How to Build a Resume that Doesn't Make You Look Old
There are unexpected challenges in a job search for an older worker. But, you aren't alone. The US Department of Labor reports that the fastest-growing segment of people looking for jobs in the US are those that are 55 or older. This number is expected to increase dramatically through the next five years while all other age groups will remain the same. The Department of Labor also reports that this over 55 age group takes weeks longer to find a job than their younger counterparts.
There can be a number of explanations for this, but it ultimately means that you will need a resume that stands out in the current market. Here are 10 tips to build a resume that makes you look qualified and not too old.
#1 - Focus on Recent Experience
One of the most common mistakes that people make on their resume is focusing on what they did 15+ years ago. Instead, to prevent looking old, you need to focus your resume on what you have done in the past 10 years. A lot has changed in the way that work gets done with the pandemic. So, more than ever, you will look stuck in the past if you focus on what you did 15 or 20 years ago.
Instead, build out the content and highlights on your resume about what you have done more recently. Most recruiters and hiring managers will be interested in what you have done in the past 10 - 15 years. Make sure that your resume is built so that they can identify this information quickly. Also, make sure that they can understand what you did in those roles by reading what you have on the resume. People will typically not spend the time to try to figure out what isn't there. So, you need to provide sufficient information on the resume so that people from other companies making these hiring decisions can understand.
#2 - Eliminate Older Dates
A resume isn't a legal document, so you don't need to include every job that you have ever had and the precise job title that you held during that time. (Unless you are applying to government jobs. In that case, you will need to build a government resume). So, cut off your experience at the 20-year marker.
There are times when people should include experience that is past that 15 - 20 year timeframe. This is most commonly when someone has worked at the same place for the entire time. In this case, you will want to include the prior jobs to show that you know what it is like to work elsewhere. However, you do not need to include bullets under those older roles. Instead, group them together and put the job titles and company names on your resume in a Prior Experience section. This gives you the talking point for the interview and that's what matters.
The other time to consider leaving on jobs outside that 15 or 20-year widow is when you took a gap during that timeframe. People decide to take a leave of absence from work for a lot of reasons including caring for their family. You should address those gaps on your resume (because you will be asked what you did in the interview). And, in this case, including the older roles will be necessary to show that you have sufficient work experience.
You can also keep the year off of your education. The fact that you have a degree is all that matters to qualify for some positions - when you achieved it is not relevant. So, include your degree on your resume and remove the year behind it.
#3 - Limit the Resume to 2 Pages
There is no hard and fast rule about how long a resume should be. But, someone with more than 15 years of experience will definitely have a resume that is at least 2 pages. And, your resume shouldn't be more than 2 pages unless you have a technical background or a lot of recent publications, board seats, speaking engagements, etc that dictate the need for a 3rd page.
The reality is that most people won't really read that much past the first page. But, you need that second page to include those additional details that can matter to some organizations (i.e. awards, software, certification, education, your career progression). This information will give you a talking point in the interview and help you to get through the resume bots. And, including anything on a 3rd page (or more) runs the risk of making you look too old, overqualified, or unfocused- none of which are helpful. So, keep the resume to 2 pages unless there's a good reason for the additional information.
#4 - Focus Your Message
Your career may be varied, but you need to focus the message on your resume or risk being deemed too old (or unqualified) for the roles that you are applying to. What does this mean? It means thinking about what is relevant over your career to the job that you are now applying to. You need to keep the timeline, but you can reframe how you communicate what you have done to make it relevant to the types of roles or companies that you are applying to.
Focus on your strengths and provide clear achievements to illustrate those strengths. Doing this makes it easier for the person skimming your resume to understand how you are a fit for the opening. And, it prevents you from including the wrong keywords on your resume. Keep reading to learn more about the role of keywords on your resume.
#5 - Use the Right Keywords
Long gone are the days of walking into a company and simply dropping off your resume. Nearly all job applications are happening online. Employers are using applicant tracking systems (ATS) to scan and sort the candidates through the hiring process. In fact, well over 90% of Fortune 500 companies use these systems and nearly 70% of all companies are using them. These systems are all driven by keywords and job titles.
