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Age-Proofing Your Job Application


It’s not about your age; it’s about how you present yourself.

Many job seekers believe they’re not considered for open positions because they are too old. The real reason their resumes wind up at the bottom of the pile has more to do with how they present themselves and their industry savvy, say recruiters and hiring managers.  (For the ten worst things you can put on your resume, click here.)

Those who present themselves as up-to-date on industry trends and fluent with new technologies will have a leg up, regardless of their age.

If you are worried that your many years of industry experience will submarine your chances of getting a job, there are things you can do to present yourself as a strong candidate, regardless of your age.

Provide the Right Kind of Contact Information

Welcome to 2011: It’s time to stop advertising the fact that you’re still using a fax machine. Providing obsolete or outdated means of getting in touch is a dead giveaway that you’re job-seeking in the past.

“Many more experienced job seekers won’t list their cell phone number, instead including home and work lines,” says Jay Meschke, president of Kansas City, Mo.-based EFL Associates, the executive search arm of CBIZ, a professional services company. Simply list your cell phone number.

The once-ubiquitous need to differentiate between “daytime” and “evening” phone numbers is no longer a concern and makes a job seeker seem harder to reach and out of touch with today’s pace of job seeking.

It’s also a good idea to ditch the email address you created back in the 20th century.

“Make sure that you include your e-mail address, and that it’s professional,” says Penny Locey, a senior consultant with Keystone Associates, a Boston-area management consultancy. A Gmail account gives off a markedly different impression than an AOL or Hotmail account, for example, as does a user name that includes your name or initials and includes only a couple of numbers at the end, if any at all.

Choose Dates Carefully

When age-proofing your resume, disguising the true dates of your employment may seem like a tempting solution, but experts say that’s likely to draw more negative attention than positive.

“If the dates you graduated or worked at a company aren’t there, it makes your material appear incomplete,” says Bruce Tulgan, CEO of Rainmaker Thinking, a New Haven, Conn.-based management consultancy that focuses on integrating generations in the workplace.

Instead, consider omitting experience older than 15 years, but be careful how you go about doing this. The tactic can make your work history seem shorter, but be sure to avoid including only senior-level positions.

“No one begins their career as ‘director’ or ‘senior researcher,'” says Greg Faherty, a New York-area resume writer. “Anyone reading the resume will know you had positions before that, and they’ll wonder how far back your career goes.”

Regardless of which dates or experience you choose to include, experts say that if you want to sell yourself to a recruiter, don’t include a line about your wealth of experience in your summary.

“An age giveaway is placing your years of experience in your opening summary or cover letter,” says Faherty. “Telling someone you have 30 years of experience…is the worst way to begin your resume.”

Be Clear, Simple and Achievement Oriented

When writing out your experience in your resume, choose your words wisely.

Meschke says that older job seekers are notorious for using verbose phrases in their resumes, detailing the different tasks they’ve been responsible for throughout each position they’ve held. What’s written on a resume about experience should be clearly and simply written and should point to true accomplishments, says Meschke.

Keep It Current

Avoid being too formal with your language.

“Steer clear of old-fashioned terminology that sounds like something you’d read on a wedding invitation,” Locey says.

Don’t end your cover letter with “I look forward to the pleasure of your reply.” Be polite and tactful, but avoid cliched, formal phrasing. “It sounds like you copied it out of a book,” says Locey — older and younger job seekers alike need to be more colloquial in their application materials.

Job seekers should also make sure they’re using the most current industry terms.

“Nothing shows you’re more informed than knowing what the industry is calling something these days,” says Locey.

A few examples: Use “talent acquisition” instead of “recruiting,” or “creating executive financial dashboards” as opposed to “financial reporting to executives.”

The older terms aren’t necessarily incorrect, says Locey, but if you’re looking to appear current, you may consider including up-to-date terminology.

“Buzzwords are what help a resume get pulled,” Locey explains. “They make younger workers sound informed and older workers seem more connected to what’s going on in the industry right now.”

Don’t Try to Overcompensate

While it’s not a bad idea to make your application materials as ageless as possible, it can backfire if you take it too far.

The last thing you want to do is catch a potential employer totally off-guard. If the way you’ve written your resume makes you seem like you’re 27 when you’re actually 57, that’s not going to earn you brownie points.

“Older, more experienced people who don’t want to seem too old for a young, hip company often make the mistake of trying too hard,” Tulgan says. “If you send in a holographic resume and then you show up with grey hair, you still have grey hair.”

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About Encore

  • Encore examines the changing nature of retirement, from new rules and guidelines for financial security to the shifting identities and priorities of today’s retirees. The blog also explores news that affects retirement, from the Wall Street Journal Digital Network and around the web. Lead bloggers are reporter Catey Hill and senior editor Jeremy Olshan. Other contributors include The Wall Street Journal’s retirement columnists Glenn Ruffenach and Anne Tergesen; the Director for the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, Alicia Munnell; and the Director of Research for Pinnacle Advisory Group, Michael Kitces, CFP.