Dear Sam: I am 57 years young and really beginning to feel that my age is hindering the success of my job search. I have been out of work for 10 months, and while this seems in line with peers who are also searching for work, I haven't even had an interview in 5 months. I'm wondering if my résumé is to blame. I haven't needed a résumé in more than 20 years and I have to say that I haven't really spent the time I probably should have to update it. Can you give me some sage advice on effective ways to present my experience yet avoid conveyance of my age? - Cindy
Dear Cindy: I'm so sorry to hear of the lack of response you have seen during your search. While this economy is tough, great résumés are still getting great results so I urge you to take a look at what you could be doing better in the presentation of your experience.
There are a number of strategies you can employ as a seasoned professional to avoid unnecessarily aging your candidacy on a résumé, while minimizing potentially disqualifying factors that you may or may not have considered, a few of which include:
Present only the relevant amount of experience -
When reviewing your career, remember that hiring managers are much more interested in what you have done recently, so including information from 20 or 30 years ago will likely do more harm than good. Be sure to focus on the last 10-15 years of your career, particularly if you are applying for a position that does not necessitate more experience. There are always exceptions of course. If you are a senior executive it is likely that the hiring manager will be looking for a seasoned candidate expected to have 20+ years of experience. The key is to present the amount of experience that is relevant to your current career interests. If it is difficult to break up your experience due to tenure within a certain position or employer, consider the combination résumé format. In this format you present highlights of your career before the professional experience section (where dates appear), which allows you the opportunity to focus the reader's attention on your qualifiers vs. potential disqualifiers.
Incorporate keywords and update jargon -
You will also want to make sure the jargon used within your résumé is up-to-date with today's vernacular. Antiquated terms and even job titles can serve to immediately age a candidate. Take some time to review job descriptions to be sure your résumé speaks the language of today's hiring audience, being sure to eliminate terms that have become obsolete in today's job market.
If you are confused by what keywords to incorporate I suggest a simple keyword mapping exercise: (1) print a representative sampling of job postings (10 or so) you are interested in; (2) read and write desired qualifications, skills, etc. down the left side of a piece of paper; (3) cross-reference the list with your qualifications, moving the items you possess to the right side of the piece of paper; (4) for items that you sort of have write those down the middle of the page. This master list now contains a snapshot of your qualifiers (right side of the page), disqualifiers (left side of the page), and potential disqualifiers (middle of the page). Incorporate language pertaining to the items on the right of the page into your résumé from top to bottom, being very careful as to how you handle or perhaps address items that remain on the left of the paper or fell in the middle. This exercise really will provide you with a roadmap to the language you need to speak to conduct a competitive job search based on your areas of interest. As a side note, this exercise will also showcase whether your objective is too diverse. If you find yourself writing furiously by the time you are mapping your fifth, sixth, and seventh job posting, then perhaps you need to take a closer look at the purpose of your job search to ensure you are positioning yourself as an expert of something and not a jack-of-all trades expert of nothing.
Revitalize your résumé format -
If you are using a résumé format you used in the 80s or 90s it will not only show your age but not utilize some of the key strategies of a 21st century job search. Be sure your résumé is in line with today's formatting standards, opening with a qualifications summary not an objective statement, focusing on accomplishments not responsibilities, and utilizing an engaging style of action-oriented content. Think about it, if a résumé is unattractive it repels readership, however if you have a pleasing aesthetic it compels readership and goes a long way to extending the screening process.
Don't date your education if it ages you -
As for your education, which can immediately date a candidate when listed with the year of graduation, try omitting the year to avoid aging your candidacy. Also consider whether listing your graduation year is diminishing the effectiveness of your strategy to not present your entire career history on paper. I see many résumés where candidates have only presented 15 or so years of experience, yet in the education section they date their degree, which was received 10+ years prior to the experience, presented on their résumé. This simple mistake can completely ruin your strategy to avoid aging your candidacy.
As a side note, I work with a lot of clients that do not have a degree and make the mistake of placing high school information or partially completed degree programs on their résumé. Typically this information does nothing but detract from someone's candidacy while reinforcing the lack of a degree. If this sounds like you, consider omitting the education section entirely.
With a review of these tips to modernize your résumé, your experience will shine and potential disqualifiers related to your fears of aging your candidacy will be removed from your résumé. I wish you great success!
As I work with a lot of clients with 20-30 years of 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
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).