Age-Old Question: How to Reply to Illegal Queries With Grace?

But older candidates often aren’t interested in filing discrimination lawsuits. They want a job. So how should they address age questions without making themselves seem unpleasant or spoiling the interview atmosphere? If you tell the truth, the interviewer then knows your age and may not want to hire you because of it. If you say you don’t want to answer the question, you could come across poorly and may make the interviewer uncomfortable.

Here’s how you can finesse the situation. First, assume the interviewer doesn’t have ulterior motives. Instead, figure that he or she is trying to learn something, albeit clumsily, about your ability to do the job. So listen to the question, then ask your own question in return to determine the interviewer’s underlying agenda, says Marcia Lyons, a career counselor in Boise, Idaho. For instance, you could respond, “I’m curious to know why you are asking me this. Are you worried that my skills might be out of date?” Or, “That’s an interesting question. Are you probing to learn about the applicability of my skills or my course work?”

The interviewer should then respond with the reason for the question, which allows you to say something good about yourself. “You should immediately make this a showcase of what you’ve learned and that your training is current,” says Ms. Lyons. And if interviewers really do want to know something that’s not relevant, you will be politely and agreeably signaling that you know what they’re doing and aren’t going to cooperate.

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