Tips For Interviewing People Older Than You Are (Or Who Might Be Your Boss)

We grow up being told to respect our elders. But what happens when we need our elders to respect us? Interviewing someone older than you, and who could actually end up being your boss could gives new meaning to the word “awkward” if it’s not properly handled. So how do you gain respect from someone who might be looking at you as an inexperienced kid? Here are a few tips that will help get you through the process virtually unscathed.

interviewing boss or older

Be Empathetic

Chances are, this situation is just as awkward for the interviewee as it is for you—if not more so.  Try putting yourself in the other guy’s shoes. How would you feel if someone 10 or 20 years younger than you was asking you things like “Why should I hire you?” and “What are your greatest strengths and weaknesses?” Those interview questions can be painful no matter your age, but when someone you consider to be less experienced than you is the one asking them, the discomfort increases exponentially. So picture yourself on the other side of that desk, and imagine how you would like to be spoken to if the tables were turned. The interview will probably go more smoothly if you’re able to empathize with the candidate on some level.

Remember, It’s Not A Contest

So the woman you’re interviewing has five times more experience than you have, and the quality of her resume makes yours look like a high school assignment. Naturally, this could make you feel a bit intimidated and perhaps give you the impression that you’re not qualified to conduct the interview.  But this is not a contest. You were assigned the task of assessing the candidate’s qualifications for the position, not to see how the two of you measure up against each other. So put away the measuring stick and handle the situation like a mature professional who is more than qualified to ask someone a few questions and make some value judgments.

Don’t Let Age Be A Factor

The last thing you want to do if you’re trying to gain the interviewee’s respect is make jokes about the age difference between you. You might want to say something like, “Wow, I guess it’s kind of weird being interviewed by someone who could be your grandson.” Trust us, it’s not a good idea. You’re much better off acting as though you don’t even notice. If the interviewee happens to bring it up, make sure you politely inform him that age is not a factor in this interaction. 

Don’t Overcompensate

Sometimes people try to mask their insecurities by going to extremes. This could end up coming off as pompous or pretentious, which is not something you want to do if A) you really want to hire this person and/or B) this person could end up being your boss. If you’re afraid of coming off as too green or immature, don’t try to overcompensate by being excessively reserved. You can have a sense of humor and show warmth and empathy without seeming juvenile. Our top advice is: be your best self. After all, it’s what you expect the person you’re interviewing to do. So why not emulate those standards?

Keep Your Skill Sets Separate

So maybe you don’t have 20 years’ of experience as a senior account manager like the person you’re interviewing. But this guy might not have ever interviewed or hired anyone in his life. We all have our own areas of expertise, and they don’t have to match up for you to be able to recognize a top-quality candidate. You know what questions to ask, and how to evaluate the answers. You can sense if someone is going to be a good fit for the company or a disaster. You don’t have to know what the interviewee knows. You just have to know whether he would be a good hire. Age and experience shouldn’t play a part in this equation. 

Find Common Ground

Just because you and the candidate are from different generations doesn’t mean you have nothing in common. Maybe you both root for the same sports team. Maybe you both like sushi. You might share a similar sense of humor. The more common ground you can find, the narrower the gap between you is likely to become.

When it comes to interviewing candidates who are older or more experienced than you are, there’s no need to feel intimidated if you follow the advice given here. Chances are, you’ll be on the other side of that desk some day. So follow the golden rule and treat others like you would want to be treated.

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