Know What Interviewers Are Looking For to Get the Job You Want After 50

By Kerry Hannon

Copyright © 2015 AARP. All rights reserved.

Interviewing after 50 is scary, but being armed with the right knowledge is the best way to get a job offer. One way to ace an interview is to give the interviewers what they want, which may be difficult to determine based solely on the questions they ask. Even when you’re answering irrelevant questions, interviewers can pick up on the traits they like to see in a job candidate.

Depending on what type of job you’re seeking, employers are looking for different characteristics, which include the following:

  • Curiosity: An enthusiasm to learn new things and find solutions conveys an eagerness to learn. Ask questions about the company and its services, products, customers, competition, and so on to demonstrate your natural curiosity.

    Don’t ask a potential employer questions you already know the answers to, because you’ll come across as being clueless. After all, you should have done some research about the company prior to the interview. Let your natural curiosity prevail.

  • Insight: An understanding of the company, what it does, how it functions, and what its challenges are helps you demonstrate your ability to gain insight into an organization. Research helps you develop the type of insight you need to demonstrate.

  • Engagement: Your ability to carry on an intelligent conversation with the interviewers demonstrates engagement. Listen carefully to what they say and respond thoughtfully to show that you heard, understood, and are able to formulate a relevant response. If you’re introduced to others in the organization, greet them respectfully, ask how they’re doing, and listen to what they say. Engagement is all about showing that you care.

  • Intellect: Brainpower never goes out of style, and again, doing your homework prior to the interview can provide the framework of understanding about the organization to answer and ask questions in an intelligent manner. Maintaining eye contact, speaking clearly, and using proper English also convey a certain level of intelligence and sophistication.

  • Creativity: The aptitude for being inventive and original in your thinking is a magic ingredient. You may be able to demonstrate creativity as you respond to questions or if given an opportunity to talk about a way you creatively solved a problem or met a challenge for a previous employer. Don’t try to force creativity into the conversation, but take advantage of any sensible opportunity to do so.

  • Drive and determination: Grit and purpose are core attributes for a successful employee. Interviewers want to see a whatever-it-takes attitude. Be prepared to discuss situations at work or in your personal life when you faced adversity or experienced a setback and managed to overcome it.

  • Efficiency: How productive are you? A key attribute employers seek is someone who is effective in his or her work with good organization skills.

  • Open-mindedness: A willingness to try new ways of doing things and a tolerance for taking risks are valuable attributes in team members and leaders. When answering questions that call on you to consider a certain option, think about your answer carefully. Unless the option requires you to do something criminal or unethical, give it careful consideration.

    As Professor Walter Kotschnig, who taught comparative education at Smith and Mount Holyoke Colleges in Massachusetts before he became a Foreign Service officer who was present at the formation of the United Nations and who went on to represent the United States at conferences worldwide for nearly three decades once advised his students, keep your mind open, “but not so open that your brains fall out.”

    Show that you’re open to new ideas, but ask questions to find out more about those ideas, so you can judge their validity and feasibility.

  • Passion for the organization: Interviewers want to see that you love the company and what it does as much as they do and that you’re committed to its success. You can demonstrate your passion for the organization by researching it carefully; following it on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter; and mentioning specifically what you like most about the organization during the interview. Be prepared to explain why you want to work for the organization and what you can do to help it further its mission.

  • Passion for the role: Being an engaged employee comes down to loving your work and your job. No employer wants to hire someone who’s resentful of taking on a role they feel is beneath them or they’re overqualified for, nor do they want to hire someone who treats the position as a stepping stone to what they really want. Talk passionately about the work you do and the work you’d like to do for the organization.

    Discuss how you want to immerse yourself in the job and really make a career out of it. Engaging with professional organizations, such as professional groups and relevant LinkedIn discussion groups also demonstrates passion for what you do.

  • Punctuality: Employers look for people who are reliable and they can count on.

  • Team Player: In the end, whether or not you get tapped for a job often comes down to a hiring manager’s gut sense of how well you will play with the other kids. Someone who is willing and happy to chip in and works easily and collaboratively with others is highly valued.

    Being overqualified is a major issue for many older workers.