Older but Wiser: Acing the Interview

Older but Wiser: Acing the Interview

Valerie Fontaine and Roberta Kass
Special to Law.com
September 08, 2009

Editor's note: This is the sixth article in a new series about job transitions for older attorneys. Links to previous articles in the series are listed at the end of this article.

Interview basics are essentially the same whether you are a new lawyer or one with years of experience under your belt. There are some tips to keep in mind, however, to highlight what you have to offer while alleviating any concerns a prospective employer might have about hiring a more senior candidate.


At the risk of stating the obvious, first impressions can make or break you. You want to convey competence and confidence, energy and enthusiasm. A dated look or defeatist or defensive attitude can kill your chances of landing the job.

• Body language
One of the first things people notice is body language. Prospective employers may assume that mature candidates are slow and lack vigor. Therefore, it is important to carry yourself with good posture and vitality. If you need to get in shape, take this time to improve your diet and fitness. Exercise to increase your energy level. When you sit down or stand up during the interview, don't groan or sigh! When you meet your interviewer, make eye contact and offer your hand for a firm handshake.

• Grooming
The right personal presentation can increase your confidence. Update your style to be the best version of yourself. Strive to look contemporary, but age appropriate and not "trying too hard to be hip." Stick to what you are comfortable with; just focus on a modern cut and flawless fit.

Purge your professional wardrobe of anything more than five years old to avoid dated styles and any item that might not appear fresh. Add updated accessories. For example, carry a portfolio rather than a briefcase. Leave the newspaper at home, since the techno-savvy get their news on the Web.

Consider updating your hair style and makeup, especially touching up your hair color, or getting rid of the comb-over or obvious toupee. For many men, facial hair can be whiter than the hair on your head, which can add years to your appearance. This might a good time to lose the mustache and beard.

In general, match your style to that of firm. You don't want to look like an undertaker if you are interviewing at a firm where people are in jeans and flip-flops, but it is better to overdress than to go overboard casual. We always recommend strict business attire for a first interview. If you feel overdressed, you can joke that you are "wearing your lawyer costume."

• Attitude
Exude confidence and optimism in the interview. Even if you are having a tough time in the job market, you don't want to come off as defensive or as a victim. Get rid of that chip on your shoulder. Smile!

You want to be assertive without being cocky or arrogant, friendly without being overly familiar, and articulate without being long-winded. Do not lecture, condescend or be a know-it-all. Don't be so concerned with what you are going to say next that you don't hear the interviewer. Listen carefully to what is being asked, and be completely honest and not evasive in answering direct questions.

Be polite to everyone you meet from the moment you walk through the door. Receptionists and staff members will be noticing and may have some input (positive or negative) in the hiring decision.


As we discussed in an earlier segment (See Get with the Program), you need to do your homework. Prospective employers expect you to know, at minimum, the material that can be found on the Internet. If you know the names of the people you will meet in the interview, look up their backgrounds beforehand. Confirm, and research if possible, the parameters of the position for which you will be interviewing.

When making interview arrangements, verify the date, time, address and directions to the interview (which may also be found on the Web), and parking instructions. Confirm whom you should ask for upon arrival. Come armed with extra copies of your resume, a list of references, transcripts and writing samples to offer, as appropriate.

Don't forget to turn off your cell phone or put it on vibrate. Being interrupted by a phone call is a major faux paux.


The words you use can age you, as well. Try to avoid using outdated expressions. For example, use "woman" instead of phrases such as "gal" or "girl," and use "CD" instead of "album" when referring to current music releases. Don't refer to people, technologies, events or pop culture that will date you. Keep it professional; do not reveal personal information. And do not mention grandchildren!

Do not reminisce. Avoid phrases such as: "in my day," "when I started out," "in my many years of experience", "back then," etc. Do not say "in my X years of experience"; rather, stick to expressions such as "significant experience" or "extensive experience." It should go without saying that -- at any age -- profanity, gum-chewing and smoking are inappropriate at all times, even if engaged in by those conducting the interview. Those behaviors are not youthful; they are immature.


Your top priority is to emphasize your ability to contribute to your employer's success. Express your interest and desire for this position and this employer as opposed to just wanting a job. Rather than a recitation of your history, focus on concrete skills and experience relevant to the job. If your experience isn't exactly on point, stress transferable skills like drafting, negotiating, working in teams or independently, and the like.

Emphasize your ability to use your past work experiences to solve problems, but also take care to let an employer know that you are open to new approaches. Emphasize that you are a proven commodity, in unspoken counterpoint to a younger candidate who may be untested. Let them know you can hit the ground running and immediately benefit their bottom line.


The interview is your opportunity to put any concerns to rest and let the prospective employer know that, as an older but wiser candidate, you have more to offer than the requisite expertise. Give examples of your teamwork, flexibility, innovation and creativity, capacity to learn new things and work in different and changing environments, ability to work long hours and knack for getting along with a variety of people. Use recent examples so as not to date yourself.

Stress (if true) your record of attendance and punctuality. Mention your sports or exercise activities to emphasize your physical fitness and stamina.

Describe your business development potential, such as memberships, network of contacts and any prior business successes. Highlight your enjoyment in learning new skills and taking on new challenges. Mention your long-term professional goals indicating your desire to continue practicing for many more years before retirement.


Read other articles in the "Older but Wiser" series:

  1. Winning Strategies for Older but Wiser Job Seekers
  2. Older but Wiser: Get With the Program!
  3. Older but Wiser: Resume Strategies
  4. Older but Wiser: Crafting Your Business Plan
  5. Older but Wiser: Finding the Hidden Job Market
  6. Older but Wiser: Acing the Interview
  7. Older but Wiser: Handling Touchy Subjects
  8. Older but Wiser: Stay the Course