Dear Sam: I read your column last week titled Baby Boomers Beware and it really spoke to me. Having been laid off earlier this year I entered the job search arena knowing very little about conducting a 21st century search, let alone constructing a résumé. As a 55-year-old candidate, I found it difficult to present my value without telling my audience how old I was. After 7 months of unemployment I am still struggling with this and fear my résumé is perhaps outdated and not putting my best foot forward. How exactly can the more seasoned candidates tell hiring managers that their experience is what differentiates them while at the same time not aging their candidacy? Isn't that a catch-22? I'm even applying for positions far beneath my pay grade and I still get no response. Any help would be much appreciated. - Terri
Dear Terri: You are exactly right, it does feel like a catch-22 at times, just like the entry level candidates who need the job to get the experience, but need the experience to get the job. However there are strategies we can deploy to accomplish the objective.
First, you should know that overqualified candidates probably get fewer calls for interviews than under qualified candidates for the same roles. Why? Because as an overqualified candidate there are assumptions made pertaining to the fact that you may not be challenged for very long; you may require too much in compensation; you know what you like and don't like in a job; and perhaps even that you may want to be promoted to the person's position that is hiring you! Regardless of the facts involved, just know that you can't apply for positions you are overqualified for an expect much of a response as these positions are not aligned with your experience.
Having said that, I do understand your dilemma of trying to tell a hiring manager you are more qualified than the next candidate because of your wealth of experience, but also trying to portray a less seasoned candidate on paper so to avoid aging your candidacy. Here is what I suggest...
Look at the job postings that are better aligned with your background and see how much experience those positions are seeking. If they are asking for 7-10 years, then you need to be careful to avoid aging your candidacy, presenting around 10 years of experience. If the positions you are applying for are asking for 10-15 years, then presenting the normal amount of experience expected to be found on a résumé is completely appropriate. If however you are applying for a senior-level role such as a CEO, CFO, etc., then you can certainly justify presenting more experience as it is expected that you would come to the table with an extensive history.
Once you have selected the right amount of experience to present, be sure you look at that experience and think about how you truly added value within each engagement. I find a lot of résumés for more seasoned candidates still focus on the job too much and not enough on where they went above and beyond. I receive a lot of feedback from my more mature clients telling me that they aren't used to boasting about themselves and they just go into work, do their job well, and don't need to brag about it. I think the two things these candidates have to realize is that (1) their competitors are bragging about their experience, and (2) a résumé is a self-promotion tool. Now, this does not mean that you have to be uncomfortable with the level of self promotion, but it does mean that a potential employer is going to be looking at your résumé as a way to predict the value you can offer their company.
In addition to uncovering the value in your contributions, think about the format of your résumé. It is likely that things you did 20, 25, and maybe even 30 years ago are still very valuable, however as you are limiting your résumé to the last 10-15 years that information would not be seen. To incorporate early details into a résumé without aging your candidacy consider using a combination format and bylining foundational experiences. To do this you would develop a career highlights section which would contain all the most relevant and impressive experiences and accomplishments, typically organized by employer (you can order this section however you like, you do not have to start with your most recent employer and you can even skip employers in this section). You would then develop a professional experience section which would contain the amount of experience you feel is appropriate (with dates included in this section, unlike in the previous highlights section) and then at the end of the section write a statement like, Additional experience as a Sales Manager with ABC Company. Adding the byline allows you to include highlights of those early experiences in the career highlights section, ensuring the hiring manager understands what was accomplished where, without dating those early experience, which would age your candidacy and perhaps disqualify you from the hiring process.
I think with these strategies and perhaps a deeper level of understanding as to why you weren't getting responses, you will be able to craft a résumé that showcases the value you have to offer while ensuring a competitive picture to differentiate your candidacy. I wish you much success.
As I work with a lot of clients with vast experience, my website, and 'Dear Sam' archive, contain a number of samples which will reinforce the strategies presented above. View samples on www.ladybug-design.com/blog
About the Expert:
Samantha Nolan is a Certified Professional Résumé Writer and owner of Ladybug Design, a full-service résumé-writing firm. Do you have a résumé or job search question for Dear Sam? Reach Samantha at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more about Sam's résumé writing services, visit www.ladybug-design.com or call 614-570-3442 or 1-888-9-LADYBUG (1-888-952-3928).