If Your Résumé Makes You Sound Old, You’re Screwed

Reality check, please. In case you didn’t already know it, whatever job you currently hold right now is very likely going to be one of many you will work at in your career. It’s just a fact these days that you are not going to be anything like your dad or grandfather might have been and work for the same company for 40 years, eventually retiring with a gold watch and a pension. It “ain’t gonna happen” and that’s why résumés for older workers are so very important.

There are a lot of hidden minefields in resumes for older workers. Here are some ways your resume may be opening you to age discrimination.

Because today we live in a much more uncertain world, one where the job market changes—sometimes overnight—job security is a thing of the past. And that often doesn’t matter even if you are really good at what you do!

Ask just about anyone you know over the age of 30 and you’ll more than likely find that they have already have more than one job. It’s even more likely that they have lost a job due to layoff, termination, or company bankruptcies or mergers.

But even when it does happen, one of the really creepy things that can happen to you when you are out there looking for a new job is age discrimination. I know from personal experience how that feels as I changed jobs in my 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s! And, get this…if your résumé makes you sound old, you’re screwed!

Getting That New Job Interview

As an executive with several companies, I often had to sift through a hundred résumés or more of prospective employees and make hiring decisions. Today that process is even more challenging for both the employer and the employee. That’s especially true if the job seeker is age 40 or more. Yes, of course age discrimination is illegal, but trying to prove that it happened may be almost impossible in reality, so why risk it?

Even though you may hear that older workers are very desirable because they have valuable experience, it is a fact that it’s more difficult for an older job applicant to get job interviews. Studies show that résumés for job postings found that older applicants received the fewest job interview requests. Once it’s clear that you may be an older worker, you are less likely to get callbacks. Why?

You probably are giving your age away and sometimes you might not even be aware of it. Sure, employers want candidates that have skills and experience—to a degree that is. They also want “trainable, lower cost employees” who will be loyal and not 100% set in their ways. They really want someone that they think is there for the long haul even if they ultimately may not be themselves. It’s an unfair “game” and you are the subject that is being dissected!

11 Ways Your Résumé Makes You Sound Old

1. You call attention to your age

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act prohibits employment discrimination against persons 40 years or older, but plenty of 40+ workers sense that it can be a problem. Many job seekers make the mistake of revealing their age by including their high school or college graduation year on their résumé. The best approach is to simply leave it off. That may not solve the problem when you sit down and are actually interviewed though…in a recent AARP survey, 44% of respondents who had applied for a new job in the past two years reported being asked their age or graduation year during an interview.

Potential employers can infer your age from the year you graduated from high school or college and can guess within a couple of years of your actual age. Hiding your age is not a crazy idea.

2. You highlight a specific career objective

Spouting an “objective” at the top of your résumé? That’s so 1980ish.

Rather than leading off with what you’re looking for in a job, focus on your prospective employer’s needs by writing a career summary instead. This section should explain, briefly (think like 50 words), what skills and experience you bring to the table, and how much value you will add to the company. They like seeing that in writing.

Including the phrase “references available upon request” on a résumé used to be commonplace. Not today. Potential employers expect you to be able to provide references and will ask. You don’t need to waste space on your résumé saying so.

3. Including every job you’ve ever had

There’s no law of résumés that says you must include every job you’ve ever had. It’s much better to downplay and leave off jobs and roles you had long ago in the 1970’s or 80’s. The most recent 8 to 10 years of experience are considered the most relevant on your résumé. You may not want to cut every early job you have had altogether. But do consider how you can condense that info and keep the bulk of the focus on your current skills and contributions.

One exception I recommend is that if you worked for a high-profile employer or earned a prestigious award (even several decades ago) it is worth finding a way to include it. Try to be more creative in how you present that experience without using the year and omit the date while still listing the employer and job title.

Don’t brag about any skills that are passé. Employers are looking for professionals who keep their skills fresh. Stating you’re proficient on software or a program that is no longer commonly used probably isn’t relevant in today’s market.

4. Emphasize your computer skills

Older workers are often thought of as being uncomfortable using technology. I recommend including as many technical and computer skills and social media skills you have as possible if they are part of a job.

5. No social media presence

An interested hiring manager might type your name into a search engine or want to see a personal website. He or she will probably check out your social media profiles on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter or other sites. Build a solid LinkedIn profile and include a link on your résumé. It shows that you put serious thought into your résumé and personal brand.

6. Phone numbers?

There was a time when many professionals had two or more phone numbers, including a mobile phone and a landline. But younger people now get by with just one, a mobile phone. Having two phone numbers can be seen as aging since millennials tend not to have landlines. It’s a fact that younger workers generally only have one phone number.

