It's the elephant in the room. Employers aren't allowed to ask how old you are, but some interviewers try to get at your age indirectly by asking in what year you graduated or how old your children are. If you are sensing that your age is subtly or not so subtly being raised, try to deflect it by taking Scott Berry's approach: answer with another question. Instead of "I'm 54" try "How old is the demographic you are targeting?" If that doesn't work, here's another response that addresses the question directly and head-on (assume this interview is for a technology sales job):
"I'm glad you asked about age. I've given this some thought, and there are 6 distinct advantages I bring to the table directly relating to my having worked more than just a few years:
- I would be a low-risk hire. As you can see from my resume, my career has progressed steadily, demonstrating that I have been highly valued by all of my employers and exceeded expectations in every position. That's a good predictor of what you can expect from me.
- I can help you meet your numbers. Six months down the road, you can be pretty sure that your top- and bottom-line will be improving. (Show resume, spreadsheet, portfolio, graphs etc. demonstrating sales productivity.)
- Hiring me rather than a relatively untested candidate will save you the possible costs, delays, and hassle of another recruiting effort.
- I've got street cred - I know what I'm talking about. I've been a player in the industry and know your target market's current technology solutions and their drawbacks. My ability to be agile and quick to grasp new technology solutions and where the market is trending gives me an advantage over less experienced sales reps.
- I know my way around all kinds of people. This can come only from experience in the trenches. I've got the kind of good instincts that it takes to build relationships and adjust my approach to people in different roles and levels in the company.
- I'm a sales pro. I know what works in sales. I know how to get to the close and then deliver the sale.
In short, my ROI is a sure thing you can take to the bank. Are there any other concerns you might have?"
If you list these six points in a confident, upbeat way, you can avoid sounding defensive. And listing them will at the very least flush out hidden age biases the interviewer may not even be aware s/he has and counter them.
We are a youth culture, and tech especially is seen as a young person's game. But, like other not-so-wise common wisdom, this bias can be overcome by your confidence and a demonstrated ability to help the company reach its strategic objectives and/or solve its pain.