A well-spoken business woman asked me what was wrong with her resume. She wasn’t getting many calls and her few interviews didn’t yield offers. After a quick glance at her (she had grey hair worn up in a bun and was wearing a dress I’d find in my Mother’s closet) and a brief review of her resume (showing every job she had held since before Diana married Charles), I told her, “Not many people want to hire their Grandmother.” After she got over the shock of my rather straight-forward response, she said, “You’re right…what do I have to do?”
There are many things you can do to minimize the challenges of age discrimination in the job hunt, but let’s focus on what I think are the big three hurdles: Resume, Image, and Relevance.
First, fix your resume. Change the “Job History” section title to “Recent Work History” or “Relevant Career Experience” and then only go back “far enough”. This might be 8 years, 12 years, or even 15 years, but seldom any more. If you have any significantly relevant experience prior to this new work history cut-off-date, have another section titled “Previous Relevant Experience” and provide your title, the company, and the key successes or accomplishments … but don’t list the dates. If you’ve worked for the same firm for the last 20 or 30 years (uncommon today), then yes, list the entire duration, but break it down by title/role and indicate the years in those positions. Make sure that the current years have the most material.
Second, freshen-up your image. If you aren’t applying for a CEO-level position, then having lots of grey hair is probably a detractor, so find a way to fix it. For men, short hair styles or even shaved heads can sometimes disguise your age; for women it might be current trends in make-up and hair styles. And yes, both genders can consider a modest hair color change as a potential strategy. Also, update your interview wardrobe. Men, make sure your interview suit (notice I didn’t say sport coat and slacks) is currently stylish and you have ties that are a modest width and pattern…something sold within about the last 5 years is probably safe. Women, a modern styled pant-suit is the preferred outfit, along with a high neckline blouse…no dresses, please!
Third, update your relevance. You MUST get out of the 70s and 80s. During your interview don’t focus on any tasks you performed or any positions you held prior to the Dot-Com boom of the late 90s. The interviewer wants to hear about your current accomplishments and your expertise relative to their needs in today’s markets. Make sure you brush up on your skills. Attending industry conferences or going back to school part-time to work on that next degree shows your commitment to staying current and relevant. Be very active in your industry—leading, not just attending, peer-based organizations or groups. Make sure these key activities you are involved with (to stay current in your industry) are listed somewhere on your resume or cover letter.
Bottom Line: It’s not about your age–it’s how your age is perceived by others. If you talk on current topics, stress your up-to-date skills, focus on the future, don’t reminisce, and don’t look ancient, then they just might want your talents enough to forget (or forgive) that you’re old.
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For a full list of my Job Hunter articles, see Index