Writing Your Résumé: Job Hunting at 40 and Beyond


Despite an unemployment rate that hovers at 4%, ageism in the workplace remains a widespread prejudice that must be faced by any older aged job seeker.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report CDC: Older Employees in the Workplacediscrimination in the workplace starts around age 40.This despite the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which protects workers 40 and older.

We all understand that age can be a barrier to employment. But if you start job hunting with a negative attitude, you will never overcome that barrier.

Don’t go in feeling defeated or at a disadvantage. This is your time to shine. If you genuinely want to work…and you put in the effort…you will.

Nevertheless, with all the strong credentials in the world, you will need guidance to compete with younger workers, especially for full-time positions.

Your first job-seeking alternative may be to look for only part-time work. Many folks opt to keep working after their formal retirement part-time or flex time or start their own business. With many companies increasing their use of part-time workers to avoid the legal obligations of health care for full-time workers, older workers are a great resource—experienced and willing to accept the lower net pay of part-time work.

But landing a full-time, 9-to-5 position usually means that you have very specialized skills or went back in some capacity to your old company or a related one. Getting the job was rarely the result of sending a résumé to a job-search site in competition with younger contenders.

So how should you approach a job search if you need to compete with younger workers? And how do you present yourself in that oft-detested document—the résumé?

To find out, I went to a battery of experts, including the AARP and Monster. Unfortunately, many expert sources suggested conflicting strategies.

For example, should we write down all of our work experiences, no matter how long ago?

Most of us have such long work histories that our résumés are as thick as War and Peace. We want recruiters to know all we did—perhaps something will catch fire—so we are tempted to start with the Great Flood and go on from there.

Some résumé pundits agree. Tell them what you did for companies even if it was long ago.

Others assert that by listing all we have done, we date ourselves, like listing our internship with Theodore Roosevelt or the book we wrote while sailing on the Mayflower.

The jury is also out as to whether to tell your age on the résumé.

Some say add dates to your résumé. If you don’t and get an interview, the fact of your age will make you look like you were trying to hide it.

Others say list your work history and even your education with no dates. It seems some firms have software that automatically eliminates résumés that show the applicant to be older.

What to do? Here is my take. Tell it like it is.

Look, you are the age you are. Why would you want to work in an ageist firm if you did get the job? So give dates. Most experts agree that 15 years is the limit. For earlier experiences, bundle them in a descriptive group with no dates.

No, I’m not hiding age. My 27-year-old daughter does that, too. She had many internships and jobs before she reached 21. Today’s younger workers often have a patchwork of positions and résumé-worthy activities going on all at one time, including courses and internships, and they leave jobs often. So even young people have a big list of early experiences.

A functional résumé lists your skills in an introductory paragraph. A traditional résumé lists your experience.

Some say write so that your measurable achievements, not your history, is upfront. “My company sold five times more widgets than before I became a manager.” “We achieved one million engagements when I designed our social-media funnel.”

Here’s my take…it’s all about what you can do for someone in the future—not what you did in the past.

Put in those measurable achievements with the implication that they can be duplicated for whoever would hire you. For example, “I designed a scalable and portable system for inventory control that cut losses by 5%.” Now you are telegraphing not just what you did in the past, but that it is applicable in a new position.

One thing on which all agree is that writing skills are essential. Track the words that are in the job description and reflect those in your résumé where applicable. Don’t use outdated words or tout obsolete skills. No jargon, please. Don’t say you are a thought leader or an influencer. Who isn’t by our age?

There are some that suggest adding personal touches like travel and hobbies. Other pundits call this information “old hat.”

My take is to let recruiters know the richness of your life. People want to hire people they may like. It’s subliminal. If you play in a band, say so. Maybe the manager does, too.

Be tech savvy. You must keep up with the technology in your field. No one cares that you can use Word Perfect. But beware of the ageist prejudice that just by dint of our birthday, we are tech lame!

You need to dispel that fast. If you have taken technology courses or been certified in any technical skills, make sure the résumé reports that. And if you haven’t updated your professional skills, spend the time and money to get proficient on the Microsoft suite of programs (Word, Excel, Outlook, PowerPoint). There are assorted reasonably priced online classes available through LyndaUdemy and Coursera.

And don’t forget the training at your local senior center—that is often more sophisticated than you think. Finally, check out Senior Net, which has taught tech skills to more than one million folks over age 50, so why not you?

What if you took a retirement gap year and decided to work again? Ah, here is where we may have an advantage. You know who you are and what you want. You should be able to articulate the exact type of job you seek with precision.

Modern résumés include a mission statement. Look at the employer’s LinkedIn page, website and ad campaigns to understand what they stand for and see if it is consistent with your values and objectives. If yours is in keeping with the company’s, say so.

Take the John F. Kennedy approach. Ask not what the company can do for you, but what you can do for the company. If you don’t fit the job offered, they may find a place for a mission-mate like yourself.

I won’t say good luck. I will say “Congratulations.”