’re adaptable to change.”
Also, steel yourself for a surprising knockout question that the hiring manager asks each applicant. “They make a lot of judgments from that response,” Fitting said, noting that one colleague always asks job seekers to name their greatest accomplishment before age 18.
Mistake No. 5: Not doing your research
Before the interview, be sure to research the company so you understand its current needs. But also look up the person interviewing you, if you know her name. “The more you can connect with the interviewer, the better off you are,” Fitting said.
For example, maybe you’ll find the interviewer went to your college. Would bringing that up sound stalker-like? No, Fitting said. “It breaks the ice. It shows you’re interested. It shows you use modern technology. It shows you’re highly motivated.”
The interview process “is not always completely objective. A lot of it is how you connect with your interviewer,” she said.
Also, use LinkedIn and similar tools to find people you know who worked at the company or who may have interviewed there. Ask them what interviews there are like.