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How to Age-Proof Your Résumé

These tips can help older job seekers highlight their skills, not their ages

spinner image hand of a corporate recruiter shuffling through a pile of printed resumes with a laptop in the background on the desk
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Searching for a new job is challenging, regardless of how old you are. However, if you are 50 or older, you may face some additional hurdles.

According to AARP Research, nearly two out of three workers age 50-plus  (62 percent) think older adults face discrimination in the workplace today based on age and 93 percent of them believe that age discrimination against older workers is common in the workplace today. Their concern is justified. Government data shows that age 55-plus job seekers typically face substantially longer periods of unemployment compared with those job seekers between 20 and 24.

If you are concerned about facing bias during the job search, don’t panic. There are many things you can do to showcase the skills and experience you’ve earned during your career. The following tips will help you age-proof your résumé to help you stand out from the competition and land the right job.

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1. Focus on your recent experience.

The further along you are in your career, the less relevant your earlier work experience becomes. Employers care most about your recent work that matters for the roles they’re filling, not your experience from 15 or more years ago. As a result, give more detail about the positions you’ve held in the past 10 to 15 years that are related to your current job search, and say less about your earliest jobs. 

2. Eliminate older dates.

Remove the dates related to work experience, education and certifications if they fall outside the 15-year window. While you may want to consolidate older work experience in a separate section or a “Career Note,” including the dates of employment is unnecessary. Similarly, it’s important to share your credentials on your résumé, but the employer doesn’t need to know you earned your MBA more than 17 years ago.

3. Limit your résumé to two pages.

Most recruiters spend less than 10 seconds reviewing a résumé before deciding if the candidate should receive further consideration. With so little time to make the right impression, it’s important to streamline your résumé to two pages. Focus on using this space to highlight your recent work experience and accomplishments that best match your current career goals.

4. Avoid the “jack-of-all-trades” approach.

Although you may have held numerous roles throughout your career, your résumé shouldn’t be a laundry list of everything you have done. Focus on tailoring your résumé’s content to support your current career objective, rather than providing a generalized summary of your entire work history.

5. Optimize your résumé with keywords.

Seventy-five percent of all online applications will never be seen by human eyes, thanks to the hiring bots, which are software programs known as an applicant tracking system (ATS). Their job is to collect, scan and rank an employer’s inbound applications. To improve your résumé’s chances of making it past this digital gatekeeper and on to a human for review, make sure your document includes the appropriate keywords. If a word or phrase repeatedly shows up in the job listings you’re interested in, incorporate these terms into your résumé. 

6. Upgrade your email address.

Older workers sometimes are seen as lacking technical savvy. Don’t give employers a reason to believe you might fit this stereotype. Ditch your old AOL or Hotmail email account for a free, professional-looking Gmail address that incorporates your name.

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7. List your mobile phone number.

If you’re still listing your landline number on your résumé, it’s time to update your contact information. Only list your cellphone number on your résumé so you can control the voicemail message, who answers important phone calls from recruiters, and when.

8. Join the LinkedIn bandwagon.

LinkedIn is a valuable platform for connecting with others in your industry and uncovering new job opportunities. It’s also an important place to advertise your candidacy to prospective employers. In fact, a study by recruiting software provider Jobvite found that 93 percent of employers admit to reviewing candidates’ social network profiles — regardless of whether the candidates provided that information.

If you’ve avoided using LinkedIn in the past, now’s the time to create an online profile that supports your career goals. Then, customize your LinkedIn profile URL and add it to the top of your résumé to ensure recruiters find the correct profile for you.

9. Showcase your technical proficiencies.

The fact that you know how to use Microsoft Office is no longer noteworthy (unless your role requires advanced knowledge of Excel). Show employers that you’ve kept up with the latest tools and platforms related to your field. If you’re in a nontechnical profession, create a small section toward the bottom of your résumé that lists these proficiencies. If you realize there’s a skill or tool outside your wheelhouse that’s routinely appearing in the job descriptions you’re targeting, check out sites such as AARP Skills Builder for Work, edX, Coursera and Skillshare to find free or low-cost online courses.

10. Customize each online application.

Small tweaks to the content of your résumé can make a big difference in determining whether your online application reaches a human being for review. Before you submit another online application, re-evaluate your résumé based on the job posting. Then, make small edits to customize your résumé so that it clearly reflects your qualifications for this specific role. You also might consider using a service such as AARP Resume Advisor, which offers free résumé reviews, to make sure you’re showing why you are a good fit for the job.

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11. Ditch the objective statement.

Avoid using a run-of-the-mill objective statement that’s full of fluff and focuses solely on your wants and needs. Instead, replace it with your “elevator pitch.” In a brief paragraph, known as a professional summary or executive summary, explain what you’re great at and most interested in, and how you can provide value to a prospective employer. In other words, summarize your job goals and qualifications for the reader.

12. Aim for visual balance.

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If content is king in a résumé, then design is queen. How your information is formatted is just as important as the information itself. Focus on leveraging a combination of short blurbs and bullet points to make it easy for the reader to quickly scan your résumé and find the most important details that support your candidacy. 

13. Focus on achievements, not tasks.

At this point in your career, recruiters are less concerned with the tasks you’ve completed and more interested in learning what you’ve accomplished. Separate each job under your work history into a short blurb that describes your role and responsibilities. Then, add a set of bullet points to describe the results you’ve achieved and the major contributions you’ve made that have benefited the organization. By bulleting these details, you’re drawing readers’ eyes to the information they care most about: your qualifications. Whenever possible, quantify your accomplishments to provide additional context for the recruiter. 

Editor’s Note: This article originally was published on January 23, 2019. It has been updated with more recent data about age discrimination in the workplace.

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