Nearly 75% of all candidates are rejected by applicant tracking systems. This is almost always because they have a resume that isn't friendly to the ATS and they lack the keywords on the resume to be deemed qualified for the role. So, make sure that you are incorporating keywords on your resume. Don't just include a laundry list, but include these keywords across your resume because there are technical limits to what the ATS can pick up in certain places on your resume. Learn more about building an ATS-friendly resume here.
#6 - Update Your Email Address
You will look older than the next candidate with a dated email address. In fact, having one of these older emails may make you look like you lack technical skills. So, ditch the Hotmail, AOL, or yahoo email for your job search. Create a new Gmail account and use it just for your job search.
Make sure that your new email address does not include your birthday year or age. This will date you as well and be viewed as unprofessional. Instead, make a simple email address with your first and last name. Add your middle initial or middle name if needed to create your email address. Put this email address on your resume as most communications about interviewing and next steps will be by email.
#7 - Include Your LinkedIn
LinkedIn matters more than most people realize in their job search now. If you are still holding out, don't. Sign up for LinkedIn and put the link to your profile on your resume.
Why does LinkedIn matter in your job search? First, recruiters use it as a resume database to find candidates that can't openly search for jobs. They actually do reach out to people on LinkedIn every day to find people for the jobs they are trying to fill. Many of these jobs may not be posted on a job board. If you aren't on there, you won't get contacted.
Second, there are jobs posted on LinkedIn that are published anywhere else. This means that if you don't have a LinkedIn profile then you can't apply to these jobs. You can read more about the LinkedIn job board here. Third, companies are analyzing your LinkedIn profile and professional network when you apply to a job - even if you don't apply to the job on LinkedIn. So, if you don't have a profile, there's a good chance that the bots and the people reviewing your resume may deem you not a fit for their jobs.
#8 - Detail Your Technical Skills
For better or worse, the presumption will be that older workers will not be as tech-savvy as their Gen Z counterparts. That may be true, but technology skills can matter for some companies and for some roles. In fact, knowledge or experience with a particular software can be a minimum qualification for the job. So, if you have experience with software it is important to include it on your resume regardless of the level of position that you are applying to.
However, you should only include the software on your resume that is recent and relevant. There is no need to include software that companies aren't using anymore (i.e. Microsoft 98, AOL, WordPerfect, etc.). Instead, you should focus on the systems that you know and that people are using now in the workplace. You don't have to be an expert in the system, but you do need to know how to use the system to include it on your resume. Finding a gap in your technical knowledge? Check out courses on Udemy, Coursera, SkillShare, etc to brush up on the systems for no or low cost.
#9 - Replace the Objective with a Summary
Having an objective section on your resume is the fastest way to show your age on your resume. People have long since abandoned this approach for the summary. What's the difference? An objective statement is only about what you want. However, the summary section on a resume is an elevator pitch. A good summary statement on a resume now would answer the question of "Why hire me?"
The summary section is more important than ever because people are skimming resumes. Studies show that you have 6 seconds on average to grab the attention of the person skimming your resume before they make up their mind. This means that you need to get to the point on your resume if you want to land the interview. Communicate what it is that makes you different right at the top in your summary section so that you can grab attention right away.
#10 - Focus on Achievements, Not Time
Avoid talking about how many years you have done something. This metric only matters at the 1, 5, 10, and 15-year markers. You won't see a job posting for someone with 30+ years of experience. Why? Because the presumption can be that you are set in your ways and may not want to learn a new culture or company. And, remember that time in a profession doesn't always mean that someone is good at what they do.
So, the better strategy is to focus on your achievements and to frame them up on your resume in a way that is relevant to the potential employer. In fact, employers and recruiters are comparing candidates based on their achievements. So, the key to building an age-proof resume that gets interviews now is to focus on achievements. This means including details about what you have done and what results you have obtained.
Creating achievement bullets can be difficult for many. Here are the things to think about when identifying your achievements:
- Have you led people? If so, how many and when?
- Have you had budget authority? If so, how much?
- When have you improved a process? When you did, was there a cost or time savings?
- Have you found ways to make the company more money? Or, made the existing business more profitable?
- Have you managed vendors or external partners? If so, how did you do?
- Were you customer-facing? If so, what types of customers did you work with?
- Did you receive any awards or recognitions? Or, did your team or project receive the recognition?
- How did you help contribute to the culture? Did you support employee relations or the onboarding of new employees?
- Have you been through an acquisition or ownership transition? What was your role in that business shift?
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