Looking for a new job always has its challenges, but some job searches have more hurdles to jump over than others. Like it or not, hiring managers make assumptions about the candidates they interview based on their appearance, their communication style, and yes, their age. So when an older person applies for a junior-level role, recruiters might wonder whether a candidate with more life and career experience could truly be interested in a job that’s generally held by younger workers.
Hiring managers may (unfairly) worry that a junior role with limited responsibilities won’t hold a more experienced employee’s attention; that the candidate would be “settling” for a lesser salary; or that the junior role is just a placeholder until a more senior-level role opens up.
I’ll state the obvious here: This type of bias against older job seekers is not okay. But it does exist. So what’s the best way to dispel these age-related assumptions when you’re applying for a more junior position? Use these tips to show just how enthusiastic you are about the role.
Address the “Why?”
“When an experienced candidate applies for a junior role, the first question a recruiter will ask is ‘why?’” explains Marc Miller, a career coach and author of Repurpose Your Career: A Practical Guide for the Second Half of Your Life. “So you’d better have a great story to tell.” Your personal reasons may vary, but let’s look at some of the most common scenarios and how to talk about them in your cover letter and interview.
You’re Reentering the Workforce
Whether you were raising a family, dealing with a medical issue, or enjoying retirement, pursuing an entry-level job after a career pause is often a logical choice. In this situation, you might say:
“After taking some time away from the workforce, I’m excited about rebooting my career. I’ve worked hard to keep my skills sharp and believe my experience will translate well into this role, but I also want to be sure I’m setting myself up for success. So I think taking on a role at this level will be the best way for me to get started.”
You’re Making a Midlife Career Change
Changing careers will often require you to take a step back in terms of responsibility, title, and salary, no matter how much experience you have. You might tell a recruiter:
“I’ve had a successful career in retail sales, but I’ve always been passionate about technology, so I’m eager to transition into software sales. Although I’ll bring extensive prospecting, relationship-building, and consultative selling skills to this role, I know that I also have a lot to learn about this new industry. I think starting out in a junior position makes the most sense, and I’m excited about taking on a new challenge.”
You’re Scaling Back
Maybe you’ve climbed the corporate ladder, achieved your big career goals, or worked in a high-pressure environment for years, and while you aren’t quite ready to retire, you’d like to find a job that will give you more balance. “It’s okay to be honest about where you are in your career journey, even if that means it’s starting to wind down,” says career consultant Dana Hundley, co-founder of Career Cooperative. She suggests explaining your desire to scale back by saying something like this in an interview:
“I’ve had a great career, and I’m starting to think in a more full-circle way about how I want it to look moving forward. I want to make a meaningful contribution within a job that will allow for more balance in my work and my personal life. I’m excited about taking on a role where I can contribute in a more directed, hands-on way, while continuing to expand my skills, and I hope to do that here.”
Whatever your reasons, stay true to yourself as you answer this question. “Authenticity makes a difference,” advises Miller.
Express Your Interest
Explaining why, specifically, you are excited about a role, team, product, or company is an effective way to steer the conversation away from age-related questions and toward topics that actually matter, like your genuine enthusiasm about the job.
Before you head into an interview, think about what interests you about the opportunity. Do you want to be part of a diverse team? Are you looking to contribute to a product that you find absolutely fascinating? Are you eager to learn something new? If you’re pursuing a junior role, chances are there’s something particular about the job that appealed to you.
“You might say, ‘I want to work in this industry because I believe it’s going to make a real difference, and that’s what’s most important to me—the job title doesn’t matter,’” says Miller. You can also explain how this new role would fit into the arc of your career journey by saying something like, “I consider myself to be a lifelong learner, and I see this as an exciting opportunity to continue my career evolution.”
Ask the Right Questions
Curiosity is always a great way to show enthusiasm, so come prepared with thoughtful queries about the role, the team, and the company.
“Ask questions that will help you get to the root of whatever problem the organization is trying to solve by making this hire,” Miller suggests. By identifying the company’s or hiring manager’s pain points, you can then speak to how your experience might help solve them. For example, you might ask:
- What traits will your ideal new hire bring to the role?
- If I were to be hired, what would you like me to accomplish within my first weeks, months, or year on the job?
- What could I do to make your job easier?
The questions you ask can also serve to signal your genuine interest in a junior-level role. So remember to ask about the job itself, too. Inquiring about what a typical day might look like, the team dynamics, or what the specific deliverables will be are solid ways to demonstrate your enthusiasm about the job itself—and dispel concerns that you won’t find a junior role fulfilling.
Follow Up With Enthusiasm
Writing a thoughtful thank you note within 24 hours of your interview will help you to convey your genuine enthusiasm for an opportunity. You can also address any lingering concerns you think a prospective employer may have and reiterate why you think you’d be a great fit for the job. You might write something like:
After years in a leadership role, I’m thrilled about the opportunity to focus my attention on a more specific set of responsibilities. I believe that my experience in marketing will help me to excel in the junior content writer position, and I’m already brainstorming topic ideas, for instance…
Own Your Value
If you’re excited about what you bring to the table, chances are the person interviewing you will be, too. “Don’t devalue your life experience,” Miller advises. As someone with 15, 20, or 25-plus years in the workforce, not only do you have an array of useful skills, but you’ll bring a fresh perspective to whatever team you join. And that’s something to be proud of.
“Age is part of diversity and inclusion. The value mature workers bring from having years of experience in different types of jobs, environments, and industries should be desirable to any employer,” says Hundley.
Spend some time reflecting on what your unique strengths, perspectives, and experiences are, so that you’ll be well-prepared to talk about them during an interview. For example, do you have an in-depth understanding of a specific customer demographic? Are you a measured, unflappable presence during times of stress after years in a high-pressure work environment? Have you carefully built an expansive network of connections that you’ll bring to your new employer?
Applying for junior roles as a mature candidate can pose some challenges—regardless of your reasons for doing so. Addressing why you intend to make a change, demonstrating your interest in a specific role, and explaining how your experience will translate into a more entry-level position can serve to head off age-related biases and showcase your excitement about this next step in your career.