Conventional job search wisdom tries to make you hate yourself for being old. It makes your age a liability in your job search – something to be ashamed of and to keep hidden. Don’t buy into this toxic mindset.
In fact, your age is one of the biggest assets in your job search and on your resume. You know it. You feel it. You believe it. But seeing it here in print in this article is maybe the first time in a long time you’ve actually dared to pump your fist in the air and agree that, yes, it’s OK to be older.
Like most of the ageist messages we receive in our youth-obsessed culture, the admonishment to hide your age on your resume is a form of gaslighting. It makes you think that you’re the one who’s crazy for believing that your age is an asset.
This is really a system of control perpetrated by a century-old employer and HR culture that wants you gone and retired by 65, if not earlier.
But it’s subtle.
They know that you want to work through and beyond your 50s, and they know you’re going to come a-calling and apply for jobs. So they warn you in advance that who you are at this point in your career is not really acceptable. They’re letting you know by the very mention of this age question that you’re not really eligible to get hired.
Two Age/Resume Issues
Dealing with your age on your resume brings up two distinct issues. The first is what to do with the early positions. This is generally considered any position older than 10 – 15 years ago. The second issue is the question of school graduation dates and the dates of positions you held longer than 10 -15 years ago.
The Case for a Compact Resume
Your resume has to be concise and readable. It must be structured so it’s meaningful and relevant to the position your applying for and the skills required. While some people try to get away with 3 pages, I believe that it’s vital to reduce everything down to 2 pages.
That’s a challenging target for your job search process, and the temptation is to just arbitrarily eliminate the older positions that don’t fit. That’s not the way to do it. You need to spend more time revising, summarizing, and compacting your draft so that you can fit in everything that’s relevant and important from your background.
See It From Their POV
Keep the recruiter or hiring manager’s point of view in mind as you’re crafting your resume for your job search.
Put yourself in their position. They will spend on average about 6-7 seconds skimming through the resume that happens to make it to their screen (after having survived the likely keyword scan used to weed out inappropriate candidates).
If your resume is more than two pages, they’re going to assume that it includes “ancient history” details that don’t directly apply to the job at hand.
I actually agree with them. And for those of you who have been in hiring positions in your own careers, you know that someone’s resume has to pop out at you and grab your attention in relation to what you’re looking for right now. You’re interested in their most recent job, and then the one or two jobs before that. Older positions are important to establish credibility, but they are not part of your initial interest.
Only after the candidate has been scheduled for the interview will you likely read through their resume in detail to prepare for your meeting. You’ll jot down questions you’ll want to ask them about their previous positions or why they left a particular job. You’ll ask them to describe what they liked or disliked about working for their last company. You know (or remember) the drill.
How to Summarize Your Early Positions
You may have 30 years of significant experience, and a great career narrative, but you need to give up on including all of the details for those early positions. You want to summarize that experience under one or two headlines towards the end of Page 2, right before your education, affiliations, awards, or memberships.
One headline will suffice if you worked at one or two companies until 10 – 15 years ago, assuming they were in the same field. The headline title could read, as an example:
Project Manager – Commercial Real Estate Construction 1988 – 2003
Managed construction of x development projects for Company A, and Company B, ranging in budget from $z – $y. Also consulted for Company C.
You can interpret and adapt this concept to your own career history and apply it to your job search.
If one headline doesn’t describe an additional skill set that you developed during your earlier period, add a second one, but keep it similarly short and sweet.
Take a “Portfolio” Approach
Think of your career as an unfolding portfolio of skills, opportunities, and achievements that need to be presented concisely and strategically in your job search. As a portfolio, you want to convey the breadth of your experience, but you want to stress the most important through-line, i.e the skills, talents, abilities, and accomplishments that brought you to where you are today.
That can be a powerful value proposition for a recruiter or hiring manager.
This is why it is vital that you include those early positions in your resume, even in abbreviated form. Including them provides the context for how far you have come, and how you have grown.
That early experience adds depth and credibility to your current skills and talents, and adds a dimension to the value that you are bringing to the table.
All of Your Experience is Valuable
By removing the experience you had longer than 10-15 years ago, you’re denying the importance of that work to yourself and to your prospective employer. You’re buying into the expedient lie that it doesn’t matter, or doesn’t reflect anything important about you. Most importantly, you’re cutting yourself off at the knees and removing the competitive advantage that you have over younger, less-experienced applicants.
Just because something happened 15 – 20 years ago doesn’t mean that it’s not valid.
Yes, it’s true that the experience may be entirely outdated at this point in time. The skills that you learned and that you used then may be long obsolete by now.
But the value of the experience is not that you rely on those outdated skills, or that you want to promote using those outdated skills in your current work. The value of the experience is that you have learned how to grow and to adapt.
- The perspective is what makes you more capable of discerning what needs to change in today’s work environment.
- The perspective is what gives you the insight younger workers may not yet have into when or why a project could be veering off in a bad direction.
