Age 40+ job seekers can face ageism when they apply for positions at many companies. One of the triggers for age discrimination is the personal brand a candidate chooses on their resume.
The changed reality of today’s job market is that years of experience aren’t as valuable as they used to be. When experience loses value, all that’s left is the perception of age … and for many employers today, that isn’t such a positive perception.
It’s not that you mean to brand yourself as old … you just don’t know a different way.
You don’t know a different way because you are used to using traditional resume techniques. These traditional techniques were fine when there were shortages of candidates. In today’s job market of job shortages, hiring managers make different decisions using different hiring processes.
So the old familiar resume techniques you’re used to using … yeah, those ones that worked in your last job search … aren’t effective today.
Worse, those old familiar resume techniques are likely adding to the very ageism you’re trying to avoid.
Here are some of the ways candidates brand themselves as old (without realizing it):
1. Focusing The Reader On X Years Of Experience: When you focus your reader on your 20+ years of experience, you think it’s a positive. It used to be a positive, because it meant that you can remember how to deal with many situations. However, it’s no longer positive because that memory isn’t as valuable … it’s been replaced by Google’s collective memory. It’s less expensive for today’s employers to hire someone with 5-10 years of experience, who they can Google the answers they don’t know. Sure, it’s shortsighted, but it’s today’s hiring reality of doing more with less and corporate profits driven by cost reductions rather than increasing demand
2. Excess Detail About Early Jobs: When you include a lot of detail on your earlier jobs, you make 2 critical mistakes:
- Give Irrelevant Detail: This shows hiring managers that you don’t separate important information from irrelevant detail very well. It demonstrates poor communications skills, poor decision making and gives the impression that you’ll waste the hiring manager’s time with the unimportant. The detail of what you did 20 years ago probably isn’t relevant today, is it?
- Your Best Days Are Behind You: I had a client who had branded himself as the creator of McDonald’s Happy Meal, because he actually came up with the idea… 35 years ago. I explained that while he had a right to feel proud of inventing the Happy Meal, it makes readers ask “What have you done since then?” If you can’t answer with examples of strong follow up work since your home run many years ago, it can work against you – branding you as someone who’s best days are in the past.
3. Listing Obsolete Technology Or Issues: Listing that you implemented a new mainframe-based accounting system in the ’80’s isn’t helping your job search 30 years later. Instead, it makes your technology skills look dated – sure you could learn updated skills, it’s just that almost no employer wants to train an experienced new hire. Employers look for experienced new hires who have already solved similar issues to what the hiring manager faces today, and who have already used the employer’s technology.
How To Demonstrate Experience Without Triggering Ageism
The good news is there are ways to demonstrate your experience while still blunting negative perceptions that trigger ageism. While your experience may be less valuable (thanks to Google), that doesn’t mean that your experience carries zero value.
Most of us are used to expressing our value to employers based on the number of years of our experience. At best, this was always just a proxy to give employers a hint that in all your years of experience you might have already solved problems that the hiring manager might be facing. After all, the more years of experience, the greater chance you might have solved the right problems. This was a holdover from the days of paper resumes, when you couldn’t customize for an individual reader.
Since you can (and should) customize your resume to address your individual hiring manager’s needs, you don’t need a proxy. Why give employers only a hint that you’ve solved relevant problems? Instead, why not bang your target hiring manager over the head by clearly demonstrating that you’ve solved problems similar to priority issues?
Of course, this means a little upfront work to learn the hiring manager’s problems and priorities. This might even mean (Gasp!) actually talking to people who work at the company.
In this way, your age or years of experience never enter into the picture. Rather than taking a broad brush approach, you’ve laser targeted the hiring manager’s unique needs, demonstrating that you’re a superior candidate because you’re the specific solution to priority problems.