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Recruiters' Tips for Screening the Résumés Of Older Applicants

Learn how to read between the lines and ask the right questions

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

See also: AARP Best Employers for Workers Over 50

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

Résumé 1

Work Experience

Nov. 2012 - Dec. 2012 — Retail Company, Seasonal sales

Feb. 2004 - May 2006 — Telecommunications Company, Executive Assistant

June 1994 - Feb. 1996 — Pharmacy, Photo Assistant


This applicant captured her entire 40-plus-year employment history — more than one dozen jobs — on one page. (Only a portion of her résumé is shown.) But in doing so, she sacrificed key details, leaving recruiters wondering about her skills and accomplishments. Should her résumé 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 résumés.

Don't penalize mature candidates for writing a poor résumé. "It's very common for us to look at résumés of semiretired or retired people and see a very weak résumé," 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 multiyear gap on this résumé 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."

Next page: Résumé 2. »

Résumé 2

Work Experience

(Company name) 10/02/2012 to 1/02/2013 — Trip Enveloper Processor: Process fuel envelopes that are scanned into the computer. These are sent in by the drivers who are employees of (company name).

(Company name) 1995 to 2006 — 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 résumé: 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 that you should not be hasty to judge. Additional tips for screening job candidates with résumés like this include:

Read between the lines. Some recruiters may dismiss this résumé because of the job gap, says Barbara Meury, who owns a Snelling staffing agency franchise in Jacksonville, Fla. "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 such as 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 résumé an acceptable length, many candidates only mention the last five or 10 years of their 30-year careers. 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 9-to-5 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 résumé that she volunteered for her local volunteer and fire rescue department and participated in fundraising activities. These valuable experiences were gleaned through the interview.

Résumé 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

Next page: Analysis of résumé 3. »


Use terminology as a litmus test. This candidate "gets it," says Steve Harrison, chairman of Lee Hecht Harrison, a career management company in Woodcliff Lake, N.J. The executive summary and body of the résumé 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 résumé 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 mind-set by managing regional human resource departments in London, Hong Kong and Tokyo.

Glean more information when a résumé isn't enough. The right follow-up questions can help you zero in on an applicant's résumé 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.

As a hiring employer you may want to take a look at AARP’s program Life Reimagined for Work; it is the first talent exchange dedicated to helping companies find experienced workers and to helping experienced professionals connect to more satisfying careers. AARP is working with LinkedIn as the bridge to help bring together experienced workers, peers, employers and world-of-work experts, to help job seekers navigate the new reality of using social media to find employment. And consider signing the Work Reimagined Pledge, indicating that your company recruits across all age groups and values experienced workers.

Also, to learn about organizations that have been recognized for their policies and procedures valued by older workers, visit to see the winners of the 2013 Best Employers Over 50 Award.

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