With age comes wisdom and experience, but when you’re job hunting, being an older worker doesn’t always feel like an advantage. In fact, those who’ve been working for decades are often perceived as too expensive, lacking in the latest tech skills, or generally not as up-to-date as their younger counterparts. Though it’s illegal to discriminate based on age, it does happen.
“Ageism is an unfortunate and very real part of the job search for older workers, and for some it can start to creep into their experience as early as in their 40s,” notes Brie Reynolds, career development manager and resume writer at FlexJobs. “Because the resume is one of the first ways potential employers will learn about you, it's really important to make sure your resume guards against ageism as much as possible.”
If you’re an older worker about to embark on a job hunt or you simply want to update your resume in case a new opportunity arises, you may be wondering which information to include and what might sabotage your search. These expert tips can help you create a resume that will get you noticed for all the right reasons.
1. Focus on the Recent and Relevant
When you’ve been in the workforce for decades, you have a wealth of experience. But including it all in one document can be a liability rather than an asset if it overwhelms the reader—and makes them focus on your age rather than your fit for the job. While it’s tempting to showcase all you’ve done and achieved, it’s more effective to trim your resume down to the roles that best align with the specific position you’re seeking.
Resumes don’t need to be a single page. That said, your resume isn’t a memoir, says Gary Susman, an experienced digital marketer who recently landed a director position after a lengthy job search. “It’s just a marketing tool whose sole purpose is to land you an interview,” he says. “It doesn’t have to be exhaustive and comprehensive. It just has to show that you can solve the problem your hiring manager is hiring someone to solve.”
For example, while you may have fond memories of your time in an entry-level sales position 20 years ago, that role isn’t relevant if you’re pursuing an opening for a director of information technology.
Employers are most interested in how your recent work ties back to the job for which you’re applying rather than your experience from 15 or more years ago, according to Amanda Augustine, certified professional career coach and resume writer at TopResume. “Dedicate more resume space to detailing the positions you’ve held over the past 10 to 15 years that are related to your current job goals,” she advises. Leave off anything further back, unless it’s absolutely critical.
By including too much detail, older workers can also appear overqualified, says Nancy Von Horn, a career coach at Korn Ferry Advance. Rather than inundate a hiring manager with extraneous information, focus on the talents that truly set you apart and coincide with those the company is seeking.
“What do they need to know so you look like a great fit with the skills to do the job you are applying to?" says Von Horn, who suggests highlighting tech skills and listing ways you’ve stayed current in your chosen industry (such as trainings you’ve pursued and industry groups you’ve joined). “Remember, tailor your resume each time.”
2. Don’t Date Yourself
Ageism isn't always “a conscious effort,” says Reynolds. While they may not realize they're doing it, hiring managers can draw conclusions about an applicant's age based on all sorts of small clues. True or not, these inferences can trigger unconscious biases that affect your chance of getting hired.
Susman explains that when he included his number of years of experience, hiring managers told him he was “too qualified,” which he interpreted to mean they couldn’t afford to pay someone his age what his skills and experience were worth. He had better luck when he focused on more recent experience and made his age less obvious.
While you’ll have to provide dates in your work experience section, you can age-proof your resume by removing older roles as well as dates related to education and certifications if they fall outside that 15-year window, recommends Augustine. You can still name the institution you attended and the degree you earned, but you don’t need to include the year you graduated.
And “if you've earned any professional certifications, don't list the year that the certification was earned; but do provide each certification's expiration date,” says Timothy G. Wiedman, a retired professor of management and human resources.
While including a role you held or a diploma you earned two decades ago are obvious signs that you’re an older worker, there are other subtle clues that may reveal your age. Older professionals are sometimes thought of as lacking technological savvy. Don’t give employers a reason to believe you fit this stereotype by including, for example, an outdated email address.
“I made sure there was no indication of my age on my resume,” Susman says. “No mention of my graduation year, no old-school email address—if you have an AOL, Yahoo, or Hotmail address, ditch it and open a Gmail account.”
Once you’ve gotten that new email address, add it to the top of your resume, along with your mobile phone number and the URL to your LinkedIn profile, Augustine says. You can add your city and state, but you no longer need to include your full physical address. Removing it helps your resume look updated (and also guards you against your home address being made public wherever you post your resume).
Susman also recommends removing all mention of outdated or standard software knowledge. In other words, there’s no need to brag about your typing speed or your Typepad prowess. If, however, the position you’re going after requires extensive knowledge of particular software, technologies, or programming languages and you have those skills, definitely include them on your resume.
“By removing older dates, making sure your format is up-to-date, using a contemporary email service, and doing other small things, you can stop people from drawing the wrong conclusions about you when they read your resume,” Reynolds says.
3. Lean Into Your Resume Gap
Whereas some older workers have to overcome the perception that they have “too much experience,” others need to explain a gap in their resume. If you stepped out of the workforce to raise children or care for parents or have been unemployed due to layoffs, you may be wondering how to handle it on your resume.
Fortunately, hiring managers are familiar with resume gaps, so this isn’t necessarily a cause for alarm or worry. If you’ve been out of work for a while, don’t try to hide it. Be honest and be prepared to address your resume gap positively and professionally if you land an interview.
To get that interview, list on your resume the years you held each position before you left the workforce. Also, be sure to include volunteer and community engagement work you may have done in the meantime. If you were on a board of directors or an advisory board, add that, along with officer roles with responsibilities in national organizations and associations, co-op boards, parent-teacher organizations, and so on. List any achievements or skills you attained in those roles that meet the requirements of the job for which you’re applying.
“On a resume, volunteer experience is typically included after professional history or work experience,” says Heather Rothbauer-Wanish, author of Getting Back in the Game: How to Build Your Resume After Taking a Break. In most cases, volunteer experience is considered an addition to the resume, rather than a necessary component, she says, and would go in a separate section lower down. But if you have a resume gap that you’re hoping to fill and have relevant, skill-based volunteer work, you can include it in the professional experience section.
4. Highlight Your Achievements
While older workers may feel intimidated about the job search process, you have a credible ace in the hole that you can confidently present: data-based examples of how you've delivered impressive benefits and solutions for your employers over the span of the careers.
With that in mind, rethink outdated, dull phrasing, such as “responsible for,” and ditch bullet points that describe duties in favor of action statements that focus on achievements. “Discuss projects or departments where you worked in terms of the results you helped to accomplish,” says Sandi Webster, co-founder and Chief Learning Officer at Pandi Media, which focuses on empowering women through workshops, content, and seminars.
For example, instead of:
- Responsible for marketing materials and event promotion
- Responsible for keeping records to track contractor costs
- Created marketing materials and promoted events through social media, boosting attendance by 80% over a six-month period
- Developed and implemented a new record-keeping system, saving the company $12,000 per year in contractor costs
You might also consider including a summary statement at the top of your resume that quickly outlines what you have to offer based on your achievements to date.
It all goes back to crafting a document that sells what you can do for the organization if hired to fill the open role. By focusing on your relevant past accomplishments—of which you have many by this point in your career—you’re showing the recruiter or hiring manager how successful you could be if hired.
"It is easy to feel overwhelmed and insecure about a lot of things during a job search, your age being one of them, but don’t let this bog you down,” says Von Horn. It might take just a few strategic changes to your resume to get your foot in the door. And remember, Van Horn adds, that “people of all ages and with all kinds of obstacles get employed, so stay the course, stay positive.”