How to answer age-related questions on a job application or in a job interview.
Our experts agree: Don’t answer a question if you believe the reason it’s asked is to reveal your age. That’s easier said than done. Here are five ways to get around the questions without directly confronting the offending recruiter or human resources representative.
- Restate the question. Kathryn Troutman advises that if an HR person asks for your high-school or college graduation dates, “say, ‘I went to the University of X, and it was a very successful time for me,’ ” she said. “‘I was a member of student government and worked at the campus radio station.’ ” You don’t have to answer that question with dates, and that shouldn’t keep you from being hired.”
- For online applications, give vague dates. While some online applications cannot be submitted unless all fields are completed, you might be able to get away with a range of dates, or just list a decade, such as “1980s.” Matthew Arrigale suggested that if the application still cannot be submitted, it’s worth contacting someone in the company’s HR department to let them know you are having trouble submitting an electronic application and explain the issue. “It’s possible they don’t know they shouldn’t be asking that question.”
- Express concern with identity theft if photo ID or Social Security numbers are requested. These are not items that need to be provided until you are hired, said Ellen B. Vance, senior consultant and advisory services practice leader at Titan Group, an HR consultancy in Richmond, Va. But if you’d rather not directly confront them with that fact, saying you’d rather not hand over that information is perfectly acceptable.
- Provide work history going back 20 years at most. Any more, and it can date you, said Troutman. The most relevant work history will be your most recent, and there is no reason to go back any further.
- Be aware of questions that could lead you to reveal your age. “Asking innovative, legally defensible questions is one way human resources people can get age-related information,” Arrigale said. These questions could be as innocent as, “Are you over the age of 18?” and, “What are your long-term career goals?” He advises candidates to stay on their guard and be aware of what the interviewer is really asking. An interviewer might leave a bit of silence after you answer; it doesn’t mean you need to fill that silence with more detail. “Don’t volunteer anything.”