For most of your career, having more experience than other candidates will boost job chances. But when you’re likely decades older than anyone in the office, will concealing your age help you get a foot in the door?
I worked for the first half of my career in communications and, for the rest of my career up to retirement, as an English teacher. Because of the wide variety and the time I’ve worked, my résumé is lengthy. How do I get all of my skills and experience across without length and without putting in dates, since there is so much ageism out there?
Congratulations on your retirement! Whatever your reasons for jumping back into the workforce, rest assured that you are not alone in your concerns regarding how to position yourself. Older job seekers are quickly becoming one of the groups that frequently reaches out to us seeking strategies for the unique needs of its career searches.
While many of the rules are pretty similar regarding the way to customize your résumé and interview for the job no matter what your age, there are some nuances that those over 50 will need to navigate through in order to best display their candidacy.
In regards to ageism, while I want to say it doesn’t exist, doing so would be an unrealistic claim. Here’s how Kerry Hannon, an AARP job expert, describes the challenges facing job seekers over 50 in an interview with Kathy Caprino, career coach and Forbes contributor:
Age discrimination is alive and well in the workplace. I’m not going to sugarcoat it. And it’s not just younger bosses and hiring managers who are discriminating. Those in the 50-plus set discriminate against their peers as well. It’s a tricky thing to prove, of course. And it’s still taboo to discuss openly. But it lurks. I’ve heard so many stories of workers over 50 sitting down for an interview and just getting that gut feeling that the person interviewing them is not really listening to what they have to offer, but rather seeing their expiration date.
So what are the worries hiring managers have about employees who are over 50? In addition to the concerns that an older candidate is overqualified or expecting higher compensation, an employer may be concerned about their tech savvy, willingness to try new things, or even that they won’t mesh well with the younger members of the staff. Throughout the article “Age Discrimination: How to Handle It in Your Job Search,” Kerry Hannon gives excellent suggestions for anticipating a hiring manager’s concerns and combatting them with practical solutions. If, for example, you know you’re not up on the latest software, you can take a class or workshop and add this detail to your résumé.
You might also want to check out Kerry’s article “7 Moves Older Job Seekers Must Make.” In it, she expertly addresses how older job seekers can finesse their approaches to networking, image, and identifying new career opportunities in ways that will make their transition back to the workforce easier.
Next, let’s work on some pointers for your résumé. You may have heard that your résumé should be one page, and, while that is not necessarily accurate for the seasoned candidate, you do want to be sure that it focuses on your most relevant experience. Additionally, if you’ve heard the advice to not go back more than 15 years in your work history, and that would put you in the middle of one of your professional experiences, you definitely don’t want to leave it out simply to appear “younger.” Of course, you don’t want to go on and on for five or more pages, but a two- or even three-page résumé is usually acceptable. The next step is to figure out how to use that real estate.
While you don’t have to list every detail of your experience, you should list your dates of employment. If you omit the dates, it will raise some questions for hiring managers. They may assume you are trying to hide gaps in employment or extremely short stints at each job, or hit the nail on the head: that you are keeping the dates off to avoid anyone guessing your age. While that might be your very concern, listing dates on your résumé provides context to your work history.
For example, imagine a computer programmer who switched careers in 1998 and did not keep up to date on his programming skills. So, including a list of outdated tech skills won’t be of benefit. However, he can certainly give a nod to his transferable skills from his previous career if he is going for a role that relies on the same problem-solving and critical-thinking skills he used in 1998. If he left the dates off, it avoids the no-longer-relevant programming information but also won’t show a seamless trajectory for the development of his other skills that do relate to his next role.
When reading through a job description and seeing an extensive list of responsibilities and qualifications, it’s natural to want to showcase every single accomplishment you’ve had throughout your professional life. Keep in mind that job descriptions tend to be “wish lists” of everything an employer might possibly want in a candidate. If you meet even 80% of the qualifications and can supplement others with transferable skills that will be beneficial in the role, you’re in a good place. And, no matter how many qualifications from the listing you can check off, be sure that the accomplishments your updated résumé showcases are those that most relate to the position.
I’ll use an example from my time working at a college career center when we were hiring for a professional entry-level role in our office. A candidate with a PhD in physics who had X number of publications but no experience working one-on-one with our population did not come to the top of our pile simply because of his advanced credentials and bylines. His résumé did not indicate the specific experience we were looking for: working in a consultative, approachable style, ideally with college students. He did not indicate any experience in career advising or résumé writing, nor did he come from a recruiting background with insight into what employers look for in candidates. Had he parlayed his accomplishments in using interpersonal skills, mentoring, developing, and executing programs, he would have had a better shot. His science qualifications, while impressive, just did not fit our needs.
When deciding what to include on your résumé, go with the most significant details that also relate to the position you are applying to. Without knowing the particulars of the jobs you are interested in and your work history, I cannot provide specific advice on what to leave out and which details should stay on your document. However, you can certainly refer to our articles that outline just how to do this type of work:
The advice is actually simple: Trim your résumé so that it includes only the main points that relate to the job you are applying to.
The practice of doing this can be tricky if you are new to it. We tend to be very attached to our experience and accomplishments, and may have a hard time omitting the things we are most proud of. It may help to work with a family member or friend when you first get started. If they work in the career area or job function in which you want to find employment this time around, even better–they will have some insider knowledge to help you with your strategy.
The advice also alludes to another point, so I want to be forthright about it: Yes, reworking your résumé this way will require you to tweak it for different applications. This does take time and effort, but let “quality over quantity” be your guide. You don’t have to apply to 100 positions—you need to target the employers that are likely to hire you! Identify those that closely fit your abilities and interests. Apply with your strongest qualifications and relatable accomplishments at the forefront of your résumé.
As you gain practice in customizing your résumé to the job listing, it does become easier. You will start to become adept at knowing which of your accomplishments best illustrate your strengths and how you fit the job functions listed in the description.
To your success!
This article originally appeared on Idealist Careers and is reprinted with permission.