By John Rossheim
Monster Contributing Writer
When older workers hit the job market, they commonly take two common -- and ill-advised -- strategies for resume preparation.
Many 50-plus job seekers adopt an "I am what I am" approach. Believing there's no sense in repackaging the defining moments of their careers, they simply update the top of their traditional chronological resume with a brief description of recent projects, while subtracting a few lines from the bottom to abbreviate (not eliminate) mention of a job at a company they left a quarter of a century ago.
The opposite tack, often taken out of fear of age bias and professional obsolescence, is the "I am whatever they want me to be" approach. Swayed by well-meaning friends or strident self-help books, these older job seekers start from scratch, selectively creating from their past a chronology-free professional identity that precisely matches the needs of the hiring company du jour. The resulting functional resume is so artful that it could be mistaken for fiction.
Career experts recommend a superior alternative: The middle path. Workers should highlight their latest and greatest accomplishments in terms that will appeal to youthful recruiters and hiring managers, customizing each resume to directly address the needs of prospective employers without pandering to each job posting down to the bullet point. Here's how to get started.
The Age-Old Question: Which Resume Format?
Choosing a resume format can seem like such a critical decision that it paralyzes some 50-plus job seekers. A common-sense approach may help you address this issue.
"There's no reason to disguise the dates in a work history; just don't use your entire history," says Sarah Hightower Hill, CEO of Chandler Hill Partners, a career search strategies firm.
Many experts suggest setting a time limit on work history. "Experience more than 10 years old is irrelevant, because work has changed so much," says Carleen MacKay, a practice leader at staffing firm Spherion.
The resume date issue hit home for 48-year-old Sue Gehm, who decided to seek a new career direction in education or elsewhere after serving as a permanent and substitute school teacher for many years.
"I called the HR superintendent, and he said, ‘Well, your degree is from 1979,' so I realized my degree effectively had expired," says Gehm.
One solution: Include dates on a time-limited work history but omit them from your resume's education section.
Emphasize Accomplishments, Not Years of Experience
Too many dates going too far back isn't the only factor that dates a resume. Another common mistake is to brag about depth of experience as a virtue unto itself. By contrast, recent accomplishments that are relevant to the job opening automatically make a candidate appear more youthful.
As you draft your resume, "compare yourself to younger workers, who are engaged with the job market and know what employers want," says Karen Riggs, a professor of telecommunications at Ohio University and author of Granny@Work: Aging and New Technology on the Job in America.
Claims of experience that may span the lifetime of an industry also raise another risk commonly faced by older candidates: Being seen as overqualified. Avoid that dubious distinction by de-emphasizing prestigious assignments not immediately relevant to the current opening.
Address the Technology Issue Head On
Whether you're a programmer analyst or a cosmetics executive, your resume must confront any reservations the prospective employer may have regarding your technical aptitude.
The greatest concern employers have about hiring older workers by far is that they won't keep up with technology, according to the "2003 Older Workers Survey" by the Society of Human Resource Management.
So you should flaunt what you've got when it comes to technology, whether it's an impressive list of certifications or a simple mention of office-productivity software training you've undertaken.
You also can't ignore the fact that many employers, especially large ones, winnow the thousands of resumes they receive by analyzing the keywords they contain, especially for technical positions. With the help of a knowledgeable friend or coworker, audit your resume to make sure it speaks the present-day language of your target industry.