Is Age an Issue for Older Audit Professionals?
I often receive letters from readers with regard to perceived, age-related career issues. I say 'perceived', not to be flippant, but to make an important fundamental point. Once upon a time, it was expected and even considered mandatory to put one's date of birth on the CV, right at the top along with essentials such as name, address and telephone number. But nowadays it is not. Countries across the world have introduced legislation, designed to prevent employers from discriminating on the basis of age when recruiting. That is not to say that legislation is globally universal, nor, unfortunately, has ageism been eradicated, but it has heralded the new age of flatter organisational structures, non-linear career paths and stringent age-dictated hierarchies.
As a result, most people no longer include their date of birth on their CV - and this is now considered the norm. Of course, if your audit CV is methodically chronological, then you are going to be giving away some very big clues as to your age. On the other hand, if you are following best CV practice, then you should be tailoring your CV to the specific role for which you are applying, drawing out only the most aligned experiences and achievements from your (as beholds your maturity) abundance of examples, then an age-trail shouldn't really be obvious.
The key point here is to avoid falling into the trap of assuming that your career challenges are caused by your age. Once an age-proofed CV has produced audit job interviews, you then need to be willing to look further afield to understand why your interviews are not leading to job offers. It might not be about your age at all.
Here are the top reasons (and solutions) why seemingly well-qualified applicants fail interviews:
Lack of chemistry between the candidate and the interviewer. It may just be a feeling of something being 'off', a sense that it's not going well or it may be easier to understand chemistry by considering what happens when everything just slots into place. Rapport can sometimes just happen. But it often needs to build and develop. Top tips include: making eye contact, building warmth through smiling, using the interviewer's name and demonstrating active listening with appropriate body language. The language of body is as important as the language of words in conveying an open, relaxed and trustworthy demeanour. Build rapport by subtle matching of the interviewer's style in terms of posture, facial expression, words, pace and tone.
Presentation and delivery. It may manifest as a perceived lack of enthusiasm for the role or by rambling, unfocussed responses that don't properly answered the questions, but failure to make a strong impression can be the result of a variety of causes. Don't assume that interviews are just professional 'conversations'. Not only are they your sales pitch giving you opportunity to sell yourself as the best candidate for the job, they also require certain techniques which result in concise, direct and meaningful answers, delivered in a way that the employer wants to hear. All of this requires practice. General practise of interview techniques as well as rehearsal of specific questions relevant to the particular role. This requires real physical practise - not merely a mental exercise. Practise with your recruitment consultant, friends and family or even in front of the mirror!
Lack of familiarity with CV. The content of the CV is what got you interview, so it goes without saying that the interviewer was impressed with the narrative and examples you provided. When you are asked about the content it is vital that you give an authentic, verbal account of yourself, which matches the CV in terms of words and sentiment. It's easy to 'big up' achievements on paper but much harder to justify them in the flesh. Not only must you be word perfect on your narrative so that it aligns to the written CV version, you must also be able to defend any challenges which a steely interviewer will throws out to test your resilience.
Poor understanding of the role and of where it fits with candidate's career path. This is a particular risk when the applicant has been looking or applying for some time. It can be tempting to apply for everything and anything but you will come unstuck if you can't validly justify why it is the right role for you at this point in your professional life. Not only do you need to do your homework in terms of the role (so you can demonstrate a real appreciation of what is involved, where your skills align and what the challenges might be) but you also need to get your personal story straight on where the role fits in with you. Don't stint on this step; do your homework, research, ask questions, talk (online if necessary) to as many people as possible to get the lowdown on what this role is really about.
Lack of passion for the employer and/or the industry. Passion could be the difference that makes the difference in being the winning candidate. As a minimum, the interviewer will be testing your commitment but looking for evidence that you have a genuine interest in company and the job itself. Build your knowledge and in doing so, build your passion - and if you can't, question whether this is the right role for you. Research the organisation, the industry and its competitors. Get a good grasp of the company's language, what it says about itself and its values, and practise (aloud!) your own rationalisation for choosing it.
None of these tips focus on your age. And that's because, in my experience, there's an awful lot to play for in getting your audit interview preparation right before you start to narrow down failure to one or more factors. Sadly, despite the legislation, there is still ageism about, but if you invest in all the steps above you can at least feel that you have done everything you possibly can to maximise your chances of job search success.