Noodling around on LinkedIn this week, I came across a fascinating post by Marc Miller on the topic of “5 Things on Your Resume That Make You Sound Too Old.” Always on the hunt for good advice to share with our job seekers, I took the time to read the article, as well as the lively conversation in response.
Miller cites 5 content and formatting factors on a resume that might signal to (HR) gatekeepers that you are over 50 years old. His premise is that age discrimination in the workplace is real and that your resume should avoid these five mistakes in order to get past the gatekeepers to the decision-makers (who are presumably less likely to discriminate).
As I read and reflected upon Miller’s article, I found myself acknowledging that age discrimination is real in some employer cultures. I also found myself grateful to represent a staffing agency that does not discriminate on the basis of age. Discrimination is not only illegal. From our perspective it is unethical ~ and often it’s just downright ill-advised from the standpoint of the workplace savvy a mature employee can contribute.
Even so, I’ve had this discussion with myriad applicants over the last decade. On the one hand, it’s now standard for your resume to include only work history from the past 10 years (or 15 at the most). It’s standard to exclude the date that you earned a college degree, unless it’s very recent. Part of the reason for these trends is to remove the temptation for the gatekeeper to “do the math” and calculate your age on the basis of content. On the other hand, it’s also now standard for your resume to be more like a one-page advertisement and less like the curriculum vitae (that really does tell a longer, fuller work-life story). Streamlining of content is more about persuasively conveying the most current, most pertinent information and less about the potential for age discrimination. And frankly, there’s always the lingering over-arching question in my mind, “Do I want to work for an employer who would discriminate on this basis?”
That said, I see and hear that plenty of excellent candidates over the age of 40 are asking questions about content, format, and age-signals for their resumes. So here’s my “two cents’ worth” on Miller’s 5 errors.
Miller notes that providing one’s full home address comes from the period when resumes and cover letters were submitted by mail. Since they’re no longer routinely submitted by mail, it’s no longer necessary to include a home address. Other reasons to exclude an address include the risks of economic profiling and personal safety.
My view is that including your full home address on your resume and/or cover letter doesn’t itself reveal anything about your age. We have applicants of all ages providing a home address, which helps me to know that they really are a local applicant for a local position. Living and working in a metropolitan area with more than 200 different suburbs, I’m also not wasting time on faulty “economic profiling” on the basis of which suburb or what neighborhood.
My advice is that you make your decision about how much of your home location to include on resumes and cover letters on the basis of your own preferences, including concern for personal security and safety.
Miller argues that only people over 50 use an email address with aol.com or cable provider domains. He recommends using a gmail, ymail, or similar domain service for your resume and job search.
My view is that most gatekeepers and decision-makers aren’t paying that much attention to the domain (@name) on the email address you provide on your resume. The youngest adult in my extended family is 40 years old and he uses an aol.com account. The oldest adult in my extended family is more than 80 years old and he has a gmail address.
My advice is that you worry less about the domain name of your service provider (which appears after the @ symbol) and more about the user name (which appears before the @ symbol). I’m more likely to have a red-flag about an individual’s user name and whether it’s appropriate for a job search. Even that raised eyebrow is based only on the level of professionalism needed for a particular opening, and in no way a judgment about someone’s age.
Home phone number
Miller assumes that all people under the age of 45 no longer have a land-line; only cell phones. So, by extension, anyone who lists a “home phone” will be saying that they’re over 45.
My view is that’s a pretty big assumption in every direction. Plenty of people under the age of 45 have a land-line at home for a variety of reasons. And plenty of people above the age of 45 do not ~ again, for a variety of reasons. We also see applicants of all ages who consider their personal cell phone to be their “home” phone number because it’s how they can be reached other than during business hours. They’re thinking of “home” phone number in contrast to “work” phone number, rather than as a contrast between a land-line and a mobile account.
My advice is to use your own judgment on this one too. Phone numbers don’t have to be labeled at all on the resume. So if you use a label and you want to be sure, maybe it’s preferable to identify “primary” and “secondary” numbers to convey the easiest way to reach you, whatever your age.
Double-space after period
Miller argues that “two spaces after a period” was acceptable when we used typewriters. Now, he says, this is obsolete.
OK, I have to admit that I laughed out loud when I read that. Since I was sipping iced tea at the time, I nearly spewed brown liquid all over my desktop keyboard and monitor (I guess that “dates” me too, right?!).
Honestly, for most professional positions, nobody reviewing your resume is counting whether you have one or two spaces between a period and the next alphabetical character. In addition, as several people in the Comments noted, double-space is actually still standard for some manuals of style used in editing, proofreading, and writing for publications.
My advice is not to worry about one-space or two-space after the period as a signal of your age. If I’m likely to look at punctuation, I’m looking for consistency of punctuation and capitalization. That’s about attention to detail and accuracy for business English, not about age.
Miller recommends that you limit your listed skills on the resume to those most current and relevant. His example is that mentioning MS-DOS and IBM mainframes would be obsolete technologies ~ and, by assumption, so obsolete that they also signal how long you’ve been in the workforce.
My view is that Miller’s recommendation is sound, but not really from the standpoint of age discrimination. Again, I don’t think that many employers are taking the time to reason through “MS-DOS … Hmmmm … This person must be XX years old.” I guess the possible exception would be technology firms for technology positions, who know without googling it when MS-DOS usage ended.
My advice is that Miller’s recommendation is still sound. Because your resume is an advertisement, it must convey not only your most pertinent and up-to-date experience and credentials, but also your most relevant technology skills. For example, if I’m reviewing resumes for an administrative assistant position for an employer that uses Office 2013, then it’s a “plus” to find on your resume that you’ve used Office 2013 or Office 2010 in recent employment. If the most recent Microsoft Office version on your resume is 2003, then I’ll be hesitant about the strength of your technology skills, but I won’t be wondering about your age.
I would add a couple of my own cautions that Miller didn’t mention in his five-point list.
We still occasionally receive resumes where the content is entirely capitalized. These resumes are usually from individuals with an excellent work history who haven’t needed to create a resume or search for work for 10 years or more. Many of these are people mid- to late-career in terms of age.
It’s no longer standard to use full capitalization throughout the resume. It is standard to use normal capitalization, just as you would find in newspapers, magazines, and other (online) publications.
The best reason to use normal capitalization is that it is the standard that our “eye” is used to scanning and reading for a variety of business documents. It’s not about your age; it’s about quickly grabbing the attention through your content. With resume-review time at a premium for HR gatekeepers and employer decision-makers, it’s just too time-consuming to ponder over a resume in all capitals. In those few seconds, that person is distracted by the capitals, not convinced by the content.
We still occasionally receive resumes with very outdated abbreviations. When I see this, I’m not thinking about the age of the individual. Rather, I’m thinking about whether they’re up-to-date on accepted formats for business documents, letters, and addresses.
A common example is the abbreviation for a state, whether of residence or employment. Illinois is no longer abbreviated “Ill” or “ILL” in most instances. The standard abbreviation (from the USPS) is now “IL” (and a period is not required).
As with spaces and punctuation, the mental “red flag” isn’t about the age of the prospective employee; it’s about familiarity with current business (English) standards. Whatever format you choose for abbreviations, just be sure they’re consistent throughout the resume and cover letter.
One final truth-in-advertising disclosure. I’m over 50 years old myself. I use double-space after period because I think it’s easier to read with my preferred fonts. And the blog format automatically converts to single-space.
by Elyse Williamson