Resumes & Cover Letters

How to age-proof your resume

Written by Kate Lopaze

In an ideal world, age would have no bearing on how you’re perceived as a potential employee. Skills and experience should count for, well, everything. And technically, it’s illegal for any potential employer to ask you your age. Yet the professional world is riddled with the same kind of biases as you’d find in other areas of life—whether they’re made consciously or unconsciously. And if you’re an older job seeker hitting the market, you may hit roadblocks where people make assumptions about your longevity or your qualifications. Ageism is, unfortunately, alive and well and working against older workers.

However, your age doesn’t have to define your job hunt. If you’re looking to create an age-agnostic resume, there are ways to do it that will let your qualifications, not your birthdate, shine.

Avoid dating yourself

Some dates in a resume are necessary, especially in the work experience section—the reader will want to know when and how long you worked somewhere. But dates aren’t nearly as obligatory in other sections. For example, when you’re listing your education or certifications, you don’t need to provide a year to validate them. A high school or college graduation year likely gives the reader a very strong sense of your age, and it’s just not crucial information. It’s fine to list just the school or program and the degree or certificate you received.

Keep it recent

When you do have to list dates (like in the work experience section of your resume), you still have options to make your age more ambiguous. One of the biggest things you have going for you is your history of experience, potentially going back many years. That means you can be selective about what you feature. There’s no reason to go back through every job you’ve ever had, especially if your older jobs aren’t particularly relevant to the job you’re applying for now. As a general rule, 10-15 years of information is usually sufficient to show a wealth of experience.

Editing like this can also help you really refine what you’re presenting from your history so you keep it to only the most relevant job experiences—a good resume rule of thumb for job seekers of all ages. You may have enjoyed your internship or part-time job way back when, but unless it’s directly applicable to the job you’re seeking now all these years later, there’s no real reason to include it.

Don’t be afraid to brag

Focus your resume on skills and achievements, not on dates or periods of time. Punch up the language by using active verbs and clear explanations of results to make the reader focus on your wins and your accomplishments throughout your career, rather than focusing on when they happened. Having a results-oriented approach to your resume lets you set the narrative for the reader, and emphasize the parts that you want to show off.

Don’t fear gaps

The longer we work, the more likely it is that many of us will have some kind of gap at some point—illness, taking time off to care for family, unemployment, etc. It’s a fact of life, and interviewers understand that. Rather than try to hide your gaps, it’s more useful to own them and frame them yourself as part of your cover letter or interview. Gaps can be massaged a bit by minimizing the dates in your resume (using year ranges instead of month/year), but if you have, say, a five-year gap, it’s going to require a bit of explanation.

You should also think about alternative ways to fill those gaps. Did you volunteer at all while you were out of the workforce? Take a class or learn a new skill? Thinking outside of your linear work experience can help round out your resume and show that you’ve been engaged all along—even if you weren’t actively employed at the time.

By taking a bit of extra care with your resume and emphasizing quality over chronology, you can position yourself as a strong, vital candidate, whether you’re 25 or 55. The inherent ageism in hiring won’t magically disappear, but you don’t have to let it intimidate your job search.

About the author

Kate Lopaze

Kate Lopaze is a writer, editor, and digital publishing professional based in New York City. A graduate of the University of Connecticut and Emerson College with degrees in English and publishing, she is passionate about books, baseball, and pop culture (though not necessarily in that order), and lives in Brooklyn with her dog.