Finding a Job After 50

5 tips on rehabbing your résumé to handle employment gaps, dates that reveal your age and more!

Posted in , Jan 13, 2012

Susan Lee Ward

Jobs for women over 50 are out there. But if over 50 looking for a work in today’s tough economy, you’re up against some unique challenges. As a midlife woman, you probably don’t lack qualifications and experience, but you may be returning to work after a long hiatus, competing against job seekers straight out of college, with freshly minted technical skills.

Or perhaps you’re making a late-in-life career shift, trying to win over hiring managers who are 20 or 30 years younger than you—and who may be skeptical about your ability to mesh with a work team the age of your adult children.

In today’s hyper competitive job market, hundreds of applications are submitted for almost every job opening. A winning cover letter and résumé need to do more than simply present your credentials and work history in a clear and comprehensive manner. You must craft a cover letter and résumé that can withstand scrutiny from employers who, rightly or wrongly, may be worried about specific issues with regard to your age.

Use the 5 tips below, gathered from across the Vibrant Nation community, to craft a winning cover letter and résumé—so you can land an interview and get the job you want.

1. How do I handle dates on my résumé that reveal my age?
This is a controversial question without a one-size-fits-all answer. If you research the topic online, you’ll find many experts who advise you to leave dates off. In fact, several Vibrant Nation members have reported being invited to more job interviews after they purged revealing dates from their résumés.

However, most Vibrant Nation members, including several career and human resources experts, advise against this approach. Warns Jan Cullinane, Vibrant Nation member and author of The New Retirement: Revised and Updated: The Ultimate Guide to the Rest of Your Life, “Leaving off dates is a big red flag for most employers nowadays. They know you are trying to hide your age. Making the assumption that the potential employer won’t want to hire someone who isn’t in his/her 20s could backfire on you; you may make an employer think you really are too old for the position.”

VN member Mary Harvey, a professional recruiter and staffing firm owner, agrees: “I can’t stress strongly enough how the only answer for what to put on a résumé is be honest and thorough. We see red flags when information is missing, not when it’s there. If you leave off customary information (dates worked at a particular job, dates degrees were received), we start to wonder what you’re trying to hide.”

If you’re still concerned about possible age bias, consider drafting a résumé that doesn’t hide your age, but de-emphasizes it. “Most employers only look at a résumé for about 60-90 seconds before making a decision,” says Jan Cullinane. “So, put the work experience that best fits the job first. List your up-to-date skills. You can include your graduation date, but put it at the end.”

2. Should I “dumb down” my résumé so I don’t appear overqualified?
When one Vibrant Nation member recently relocated, she wondered whether her long and rich work background made her overqualified for the job openings available in her new town.

VN member and professional recruiter Cori Swidorsky, offered this advice: “Think of your résumé as a marketing tool to get you an interview. Instead of ‘dumbing it down,’ draft a version of it that is carefully targeted toward the job you want. Make sure your résumé reflects your experience as it specifically relates to that position. Don’t include every detail of your work experience. In fact, it may be more beneficial to highlight key skills that relate to the job.”

3. Should my résumé list every job I’ve ever had?
Unless a job application specifically requires it, employers probably aren’t interested in your work history beyond the past 10 or 15 years. Besides, the longer your résumé, the likelier it is to give a recruiter the impression that you are an older worker. This impression would be a mixed blessing at best, so keep your résumé short (1–2 pages) —and don’t try to cheat by using a smaller font size.

4. How do I deal with the gap in my résumé?
Older workers have to overcome the perception that they’re out of touch and lacking in technical savvy. If your résumé shows that you’ve been out of the work force for years, you’re doubly at risk. Address this issue head-on by emphasizing past or current volunteer work.

Take advantage of educational and training programs to update your skills, and list those as well. A résumé that shows you’re currently working towards a particular degree or certification demonstrates to employers that you’re engaged and open to learning.

5. How can I make sure my résumé gets noticed?
Employers don’t have time to pick through fluff. In most cases, your résumé will get only 60-90 seconds to make an impression, so make those seconds count. At the top of your résumé, put a bulleted list of career highlights and pertinent skills. Eliminate everything that doesn’t specify direct benefits you offered previous employers. Do include specific accomplishments, any computer expertise, course work, or professional development, as well as your email address.

And remember, in the current job market, companies receive so many résumés for every job opening that they rarely need to review them all; hiring managers often find an adequate candidate within the first ten or so. A key aspect of a successful job search is to be among the first to get your résumé in. Even if you have to hire a consultant to do it, it’s worth perfecting your cover letter and résumé now so you’ll be prepared when the next appealing job opportunity presents itself.

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