How should you handle the issue of age on your resume?
“Should I reveal it or not?”
“I’ve been told that my resume should only include the last ten years of my work experience. Is this true?”
“My resume includes experience from 18 years ago and I’m worried that age discrimination might be an issue. How do I handle age on my resume?”
These are common questions that more “seasoned” job hunters ask as they begin to think about writing or updating a resume.
What does this mean for you?
The truth is that there is no single “correct” way to handle revealing (or not) age on your resume, and the best strategy for you should be chosen based on the big picture of your experience and career goals.
But, if you are an over 50 job hunter you shouldn’t just ignore the issue. Age discrimination is a real thing.
Unfortunately, many job seekers unintentionally emphasize age simply because of the way they structure and write their resume–including information that showcases rather than downplaying age. Here are some tips on how to handle age on your resume to overcome age bias and associated challenges.
DO trim your resume back to the most recent 10, 15, or 20 years.
Your resume is a marketing document. It is NOT an autobiography. Readers want to know what you have done recently to add value to the companies you have been associated with. Skills, experiences, and achievements from 25 or 30 years ago or more are almost certainly irrelevant at this point. But, if those early experiences are still relevant, you do have options…
DON’T be afraid to mention early experience that is still relevant.
While it is true that readers of your resume will be most interested in your most recent experience, there is often value in including experience further back in your history, even if you choose not to fully reveal age on your resume.
- Perhaps your early career includes work for well-known, prestigious companies.
- Perhaps you want to document the full scope of your cross-industry experience, much of which occurred in your early career.
- Perhaps you believe some valuable networking opportunities may come out of your experience 15 or 20 years ago.
- Or perhaps your most impressive accomplishments were in a position you held 12 years ago.
In any case, if your career history is lengthy, it will be apparent to the reader that your career did not suddenly materialize ten years ago, so there is little harm and many benefits to summarizing this early experience. Think carefully about the content of your resume. If there is solid reasoning behind your desire to present early experience, do so. Whether or not to provide evidence of age on your resume should be a strategic decision.
Of course, this does not mean that you must give equal page weight to your early career.
Also, don’t mention the dates associated with it. You might choose to highlight the undated achievements or qualifications in the summary profile section of your resume. Or, another effective strategy is to summarize that experience at the end of your resume. Your description should be concise. Just one or two sentences that begin with the words “Additional experience includes…” will usually suffice.
Here are some possibilities for formatting that mention on your resume of early experience if you determine it is important to your current goals, but do not want to include dates.
If the company names are prominent and important based on your current goals:
EARLY CAREER: Recruited out of college into highly competitive leadership and management training program at Acme Corporation; personally mentored by division managers, rotating over a period of three years through a variety of company divisions and geographic locations. Identified early on as a high-potential future leader and was handpicked at completion of training program to takeover management of a $10 million, 28-employee department that was struggling under intense competition. Quickly restarted growth and regained competitive positioning, growing sales to $18 million in two years.
If early job titles are important based on your current goals:
OTHER EXPERIENCE: Career began as an administrative assistant, but was quickly called out and recognized for outstanding customer relations skills and natural sales abilities. At first opportunity, tapped by management for advancement into sales associate position, and over the next five years earned four more promotions, ultimately ascending to senior management as a national sales manager.
If the industries you worked in are important, but not necessarily the company names:
ADDITIONAL EXPERIENCE: Entered the restaurant industry as a new college graduate and spent the next six years advancing through progressive positions in two local-award-winning restaurants before transitioning to a supervisory role in the food and beverage department of a national-chain hotel.
DO be creative and strategic in how you list employment dates on your resume.
Don’t feel locked in by the traditional way of including dates. For example, I recently worked with an executive candidate who had three years with his current employer but more than 35 years of progression with his last employer. Traditionally, on a resume, you would show the total span of years with each company and then the dates in each position (illustrating progression).
But to overcome age bias, this method clearly wouldn’t work for this client because he began working for that last employer sometime in the mid-1980s – a date that we did not want to include on the resume. So instead, we left off the total dates with each company and just listed dates in each position, going back approximately 15-20 years. Like this:
Employer 1, location
Current position (20xx – Present)
Employer 2, location
Position a (20xx – 20xx)
Position b (19xx – 20xx)
Position c (19xx – 19xx)
Position d (19xx – 19xx)
** Additional experience includes…
DON’T leave dates of education off of your resume unless you have a good strategic reason to do so.
One of the most common errors that I see is dates of education left off the resume when they should not be left off. For example, if you earned your degree 15 years ago and began working in your current career track the same year, you will actually raise questions about your age by not including your degree dates.
The dates on your degree tend to close the “loop” and eliminate age-related questions in the mind of the resume recipient. But if you leave the dates off, the recipient will assume you are hiding your age on your resume and are older than your work experience indicates.
On the other hand, if to overcome age bias you have shortened your resume to the most recent 10, 15, or 20 years, and your most recent degree was earned earlier than a year or two before that cut-off point, it is probably in your best interest to leave the dates off your resume.
DO be proud of your age and the associated experience and perspective that you bring to your employers.
Even though – in most cases – you should not emphasize and draw attention to your age, do recognize that you bring to the workplace a value offering unmatched by your younger competitors in the job market. Your self-assurance and confidence will come across in your resume and during interviews.
DON’T forget to fill your resume with achievements and results that illustrate your personal brand and the unique promise of value that you bring to the workplace.
Position yourself for the position. Demonstrate through past accomplishments and value add that you are the perfect candidate for the job. When your resume is filled with achievements that illustrate you will deliver a strong return on an employer’s investment in hiring you, your age will NOT even be an issue.
DO create a resume that showcases achievements that illustrate the traits most valued in older workers
…your credibility, your depth and breadth of experience, your judgment and decision-making abilities, your range of professional contacts, your work ethic and reliability, your emotional stability, and your commitment to company goals.
Subtly, in your resume and cover letter, touch on achievements that illustrate a high energy level, strong technical skills, and adaptability to change.
Finally, remember that you don’t have to go it alone! We are here for you and can help you write a compelling and persuasive resume no matter your age. Schedule a free resume writing consultation to learn more.
Blog post originally published Aug 20, 2010. Updated and republished for 2022.