Make Your Voice Heard
I Met With a Job Interview Coach at 70+ — Here’s How it Went
I learned how to prep, what new norms to expect...and even landed a job
A while ago, I had a Zoom call with an expert who helps prepare people for interviews. A staffing agency must’ve found my online resume from years ago, and they contacted me about an assignment at a pharmaceutical company for a technical writer. Twenty-some years ago, I held a similar contract position at that very company. I had also taken courses in Foundations of Clinical Research and Drug Fundamentals, so they probably found my background attractive.
I’ve been a freelance writer since that time, but journalism has changed so much since then. With advertising moving from print publications to the web, publications have reduced their size or closed altogether, flooding the freelance ranks with laid-off staff writers. That means there are fewer markets and more competition for the remaining ones. Freelance rates have dropped at some publications, and with so many editors overworked today, they don’t have time to answer pitches. All reasons that the six-month contracting gig sounded attractive — and it paid well.
So when the staffing agency offered me an interview coach gratis, I readily agreed. I’ve been on countless interviews, but twenty years away from the field coupled with age discrimination meant I could use the help.
Thea Kelley, the coach, introduced herself by email and asked if she could send me her book before we talked: Get That Job! The Quick and Complete Guide to a Winning Interview. Forbes gave it a good review: “Excellent … overflows with smart tips.” It was a quick read, and I agreed with the Forbes assessment. I looked forward to our call.
In the book, one of the first things Kelley advises the job seeker to do is list three points that indicate why a company should hire you. These can also be used in an interviewer’s common introductory question, “Tell me about yourself.” I had to work at composing these, and I believed I had done a pretty good job — until Kelley and I talked. She recommended I expand the points in a way I hadn’t thought of, and showed me how.
Also, as the third point, I had suggested saying I was a team player who also worked well alone, with examples. When Kelley recommended I use every opportunity to address stereotypes and biases about the senior years, I decided to change my answer to how I’m a quick learner, with examples of how recently I had to come up to speed on AI in dental education to write part of a report for a dental council.
I knew we would deal with interview topics like my strengths and weaknesses, and how I had solved a problem in my career, like having to work with a difficult person. “But temping is pretty straightforward,” I told her. “You learn what’s required of you, question the experts on the project to find out the necessary information to be able to write about it, and get it done.” I couldn’t think of an especially difficult situation or person I’d had to work with, and said I’d have to think about it. As a last resort in a situation like this, Kelley recommended I say something like, “I’ve been fortunate enough not to work with a difficult person, but if I ever did, I’m confident I’d be up for the challenge.”
Her tip about jotting down several stories I could use at different points to back up what I say sounded like a tough one, but I could see the benefit, and with more time I was able to come up with some. “Don’t memorize them, and keep them short,” she noted, “but you can always ask if the interviewer would like more information on anything you’ve said.”
Most importantly, Kelley said, everything I say in the interview should be directed at selling myself. I could dispel another stereotype — that seniors have limited energy –- in the “Tell me about yourself” question by mentioning something from my personal life. For example, I’m a biker who takes 2- and 3-day organized bike trips. She also mentioned that Zoom has an option for “improving appearance” that may slightly enhance a person’s image, and I jumped on that.
Kelley had also sent me resources and worksheets before we met, and when we were done she sent me links to two of her blogs that involved interviewing with a younger boss and tips for the 50+ interviewee.
If you’re thinking I got the job after all this, I didn’t. The recruiter called the next day and said the four pharmaceutical managers who interviewed me liked me but thought I’d be better for a different job the company needed to fill. That job dealt with ensuring projects stayed on schedule, and they saw I had project management experience. I do, but much more as a writer. When I interviewed with that manager, she said upfront that the job entailed extensive use of Excel, which didn’t interest me, and she was really looking for someone with experience. But, drum roll, please…I got the very next job the agency had me interview for at the pharmaceutical company, which was a much better fit.
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