Avoiding Age Bias On Your Resume: 7 Top Resume Writing Do's and Don'ts

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by Michelle Dumas

Are you a seasoned professional nearing retirement age but eager to continue working? Whether you simply WANT TO continue working because you find it personally rewarding, or whether you HAVE TO continue working for financial reasons, finding yourself suddenly thrust into the job market can be scary. Combine that with concerns that age bias may either extend or completely stall your job search, and it can be downright anxiety-provoking.

Sadly, age discrimination is a real issue that many older workers must overcome. However, if you actually get a 'foot in the door,' winning the opportunity to "sell" yourself in person during an interview, your chances are much better to successfully overcome the bias. The problem, of course, is your resume. If you are an older worker, you may have 25, 30, 35 or even more years of employment experience, and college degrees earned several decades ago. One swift glance through your resume and your age is obvious. You are concerned--rightfully so--that your resume is holding you back and preventing you from receiving calls for face-to-face interviews.

Are there any solutions to this dilemma? Absolutely! Here are the seven most crucial do's and don'ts to keep in mind as you write your resume.

DO trim your resume back to the most recent 10, 15, or 20 years. Your resume is a marketing document. It is NOT an autobiography. Readers want to know what you have done recently to add value in the companies you have been associated with. Skills, experiences, and achievements from 25 or 30 years ago or more are almost certainly irrelevant at this point. But, if those early experiences are still relevant, you do have options...

DON'T be afraid to mention early experience that is still relevant. Just don't mention the dates associated with it. You might choose to highlight the undated achievements or qualifications in the summary profile section of your resume. Or, another effective strategy is to summarize that experience at the end of your resume. Your description should be concise. Just one or two sentences that begin with the words "Additional experience includes..." will usually suffice.

DO be creative and strategic in how you list employment dates on your resume. Don't feel locked in by the traditional way of including dates. For example, I recently worked with an executive candidate who had three years with his current employer but more than 35 years of progression with his last employer. Traditionally, on a resume, you would show the total span of years with each company and then the dates in each position (illustrating progression). But this method clearly wouldn't work for this client because he began working for that last employer sometime in the mid 1960s - a date that we did not want to include on the resume. So instead, we left off the total dates with each company and just listed dates in each position, going back approximately 15-20 years. Like this:

Employer 1, location Current position (20xx - Present)

Employer 2, location

Position a (20xx - 20xx)

Position b (19xx - 20xx)

Position c (19xx - 19xx)

Position d (19xx - 19xx)

** Additional experience includes...

DON'T leave dates of education off of your resume unless you have a good strategic reason to do so. One of the most common errors that I see are dates of education left off the resume when they should not be left off. For example, if you earned your degree 15 years ago and began working in your current career track the same year, you will actually raise questions about your age by not including your degree dates. The dates on your degree tend to close the "loop" and eliminate age-related questions in the mind of the resume recipient. But if you leave the dates off, the recipient will assume you are hiding your age and are older than your work experience indicates. On the other hand, if you have shortened your resume to the most recent 10, 15, or 20 years, and your most recent degree was earned earlier than a year or two before that cut off point, it is probably in your best interest to leave the dates off the resume.

DO be proud of your age and the associated experience and perspective that you bring to your employers. Even though--in most cases--you should not emphasize and draw attention to your age, do recognize that you bring to the workplace a value offering unmatched by your younger competitors in the job market. Your self-assurance and confidence will come across in your resume and during interviews.

DON'T forget to fill your resume with achievements and results that illustrate your personal brand and the unique promise of value that you bring to the workplace. Position yourself for the position. Demonstrate through past accomplishments and value add that you are the perfect candidate for the job. When your resume is filled with achievements that illustrate you will deliver a strong return on an employer's investment in hiring you, your age will NOT even be an issue.

DO create a resume that showcases achievements that illustrate the traits most valued in older workers - your credibility, your depth and breadth of experience, your judgment and decision-making abilities, your range of professional contacts, your work ethic and reliability, your emotional stability, and your commitment to company goals. Subtly, in your resume and cover letter, touch on achievements that illustrate a high energy level, strong technical skills, and adaptability to change.