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Why Companies Are Not Interested in Old Experience

By Bob Weinstein

Let's get started now, by focusing on the top résumé mistakes made by older workers:

  • Dates that reveal age. Education/training history is important for most jobs, especially professional and crafts positions. Include relevant degrees and majors, but do not include graduation dates. All it takes is simple arithmetic to figure out your age.
  • Irrelevant and old experience. Employers don't want to hear about old experience. If you've worked in your field for 30-plus years, and you've done a fair amount of job-hopping, many of your jobs, especially ones in the far past, are irrelevant to positions you're applying for. Include only jobs in your recent past that demonstrate competence for the position you're applying for. Employers couldn't care less about your vast repository of experience. Rather than impress, it's an immediate turnoff. All it does is confirm any prejudice an employer may have about older workers.
  • Time gaps. Time gaps are common, and often unavoidable, but they disappear when you omit dates. Women take time off to have babies, but not if they are over 60. Career builders take several months or a year off to go back to school to get degrees. Nevertheless, employers don't want to hear about gaps. Perfect job candidates are never out of work, especially in recessionary job markets. Employers don't want to consider candidates who have been out of work for long periods of time. That usually means close to or more than a year. As soon as you hit the one-year mark, the HR folks immediately conclude that you're over the hill, obsolete. They ask themselves, "Why is the person out of work so long?" If a good reason isn't apparent, you're out of the running. It would take some organizational pull (a decision maker or valued employee) to get you back in the running.

Never reveal age: Play the game or suffer the consequences

List vague dates on résumés and job applications so employers can't determine our exact age.

It's infuriating and insulting that we have to bury our ages in order to avoid ageist discrimination and stereotyping. Unfortunately, that's the price we must pay to be considered for jobs.

Résumé tips worth heeding

  • Stress value. We must step into the 21st century and see ourselves as part of the technological landscape. To use the human resources term, we are human capital. As Wendy S. Enelow and Louise M. Kursmark put it in Expert résumés for Managers and Executives, "You are the product, and you must create a document that powerfully communicates the value of that product." To accomplish that end, the authors advise a "sell-it" rather than a "tell-it strategy. In their book, they provide the following explanation of the two approaches. "Tell-It Strategy: Supervised customer-service operations for two large sales locations."

    "Sell-It Strategy: Full strategic planning, operating, and P&L responsibility for daily management of 2,000-employee customer-service operation supporting $25M+ in annual sales contracts for world's largest automotive brake manufacturer."
  • Write key-word-rich résumés. More and more companies are using word-scanning software to find qualified candidates. If unsure of the definition of key words, here's an excellent definition from Enelow and Kursmark's book: "Key words are words and phrases specific to a particular industry or profession." In management, examples of key words are revenue growth, profit improvement, performance optimization, business planning, and cost reduction, to name a few.
  • Rather than an objective at the top of the résumé, use a terse summary. The difference? A summary stresses the skills essential to the targeted job instead of a vague general statement of desire for the position.
  • E-mail, rather than snail-mail résumés. Postal-mail and risk being branded "old," said Mark Mehler, president of Mmc Group, a staffing- strategy consulting firm in Kendall Park, N.J. That goes for sending hard copies other ways, too, such as by overnight express.

More solid résumé-writing advice

Chuck Gumbert, founder and CEO of the Tomcat Group, a Kansas City, Mo.-based management-consulting group, and author of General George S. Patton on Accelerating Performance in Today's Business World, offers more advice worth heeding:

- List only the last 10-12 years of job history.

- Use current terminology or acronyms. Examples: Human Resources vs. Personnel; Aerospace Engineering vs. Aeronautical Engineering. Terms that date ourselves: TQM; Quality Circles; and ISO9000 Implementation.

- Do not list employers by their old names if they've changed names (example: B.F. Goodrich Aerospace is now just Goodrich); or if they were acquired.