Recruiters' Tips for Screening the Resumes of Older Applicants

Hundreds or perhaps thousands of resumes may come across your desk each year. How can you tell the difference between those candidates whose abilities have evolved over the years from others whose skills are stuck in the 20th century? What questions can you use to glean more information about an applicants' experiences that may not appear on their resumes?

Professional recruiters analyzed portions of real resumes submitted by three job candidates with varying degrees of education, work experience and skill and gave us their feedback. We include their suggestions for interview questions that can uncover more pertinent information. For confidentiality reasons, the names of companies, candidates and locations were deleted.

Resume 1

Work Experience

Nov. 2005 Dec. 2005

Neiman Marcus (location deleted) Seasonal sales

Feb. 1994  May 1996

Laborer's Union (location deleted) Secretary, initiated new members, processed monthly dues, phones

June 1990 Feb. 1994

Dillards (location deleted) Sales

Analysis
This applicant captured her entire 46-year employment history - all 13 jobs - on one page. (Only a portion of her resume is shown.) But in doing so, she sacrificed key details, leaving recruiters wondering about her skills and accomplishments. Should her resume be placed in the reject pile? Jim Andres, general manager at Manpower, Inc. of Southern Nevada in Las Vegas, advises not to expect to see everything you need to know about mature workers on their resumes.

Don't penalize mature candidates for writing a poor resume. "It's very common for us to look at resumes of semi-retired or retired people and see a very weak resume," says Andres. He explains that some list courses they completed decades ago or include their entire work history. Others skip lots. "Because there's not a lot of detail or substance, a hiring manager may jump to the conclusion that this person has no office skills." But she does. She types 70 words-per-minute and possesses basic computer skills.

Don't make assumptions. Is the nine-year gap on this resume something to be concerned about? Andres believes not. He notes that this candidate doesn't have to work, she wants to work. He says many mature workers have financial freedom and return to work years after they retire, not for the paycheck, but to interact with others, learn new skills or experience new opportunities. "You'll find [they're] more engaged employees," he says, explaining that mature worker candidates select jobs on the merits of the opportunity. "You'll probably enjoy a good open door policy where there are no hidden agendas or they're not afraid to bring things to your attention."

Resume 2

Work Experience

(Company name) 10/02/2006 to 1/02/2007 Trip Enveloper Processor

Process fuel envelopes that are scanned into the computer. These are sent in by the drivers that are employee of (company name).

(Company name) 1989 to 2000 Claims re-estimator

Reviewed incoming claims and adjusted approved payment accounts in accordance with contractual agreements.

Analysis

Don't rush applicants to the reject pile. There are two concerns with this resume: There's a six-year gap between the two jobs, which could be a problem, and only two employers are listed. In spite of these flags, experts caution don't be hasty. Additional tips for screening job candidates with resumes like this include:

Read between the lines. Some recruiters may dismiss this resume because of the job gap, says Barbara Meury, who owns a Snelling staffing agency franchise in Jacksonville, FL. "Don't necessarily be afraid of gaps," she says. "It can be a red flag but it may not be." Some mature workers retire from a full career, take several years off to pursue other interests like travel, and then decide to return to work. Others take care of an elderly parent or ill spouse. This 68 year-old applicant took time off from work to care for her sick husband.

Dig deep. To keep their resume an acceptable length, many candidates only mention the last five or ten years of their 30-year careesr. So ask about prior work or school experiences. In this case, the recruiter learned through follow-up questions that the candidate completed some computer and medical terminology courses.

Consider experiences beyond nine-to-five o'clock. Many mature individuals develop a variety of skills by volunteering. By asking candidates to elaborate about such experiences, you can capture relevant skills that may be valuable to your business. Meury notes that this candidate didn't mention on her resume that she volunteered for her local volunteer and fire rescue department and participated in fund-raising activities. These valuable experiences were gleaned through the interview.

Resume 3

Work Experience

(Company name) Director of Human Resources 1999 to Present

Responsible for managing the organization's human capital. Consultant to senior management on matters of business strategy impacting human resources. Direct report to CEO; member of seven-person management committee.

Improved organizational efficiency through departmental redesign to better reflect business requirements and manage out under-performers

Integrated employees of two acquisitions

Led the teams responsible for integration of human resource programs and policies

Enhanced employee effectiveness by introducing employee development programs that included skills management training

Improved level of executive talent through hands-on management of all recruitment activities

Analysis

Use terminology as litmus test. This candidate "gets it," says Steve Harrison, chairman of Lee Hecht Harrison, a career management company in Woodcliff Lake, NJ. The executive summary and body of the resume includes terminology that contemporizes this 61 year-old candidate. He was not stuck in neutral. His skills and experiences evolved with the changes in his industry.

Here are some examples of why this candidate's resume popped with potential:

He uses the words "human capital" instead of "personnel."

He uses the word "talent" instead of "employees."

He addresses current hot topics in human resources like succession planning, reporting to the CEO, dealing with acquisitions, organizational efficiency and that he developed a global mindset by managing regional human resource departments in London, Hong Kong and Tokyo.

Glean more information when a resume isn't enough. The right follow-up questions can help you zero in on an applicant's resume omissions. Harrison suggests that interviewers ask the following questions to smoke out whether mature candidates have developed new skills and adapted to changing times:

What investment have you made in your professional career development that your employer did not pay for?

What new skills are you currently learning? (The first two questions come from The Manager's Book of Questions: 751 Great Interview Questions for Hiring the Best Person, by John Kador)

What major themes are in the lives of key executives? What keeps them up at night?

When talking about leadership competencies, what comes to mind? Ask the same questions regarding innovation and corporate social responsibility.

"It's not about [candidates] dyeing their hair and coming in with nose rings," explains Harrison, adding that this candidate landed a dream job for human resource professionals of any age. "It's about are they recasting themselves to live mentally and psychically in the mind of a contemporary worker."

In general, to ensure that you're not overlooking qualified applicants, mine your candidates' breadth of experiences and skills more closely. Doing so can help you land top-notch employees you may have otherwise overlooked.

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