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Three Ways to Avoid Age Discrimination with Your Resume

Over the years, I have worked with many job seekers over the age of 40, who worry that employers will pass them over in favor of younger candidates. While I would love to say that age discrimination doesn’t happen, and that employers all highly value your years of experience, that unfortunately is not the case in the real world. All you have to do is count the grey-haired (or in some cases no-haired) heads at most job clubs to see that the over-40 job seekers are having longer, tougher job searches.

And even though age discrimination in hiring is illegal, it can be extremely difficult to prove in court. The more practical solution is to create a resume that makes it difficult for an employer to make assumptions about your age. That way, you at least have a better chance to land an interview and impress an employer with your qualifications in person. There are three things to do with your resume to reduce the chances of age discrimination:

  • Do not begin your resume by emphasizing your experience – I am amazed at the number of job seekers who worry about age discrimination, but nonetheless begin their resume summary with a phrase like “Veteran Operations Manager with over 30 years of experience in manufacturing …”. That practically screams to an employer “Look at how old I am! I should be retiring soon.”  If you have over ten years of experience in your field, just use the phrase “extensive experience” and leave it at that.  I have seen job postings that ask for “three years of experience”, or five, or even some that ask for as many as ten, but I have practically never seen a posting ask for more than ten years in any field.
  • Only cover the last 10-15 years of your work history – That is likely the only experience that is relevant to your employability anyway. Any skills you used more than 15 years ago, you have hopefully demonstrated at a higher level of competence in your more recent positions. Otherwise, if you haven’t used those skills in the last few years, you can’t credibly claim to still be competent at them. Note also that, even if you have been with the same employer for more than 15 years, you can still list each position within that employer as a separate job title, and only go back 10-15 years.
  • Do not list graduation dates – Employers almost can’t help but do the math when looking at a resume – look at the graduation date, subtract that from the current year, and add it to 22 (for college grads) or 18 (for high school), to guesstimate the applicant’s age. But no law requires you to list graduation dates on your resume. After you interview and have sold the employer on how great an employee you will be, then they can request that additional detail of graduation dates for any needed background checks.

Note that these tips only help ensure that you get the interview, and that your resume does not get screened out prematurely. There are more tips for fighting age discrimination in the interview, but that’s a topic for another column.