- The perspective is what gives you the instinct to seize the right option, pathway, or strategy from a confusing selection that is confounding your younger colleagues.
The Age Deniers
Of all the questions up for debate around writing resumes and job search, the date inclusion issue is the biggest hot button. From my point of view, those who advocate for removing or not including your dates are perpetuating ageist thinking.
While it masquerades as practical advice designed to help you get the job, this message further reinforces the idea that your age is a shameful fact that you need to hide. Accepting this way of thinking will put you on the defensive forever, and undermine your confidence in every job search interaction.
As an example, this article in Fast Company jumps in with this sweeping and incredibly biased statement:
“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.”
And “old,” is of course “bad.” Notice how the article totally misses the value that a full set of experiences can provide an employer. They obviously don’t know what they’re missing…
While there are some valid suggestions in this post on Glass Door, it still tip-toes with a bit of condescension around your decision to include your dates:
“”the employer doesn’t need to know you earned your MBA 17 years ago.”
Really? So you’ve had 17 years to deepen in your knowledge of business after earning a prestigious degree. Do they think that your experience has the same value as someone who earned their MBA 2 years ago?
Think about it: are you ashamed of your accomplishments?
Are you ashamed of how many years you’ve spent learning and perfecting your craft, your skills, your specialized knowledge? Are you embarrassed about defending the experience and wisdom you’ve accrued from decades on the job?
Why You Want to Leave Your Dates In
Leaving off dates and omitting experience in your resume won’t prevent them from finding out how old you are. And if age is an issue for them, you’d better believe they will find out.
In fact, if I were reviewing your resume and you had omitted your graduation dates, I would immediately know that you were trying to hide something. That lapse in integrity does not bode well for you, and I would reject your application on those grounds alone.
Note that I don’t have to be an ageist employer to be suspicious of a candidate who is hiding something in their job search. What does this say about them? What else are they hiding? If I hire them, will they keep secrets on the job?
Face it, if the recruiter or employer are biased against older people, you’re not going to make them change their mind. Even if they invite you in and you make a great impression in the interview and they like you a lot, they’re not going to hire you because they’re biased.
They honestly don’t believe you could ever be a good fit for them, no matter how excellent your credentials, how flexible you are in terms of work schedule, salary, benefits, or other working conditions.
Do You Want to Work Like This..?
If you misrepresent your age, and by some miracle they wind up hiring you, how is that going to feel every morning going into work?
You’ll forever be behind the eight-ball, just waiting for them to find out how old you really are.
You’ll have to watch what you say. You’ll have to laugh along and not respond to their ageist jokes. You’ll hold yourself back from contributing your full wisdom and experience for fear that this could “out” you or brand you as too old, or too arrogant.
You Are Not Their Redemption
Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that if they don’t know how old you are, and then hire you, once you get on the job you’ll change their minds. Don’t believe that the quality of your work, and your demonstrating that you really are a good person (despite your age), is going to undo their ageism.
If anything, once they find out how old you are, and that you tried to end-run their age bias, your days will be numbered. You’ll be excluded from the mainstream and you’ll find yourself left off correspondence and uninvited from meetings. You might even be put on a “performance management” program by HR, which is their way of setting you up to be let go without violating employment laws.
Stop Wasting Your Time With These People
Don’t slink away in defeat from an awkward or humiliating interview.
Don’t set yourself up for rejection that is based on prejudice. Losing a job opportunity is tough enough without it being the result of age discrimination.
Include in your resume both an appropriate summary of your early experience, and all relevant graduation dates, award dates, and key achievements with their relevant dates.
By including this information, you are eliminating age biased recruiters and employers from your prospective opportunities. You will know that anyone who responds to your submission is doing so in full knowledge and acceptance of your age. This includes your resume and your Linkedin profile.
This strategy allows you to focus on positions and employers who are set up to accept you for who you are. As a result, the potential for landing a position (or consulting gig) will increase.
Isn’t it Time to Be Proud and Confident?
Imagine how much more confident you’ll feel if you’re not worrying about what you can and can’t say. Imagine feeling free to share your ideas without second-guessing or censoring yourself.
You have decades of valuable experience, lessons, and insights to share – and to apply in your next position. Set yourself up for success by focusing on a target market that wants to hear from you.
Seek Out Age-Friendly Employers
The Age-Friendly Foundation is one resource for you to consider in making the important distinction between employers where you’re welcomed, and those where you’re not. Other organizations (including the AARP) provide similar resources to support and encourage the recognition and acceptance of older workers.
More and more employers are waking up to the value of older workers. Seek them out. Get to know their people. Spread the word and make referrals and connections.
Get used to the idea that it is actually you who are on the right side of this question, and the ageist recruiters and employers are on the wrong side. It’s time to leave your insecurity about your age behind you.
The road you’ve traveled makes you who you are today. Deepen in that awareness. Don’t discard it. Use it to be even more valuable, relevant, updated, and empowered.