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Is Your Resume Saying You are Too Old for This Job?

Published June 4, 2012 6:50 PM by Glen McDaniel

  We all know that it is illegal to discriminate against someone in hiring based on age. But guess what? Hiring managers and human resource recruiters are human and make decisions based on a variety of factors, some consciously and some unconsciously.

I have been helping friends update their resumes recently and so have seen a variety of styles and format. I also recently read a book called "The Overnight Resume" by author Donald Asher, President of a company called Resume Righters. He also suggests that your resume might be dating you and reducing your chances of even landing that crucial interview. Sure that might be unfair, but that's the way it is.

For example, Asher says something as simple as having too much contact information may tag you a san older applicant. Do not provide mote than one phone number or email and there is no need to provide a fax number. It might look "extensive" but no one is going to contact you by fax. He suggests your cell phone number (very accessible) and one email address-without labeling them as such.

Executive trainer, Wendy Enelow and author of  "Expert Resumes for Baby Boomers" also agree and gives even more suggestions for not just date-proofing your resume but making it more fresh while highlighting your experiences. This can be a delicate balance but these common mistakes and suggested rules for avoiding them are worth noting.

Using outdated formatting. You might have been taught that in writing chronological resumes, you put the date on the left .She suggests title, company and date in that order. Asher also points out that only years are needed; only most recent grads need to add months

Using too many clichés. There was a period when just about every applicant was an innovative, results-oriented, motivated, problem solver with extensive experience. Now that just shows you are from the era when those buzz words were used. Instead use key words from the actual ad itself. These words will be noticed by human and automatic resume scanning programs used these days.

Going too far back in history. This one should be obvious, but why list jobs dating back to 20 years? Chances are the job you are applying for today is far removed in skill and level from the ones you did 20 years ago.

In general go back a maximum of 15 years unless you have significant relevant achievements before then. If you do get the interview and want "credit" for extra years of experience, that can be discussed later.

Similarly, only recent grads need to reveal when they got their degrees. Enelow points out, "Scary as it is, the hiring manger might not have been born yet and might subconsciously place your resume in the reject pile." List degrees and colleges only in reverse date order; the most recent one listed first.

Not describing the company or your role. Recruiters might not have the depth of knowledge to know about a company's core business or the responsibilities you held. They might not see how your valuable experience or achievement fit into the job applied for.  So for each employer write something like "350-bed acute care hospital with laboratory performing 1.2 million tests per year." Then describe your responsibilities and achievements. Do not simply say "hematology supervisor." What was your span of control? Did you lead any improvements or cost-saving initiatives?

Listing passive activities. While hobbies and civic activities might suggest community involvement and an active lifestyle, be careful about listing everything. The experts disagree on whether activities should be listed at all. Some suggest it is OK to list hobbies that make you seem active rather than sedentary and they note that some older hiring managers value civic and religious involvement, while others do not.

Listing run of the mill skills. Unless directly related to the job being applied for, stating familiarity with MS Word, PowerpoinPoint, or Excel suggest you are an older person who might have just gotten on board. List more specialized software like QuickBooks or newer technologies such as Ruby on Rails, for example.

Leading off with a career objective. Companies do not care what your career goal is. They want to know what you can do for them. So, instead start with a summary of skills or a career profile indicating what you can contribute. Example: "Over 15 years experience spearheading laboratory outreach programs for various companies." 

Why not say 27 years? Saying "over 15" communicates you are well qualified, but not over the hill. You can also list relevant skills in a bulleted form such as "developing new talent" or "leading initiatives for installation of two laboratory information systems."

Selling yourself short by using a one page resume. This is a bone of contention since it was long advocated that a resume should be no longer than one page. This still holds true for newer grads, but if you are a more mature individual you should not fall into the trap of selling yourself short by omitting key relevant skills just to shorten your resume.

 In fact another resume expert Patricia Lenkov, CEO of Agility Executive Search, suggests it is OK and even desirable to devote up to half a page to more recent job-relevant experience if you are in your forties, fifties or sixties.

Tell the prospective employer what you have achieved as a way of convincing them you can drive similar successes for them as well. Include key terms from the job ad. Whenever possible, quantify achievements e.g. "Reduced costs 16% over two years."

The rules for resume writing have certainly changed over the years and if you are a mature job seeker- especially someone who has not job-hunted recently, or someone who may be looking for an above entry level position- just know your old resume will not cut it. Not only might it not help it could actually hurt you.


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I am glad to read this article. I did not think that people really made hiring decision based on age before. But I was talking to a friend who is a lab manager and she said she would not hire anyone over 50. She is about 40 years herself. I asked her why and she said she needs people with energy who would be working for a few more years. They will refuse to hire you and you never know why you dont get the job.

Pablo R. June 26, 2012 12:02 PM
Phoenix AZ

Very good article. Isnt it illegal to discriminate because of your age. They could get into trouble for doing that. Anyway I really enjoyed reading the hints. I am almost retired and I would be scared to go hunting for a job at this stage. Thanks you for writing this.

Jonas T June 5, 2012 2:17 PM
Denver CO

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