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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

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.


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.

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