At what age do you think the Age Discrimination in Employment Act protects you? That is, at what age is it illegal for employees to not hire or fire you purely on the basis of your age? 60, or maybe even 50?
The answer is 40, and there’s a very good reason for that. I just turned 43 and feel as young as ever, even if gray hairs are creeping in. But many people still see me as the “older worker,” and the situation is significantly worse if you’re in your fifties or sixties. Of course, they won’t say it out loud, but they’ll use terms like “not a cultural fit” because they see your age on your resume and make unqualified, and often false, assumptions.
Age discrimination is unfair, wrong, and frankly, bad for businesses. There are many benefits to hiring older workers. For starters, they often have experience and networks that younger workers don’t have yet. But unfortunately, a lot of businesses overlook those benefits. Data from the AARP shows that 64% of older workers experienced age discrimination in 2014.
So what can you do to protect yourself from resume age discrimination? Luckily, there are several techniques to age-proof your resume. Here are three things you can do to make the reader to focus on you, and not your age.
1. Limit your work history to 15 years
You’ve had a great career and are very proud of what you’ve accomplished, but really, no one cares about a job or project you worked on 15, 20, or 30 years ago. For starters, those jobs are likely no longer relevant. All it does is give the hiring manager a clear indication of how old you are.
Focus on the story you want to tell in your resume by drawing from your relevant experience within the past 15 years, with the most emphasis on the past 10 years. For example, I typically list my positions from 15 years ago with a single line:
TD Ameritrade, VP, Institutional Adviser Services–2002-2006
Led TD Ameritrade’s adviser and client trading site development teams.
It can be difficult to remove all those accomplishments from a job you are proud of, but bite the bullet so your most recent and relevant experience stands out.
2. Keep your resume to 2 or 3 pages
This goes along with the tip of removing older or irrelevant work history. Even though you have accomplished a lot and have a long work history, no one wants to read a five-page resume with a super-small font. When I see resumes beyond three pages or with a font so small I can’t read, I immediately pass.
Don’t think you can keep it to two pages? I once reviewed the former vice chairman of Eastman Kodak’s resume. He had an unbelievable 30-year career that spanned industries. He ran multibillion-dollar companies with tens of thousands of employees under him. His resume was two pages long. If he can do it, so can you.
3. Don’t date your education or awards
A dead giveaway on your age is putting your year of graduation or the year you received an award. Avoid by removing the years and focus on what you accomplished, such as the degree or award title.
Always leave on education, but if the award happened so long ago you wouldn’t want to discuss it during an interview, take it off. I usually advise to never put anything on your resume you’re not comfortable discussing. I once put the programming language Smalltalk–popular in the 1970s and ’80s–on my resume because I took a course in college. An enthusiastic interviewer noticed Smalltalk and started asking me questions, which I was unable to answer. I didn’t get the job.
Finally, be sure to be consistent with dates. Don’t put dates on some bullet points and not others. I’ve seen resumes that have dates on recent accomplishments and no dates on past accomplishments. Not only does it create an inconsistent resume (like having some sentences end in periods and not others), but it calls out the missing dates.
What older workers should focus on
When preparing your resume, you should focus on the depth of your experience, career wisdom, and your commitment. Use these to your advantage to land the interview you want. Once you do land the interview, be prepared, professional, and show enthusiasm and high energy.
Remember: You want to be evaluated on your skills and accomplishments, not on your age. That goes with your cover letter, too. Older workers are one of our economy’s hidden asset. But it’s up to you to make hiring managers and recruiters see that.
Geoffrey Bourne is CEO and founder of Retirety, a digital service that helps the average American plan and stay on track toward a successful and fulfilled retirement life.