7. Your e-mail address may be giving your age away

Your email address might be saying something about your age and you might not like what it says. Yes, hyperlinking your email address will make it easier for hiring managers to contact you for an interview, but make sure it includes a link to your LinkedIn profile and only other social media accounts that you use professionally (not your personal Facebook page).

When it comes to the actual email address, use Gmail addresses. Older people tend to use an old AOL or even a Yahoo address suggesting they are beyond 40 or 50 years old.

8. Your résumé format

Limit your résumé to one single page and a cover letter. The simple and short gets about all the attention PR departments have in looking over prospective résumés. Long résumés are usually not fully vetted and wind up in a pile or left in a computer file and then deleted.

Formats go in and out of style. The previously mentioned “objective” and also the “references upon request” were common résumé features back in the day, but now both should no longer be included. Save your specifics about why you want the job for your cover letter.

To give your résumé a modern feel, add a splash of color to the section headings or incorporate a colorful personal logo. That was a no-no just a few years ago but no longer.

Instead of using the Times New Roman font, pick a more contemporary font like Calibri, Cambria, Palatino, or Verdana—but stick to just one font. Also, leave some white space on the page to make your résumé easier to read. It’s not a novel or a screen play, it’s a résumé.

9. Your paper résumé?

Mailing a paper résumé? Keep in mind that a lot of résumés are going to also be viewed on a computer screen and need to look good in that format. Avoid using antiquated visual elements—such as page borders, drop shadows, or tired font styles—and go for a more polished, clean look that uses thoughtful design and layout that’s designed for screen reading. By the way, it’s perfectly alright to bring a “hard copy” of your résumé with you to an interview.

10. Try to include some personal interests

Some employers want to get a sense of who you are outside of work, so provide some clues by listing a few hobbies or volunteer work you do. Also add interests that convey vitality or youthfulness, such as running or jogging, biking, fitness interests or hiking and skiing.

11. Use the same résumé for each application

Once you have the résumé that says what you want it to say and uses “key words” to get your message across, don’t change it around trying to impress each individual company. When doing so, you may not realize that you may not be able to get through both the automated and human screeners that are now used and recognize those key words you worked so hard on to include in the first place! Save the customized details for your cover letter.

Final Thoughts

If you are just beginning your job search, give your résumé a lot of thought before you send it out. It is a capsule summary of who you are and if it isn’t a good representation of that, you may be in trouble. If you have “tells” about your age, especially after age 40, you may make your problem even worse.

It’s always best to look for a new job while you already have a job. That way you are not in a “desperate mode” and make better decisions and can negotiate a new job from a more leveraged position. Good luck!

Do you have a résumé you are proud of presenting? Have you updated it recently? Do you try to use every entry to your advantage and prevent age discrimination? What ways do you have of making a great résumé impression to get that interview?

8 Comments

  1. The days of the chronological resume are over. There are many different formats that can be used depending on your experience. A quick search will yield many examples. I tend to update my resume every year or so, to keep it fresh, because you just never know when you may need it. Resume advice I often offer is to keep it concise. You want to give the reader enough information to be interested, but leave something on the table for an interview.

  2. Oof, this makes me very glad I’m not a job seeker. I’d need to get a new Gmail account (my old one is under my maiden name) and fuss with all this stuff. Here’s hoping I get to retire with my current company! (Especially since I don’t know of any other customer service gigs you can do from home.)

    1. It certainly is a good idea to update your resume, Abigail, even if you have no immediate thoughts about changing jobs or losing one. Doing that while you have no pressure on you will make for a better finished product. Thanks so much for your comments, and I hope you get your wish about retiring with your current company.

  3. “When it comes to the actual email address, use Gmail addresses. Older people tend to use an old AOL or even a Yahoo address suggesting they are beyond 40 or 50 years old.” I never thought of that before, but it’s pretty true!

    There’s a lot of good advice in here, especially about social media presence. Having one not only gives prospective employers a way to check up on you, it also indicates you’re social media savvy and not shying away from new technology.

    1. Technology skills rank really high on the list these days as an asset for anyone looking for a job. Being older like I am doesn’t rule you out automatically, so even an older prospective candidate has to enhance their skills to try to show they’re relevant in the modern world. Thanks, Mel, for your comments.

  4. Louise

    It is also very easy to get a new gmail address, so having a separate one just for job searching is convenient. It keeps me from mixing up personal and professional correspondence, and the job searching one doesn’t have many messages or addresses in it, making it easy to find things.
    Gmail addresses have words (such as your name) and a number which you can pick or have assigned to you. Picking your birth year ages you, so a planned nonsense number, (123, 777, etc.), is more neutral.

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