“I’m over 60 and I worry that I’m not landing a job because of my age,” said Ann, a Senior HR Director who called me seeking resume writing and LinkedIn Profile writing help. “I have been in HR my whole career,” she continued. “I know that age discrimination is a real issue. No, it’s not publicly discussed, but behind closed doors it is all too common to hear, ‘No don’t hire that person. They are too old.’ I lost my job during COVID, and I need to find work and have an income. I think the problem is my resume that shows all my promotions and certainly reveals my age too. Can you help me?”
Ann isn’t the only one scared about her age being a hiring problem. When I talk to people over 55, it is common for age discrimination to be at the forefront of their minds. And if they work in tech, then that age drops down to 40. Age discrimination is vastly underreported. According to a survey by Hiscox, more than one in three workers feel their age has prevented them from getting a job since turning 40. A key result of the survey revealed — 43% of men and 30% of women — felt that age prevented them from finding a new job.
I reviewed Ann’s current resume and saw several reasons that it was not working to get recruiters or employers to call. We worked together on a new resume and LinkedIn profile, and she started getting calls for interviews. Here are some changes I made that might help you “age-proof” your own resume.
Use the correct format
You need to abandon the resume format style you used 10 years ago and adapt to the modern traditional standard format. Beware of resume writers who sell fancy, creative graphic designed resumes that don’t work with the employment software employers use. (For more details, read this article originally published Forbes: How To Hire A Resume Writer And Not Get Duped).
Your top concern needs to be getting your resume through the Applicant Tracking System, commonly called ATS. This is a human resources software, that works as an online database or a digital filing cabinet allowing a recruiter or hiring manager to go in and look at your resume.
To ensure your resume is properly processed through ATS, you must use a traditional standard format. That means: no graphics, tables, columns, or text boxes. Do not use colored ink, reversed-out shading, or lines across the page. Avoid using headers or footers which cannot be seen in the ATS software.
Standard format has the following pieces, in the following order:
City, state zip code
Phone number xxx.xxx.xxxx
Job title you seek
Summary of Qualifications
4-6 sentences to sums up your top experience, skills, and strengths.
Current Job Title, City, State, dates of employment listing month/year
Repeat this for each job you have held.
Do not go back further than 20 years when writing about your experience.
List computer applications and programming languages, as well as any specific technical skills
Certificates + Training – Optional
Foreign Languages – Optional
Honors + Awards – Optional
Leadership + Community Service – Optional
Dropping off the years is red flag to employers, but if you are over 60 go ahead and leave off the graduation dates.
Skip a core competencies or achievements section
These sections are considered an outdated style and employers and employers prefer to see when and where you accomplished things. When people make these lists, they often place them as a key section at the resume top without the relevant context. The solution is to drop these two sections completely. It’s more effective to mention these skills and accomplishments in the experience section noting when and where you performed them.
Emphasize results and accomplishments
Many people create a generic resume that doesn’t stress the skills necessary to get the job. Some baby boomers write paragraphs that are simply job descriptions, while others spend too much time explaining about the company they work for. Neither approach works. Employers say that what influences them most is seeing results, outcomes and accomplishments. Employers want to know that you have made vital contributions and how the company benefited from them. Adding that your actions made money or delivered cost or time savings, noting productivity increases, especially if you created new things like processes, systems, designs, etc. are essential. An effective formula to use when writing about your work experience is this: WHAT were your ACTIONS, and WHAT were the RESULTS? (Learn more by reading: What Employers Want To See In Your Resume And Most People Aren’t Doing It)
Do not extend your experience more than 20 years back
Employer’s care more about your recent experience in the last 5-7 years believing that is the expertise you will draw from to do their job. Your first few early career jobs are likely far removed from what you seek now, so emphasize the results and accomplishments in your most recent jobs. Do not try to bring up very dated experience in another industry from long ago as that makes you look old. It won’t convince the employer that it has any value many years later.
Many boomers have no clue what keywords are or should be. They may think there is a magic formula, but there is not. This is how the ATS works. An uploaded resume goes through the initial scanning. A recruiter or hiring manager then adds in some keywords to search through a database of applicants. To be found, you need to have added the appropriate keywords. However, this does not mean you should copy every word from the job opening and put it into your resume. Instead, try making a list of your job’s work tasks. Next, review several job openings. Look for a pattern where employers all want similar specific skills and work tasks done. For example, they may want a manager who has hired and coached a large team. They may seek product marketing skills or want program management experience. It might be a specific software, like Salesforce, they ask for.
After you have looked at the job announcements, refine your keyword list. Add those keywords into your work experience sentence descriptions as you create the details on each job you have had. Do not simply stuff keywords into your resume. The system will not respond to that. It is more effective to incorporate the words into the sentences and say, for example: Served as a project manager handling large installation projects from conception through completion.
Making these resume changes will help you look fresh, skilled and ready to take on another role.
This article was originally published in Forbes.com.