If you suspect age bias is hampering your job hunt, avoid reinforcing stereotypes.
Résumé maintenance is a valuable exercise for most, but it can particularly help middle-aged job seekers overcome hiring reservations (real and unfounded) about older workers.
“While there certainly aren’t any magic bullets that can completely neutralize age bias, I’d encourage professionals who are worried about this issue to first take a good, hard look at the applicable stereotypes around age — and then make sure they’re not reinforcing any of them, consciously or unconsciously,” says Matt Youngquist, a career counselor at Bellevue-based Career Horizons.
For example, older workers may be seen as less involved in their field or industry, possibly due to family concerns or competing obligations. So the résumé might point out membership in industry groups, associations, Meetups and other networking-friendly get-togethers, Youngquist notes.
If your résumé is going a bit gray around the edges, freshen it up with these tips.
Edit your era. “Omit the dates of your education,” suggests former corporate recruiter Jill Walser, current owner of I Got the Job, a Seattle-area résumé and job-search coaching business. “It’s easy for employers to do the math and decide you’re ‘too old’ for the opportunity. Let them experience your high energy level and commitment to the position in person. You don’t want them disqualifying you from consideration.”
Cut your career. Extend work history only 15–20 years back, and 10 years for some jobs, Walser says. Experience is usually a plus, but some hiring managers may have a preconceived notion about the “best” employee age for a team.
If your relevant experience was more than 20 years ago, state it with a sentence like, “Previous experience includes sales to governmental agencies for AT&T” without referencing dates, Walser says. Avoid references to “27+ years of experience” and go with “more than 10 (or 15) years of experience” instead, she suggests.
Freshen the format. Old-school fonts such as Times New Roman or 20-year-old Word templates can make a résumé seem a bit creaky. “Use a san serif font, like Calibri, and include plenty of white space,” Walser suggests. “Use a bit of color and underlining for section breaks, for readability and a fresh look.”
No more Ned1967Rulz@aol.com. “Avoid all age-related numbers in the email address, such as dates of birth or graduation,” Walser says. Recruiters have mentioned to Youngquist that people using AOL, Comcast or Yahoo email addresses are assumed to be quite a bit older.
Don’t be BASIC. Mentioning long-obsolete software programs or technologies on a résumé will signal that someone has been in the market for quite a number of years, Youngquist says. Brush up on or learn any new or critical software programs for your line of work instead, he suggests. Infuse the résumé with very current terminology. “Even if a new keyword for something seems silly and unnecessary, it does signal to the employer one’s age bracket to some degree,” he says.
Revise references. “Avoid outdated résumé conventions such as mentioning or listing references, one’s mailing address or multiple phone numbers for somebody to chase around,” Youngquist says. Also, remove unnecessary email or phone icons, Walser says, listing only your cell number on the résumé.
Leverage LinkedIn. “Find a photographer that specializes in head shots and has plenty of examples on their websites of people around your age that look fantastic,” Walser says. With the right lighting and shots, everyone looks professional.
Set up a robust LinkedIn profile with plentiful connections and recommendations. “You’ll appear likable and up-to-date with technology,” Walser says.
Two more cents: “I don’t think every older worker necessarily has to capitulate to the specter of age discrimination or go to great lengths to hide their age,” Youngquist says.
After all, some people don’t want to work for a company that would engage in age discrimination, he points out, and many believe their experience and age are advantage, not a drawback to be minimized.
“This being said,” he notes. “I can completely understand why a frustrated older worker … might resort to some heroic measures to try to downplay their age and land more interviews.”