Show what age can do;Career development

5th June 1998 at 01:00
You may be only as old as you feel, but when it comes to job interviews you need to prove it. John Caunt on beating the stereotype.

We have all met the person who is middle-aged at 30, and the 65-year-old with ideas and youthful vigour to spare. Age is a poor guide to a job applicant's worth, but if you are applying for promotion in your late forties or fifties, being as old as you feel is not enough. You will be judged on how old you seem.

Education has so far not embraced the cult of youth in the manner of some professions, but you may need to overcome some stereotypes. Older candidates may be deemed less adaptable, innovative or in touch. They may also be seen as more cynical and prone to ill health.

Do panels translate these general assumptions into a preference for younger candidates? Experience suggests not, as long as the older candidate can offer what the panel is looking for. This generally means experience, maturity and youthful vigour.

Getting on to the short-list is the first challenge. Your application must be lively and positive.

Set out your qualities and experience against the specification, but guard against presenting too much material. Recent and relevant is the key. Some mature applicants recount every last detail of a lengthy career. This suggests an inability to distinguish between important and irrelevant information.

If you have been in the same job for a long time, counteract the impression of being stuck in a rut by showing the variety of your responsibilities, and how you have continued to develop new ideas through contacts, training and reading.

It may be some time since you have been through a job interview. Prepare by reviewing job details, anticipating areas of questioning and researching the organisation. Initial impressions weigh heavily, and non-verbal messages are particularly strong. Seriously unfashionable clothes and hairstyle, or a world-weary posture will reinforce age stereotypes.

Even the way you walk into the room is important. Think old at your peril, and avoid responses that suggest you have seen it all before. Panels have been known to seize upon a remark such as a reference to "new-fangled ideas" to mark out a candidate as a dinosaur.

Don't try to be too trendy. Sell yourself like a quality used car. Go-faster stripes will detract from your value, but evidence of careful maintenance will add to it.

* John Caunt is a former FE college personnel director who has stepped off the career ladder to pursue other interests

FIVE WAYS TO SELL YOURSELF

* Re-address your goals and values. It is easy to take these as read when you have been a long time in the profession. Candidates who have clear personal objectives appear more focused and motivated.

* If you are submitting a CV, consider making it activity-based, rather than chronological.

* Most selectors hope the successful candidate will be in the job for more than a year or two, but not that they are settling into their final resting place. Show you are not in the latter group, by showing you have an agenda for further progression.

* Emphasise your flexibility, interpersonal skills and healthy lifestyle.

* Never apologise for your age. Your positive qualities are enhanced by your maturity.

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