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 or so 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. If you have worked with one employer, making it difficult to omit many years of experience, include possibly only the last few titles you held and the years you held each, allowing you to break your experience and avoid presenting a start date that could potentially position you as overqualified. The strategy allows you to present an honest image of what positions you held and when you held them, without disqualifying yourself by including a 1970s or maybe 1980s date. The key is to present the amount of experience that is relevant to your current career interests.
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.
Include training and current skills
Speaking of education, another vitally important component of a résumé for a seasoned professional is a training or professional development section. This section tells the hiring manager that despite being in the workforce and possibly the same type of position for 20 or 30 years, you have continued to develop yourself professionally and don't just know how to work well in the companies in which you have been employed. Include any classes, workshops, or seminars attended over the past few years to tell the hiring manager you have continued to learn new and current skills. Pay particular attention to communicating that you have current technical skills so the hiring manager knows you are familiar with today's technologies.
Update jargon and outdated job titles
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 manager, being sure to eliminate terms that have become obsolete in today's job market. Review job postings of interest to gauge whether your résumé is speaking the same language as that will be key in ensuring your résumé possesses the necessary keyword relevance to attract attention from a human or computerized screening process.
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. Avoid overused Word templates, they do nothing to differentiate your candidacy. Check out samples on my website (www.ladybug-design.com) or in recently published résumé books for inspiration.
Use your network and get support
If possible, leverage your network and push for a face to face meeting in addition to submitting your résumé. Résumés for seniors, when not written strategically, have a way of ruling them out rather than opening up the possibility of an interview. Use your résumé and your face-to-face meeting to sell your strengths, your work ethic, and interpersonal relationship skills. These are likely areas that you have proven during your career and are values often shared by most employers. Try joining a support group, chances are you will be surrounded with individuals facing the same situations, affording for an opportunity to share what has and has not worked in your search.
Best of luck for success.
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).