Interview Tips for Older Candidates

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This guide outlines 6 interview tips for older candidates, helping you return to the workplace at any age. With the cost of living crisis having a real impact on everyone, the older generation is particularly susceptible. Inflation and cost pressures are likely to mean that pensions don’t go as far as they once did, resulting in some people having to return to the workplace. There are also non-economic reasons why older generations may do this; loneliness, filling a void or having a purpose are all reasons why people are seeking to return to work.

It might not be a return to the high-powered job they once had, and the reasons are likely to be personal rather than career motivated. But people of this generation still have a lot to offer the workplace.

A number of years ago when I was Head of Resourcing at Safeway Plc (it is that long ago!) we opened up a new store in Hampshire. I interviewed a retired foreign diplomat who had worked in high levels of government in various countries around the world and he was bored staying at home. Very educated, he wasn’t motivated by money or career progression, he wanted to be around people and “have a reason to get up in the morning”. I’ve interviewed and hired thousands of people since but this one sticks in my mind and I can still picture him 20+ years later. I ended up offering him a job working on the fresh pizza counter doing 20 hours per week. He loved interacting with the public and the “fresh 2 go” pizza offer we had was way ahead of its time.

I left Safeway about 12 months afterwards to what is my current job, and I believe this gentleman increased his hours up to full time, had been promoted to a Supervisor and had 8 years’ service last I heard. He was reliable, great with customers, took ownership of his area and was in every way a great hire.

Interviews can be challenging at the best of times, but with time away from the workplace, they are often prohibitively daunting. Interview questions such as “talk me through your recent experience”, “how ambitious are you” or “where do you want to be in 5 years’ time” aren’t going to be particularly relevant. When interviewing older generation candidates, employers have a responsibility to look past the standard interview questions and instead tailor them around the situation and person sitting in front of them.

With regards to the gentleman who I talked about at Safeway, I adapted the interview to the situation and person I was meeting. We had a chat for an hour that covered his life and time as a diplomat (he was happy to talk about this), and after that, I knew I wanted to offer him the role. There were no competency questions, assessments, or general interview-type questions. I knew after an hour exactly what I was getting and if I liked him as much as I did, then our customers and colleagues would also.

To help ease the nerves and to highlight that anyone (regardless of their age) can have a meaningful role in the workplace, we have come up with 6 easy to follow interview tips that will give you as a candidate the confidence to showcase the best of yourself at an interview….. regardless of when you last worked.

1. Show Personality and Confidence

If you’ll be interviewing via Zoom or another video platform it can be nerve-wracking. Make sure to set up any software needed and practice using it ahead of time so you feel confident when it’s time for the interview. If you aren’t sure how this works then ask a relative or a friend who might be more familiar with the technology, even have a trial run with them using the technology.

2. Be Prepared

No matter what your age, it’s important to go into the interview well-prepared. You’ll likely be asked questions about your strengths, weaknesses and what you are looking for in your next role. Be prepared for them, and know what you’re going to say. Learn as much as you can ahead of time about the position and company you’re applying to. It’s fine to write down the things you are going to say, but don’t refer to these during an interview as it can interrupt your flow and distract you.

3. Don’t Lead With Your Age

While it’s unfair that there can occasionally be a bias against older candidates, you should keep this knowledge in the back of your mind when answering questions. Don’t lead with your seniority if you don’t want your age to be a factor in whether or not you get the job. If you’re interviewing with someone who’s younger than you, keep the focus on your relevant skills and don’t comment on your age directly. For example, don’t say, ‘Oh, I’m probably ageing myself,’ when discussing a system you last worked with a number of years ago.

4. Focus on what’s important

Interviews usually test behavioural or technical skills or both. The focus on what types of skills very much depends on the nature and level of the job. For a front-line non-management position, the focus is likely to be very much around your behavioural skills. Behavioural skills include; behaviour, attitude, work ethic, personality, reliability, and interpersonal skills – which are closely linked to your personality traits and the standards you set yourself.

If you have been supporting your family by looking after grandchildren while their parents are at work then you will have picked up valuable skills that an employer can translate into the workplace. Patience, empathy, responsibility, task orientation, punctuality, reliability etc are all skills that employers will find valuable and it’s perfectly acceptable to use examples like this when being interviewed.

5. Demonstrate Your Willingness to Learn

Even if you’re an experienced candidate, you might not have every hard skill an employer is looking for, but you can make up for this by demonstrating that you are willing to learn any new skill or technology that’s required.

You might not be at the interview for a career but unless you have done the role before you will need to learn new things, to some degree. Show that you have a learning mindset and curiosity,  some open-ended questions to try to better understand the role and identify where you can add the most value.

6. Nip Other Assumptions in the Bud

Two assumptions hiring managers sometimes have about older candidates is that they are overqualified and/or their motivations for the job are different to what they should be. You can nip these assumptions in the bud by addressing them directly during the interview process.

If an interviewer hints that you may be overqualified, it means they have recognised your previous career and the level you worked at. You can pivot the conversation to saying that what you are looking for now is very different to what you would have looked for as a continuation of your previous career, now you are looking for a role that lets you interact with people or gets out of the house. Although you are no longer career-focused, you retain high standards, have good attention to detail combined with a good work ethic that includes reliability and punctuality and you are sure you can add some real value to the organisation in this capacity. If the role is retail or hospitality based, you might be able to work some of the shifts that the younger generation prefers not to work, these can include weekends and evenings, so demonstrate your adaptability and flexibility if you have this.

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