At the height of the recession, Esther, a 56-year old woman from Cincinnati, was laid-off from the position she had held for 16 years. It came without warning and as a complete shock. “One afternoon, the manager came into my office and said my position had been eliminated,” she said. “At the time I didn’t even have a résumé put together, and hadn’t thought I needed one.”
If you don't have a résumé or haven't updated yours in years, it's time you get to it. And if you’ve found yourself continuously rejected by hiring managers when applying for jobs lately, it could be because your résumé suggests you’re overqualified or too old, too close to retirement (and thus unlikely to stay at the job long), or someone with outdated skills, especially technological ones.
To create a winning midlife résumé, you should downplay your age without misrepresenting yourself and focus on your biggest draws.
T.J. Bugg, of the executive recruitment firm Centennial in Cincinnati, says that if you’re 50 or older, it’s especially important that your résumé identifies your unique advantages: “As a more-seasoned applicant, it’s critical to focus on your accomplishments.”
Below are five keys to a winning midlife résumé. You might want to hire a professional résumé writer to help, especially if you'll be going back to work after years of staying home to raise your children or if you're trying to switch careers.
1. Streamline it for “the 20-second look.” These days, hiring managers (or the résumé-reading computer programs they use, known as Applicant Tracking Systems) generally spend no more than 20 seconds scanning the average application. So you’ll want to keep your résumé shorter than one and a half pages. Employers are looking for quick clues about whether you can offer what they need.
Save space by leaving off the “Objective” section. Why would an employer care what your objectives are? It’s all about the employer’s objectives. “You need to highlight the skills and accomplishments that are most relevant to the employer,” says career coach Carole Haper, who works with me at Act Three. Use the top part of your résumé to summarize the strengths that are most applicable to the job.
2. Make your résumé robot-friendly. It’s essential to make your résumé readable by Applicant Tracking Systems, since so many employers use them to initially weed out job applicants. You'll want to pepper the résumé with keywords that were in the job posting. A résumé is scored for relevancy and the robot looks for words that match the employer's search terms.
Avoid anything that could confuse these programs, like abbreviations. Be certain, too, that your résumé has no misspellings, especially in the keywords from the job ad.
Also, upload your résumé as a PDF when applying online, rather than cutting and pasting it into an email. This will avoid the employer’s computer program being unable to read it because of your fonts.
3. Go with a hybrid format, not a chronological one. Traditionally, hiring managers have preferred chronological résumés, which list employment positions by dates, starting with the most recent one. But for the 50+ applicant, if done cleverly, a hybrid résumé can avoid attention to employment gaps and decades-ago dates.
With a hybrid format, you briefly summarize your professional history, highlight your skills and accomplishments, then note your most relevant work history at the end of the résumé.
Workbloom.com, a career resources site, has an excellent example of a hybrid résumé.
“Since hybrid résumés are accomplishment-focused, they showcase your capabilities and provide you with a structure that highlights your most relevant skills and accomplishments, while drawing emphasis away from the chronology section,” Haper says.
4. Match your résumé to the particular job. This means some extra work for you. Don’t try getting away with writing a one-size-fits-all résumé that you’ll send out for every potential job.
Instead, alter your résumé for the particular position and highlight your accomplishments to portray yourself as the ideal candidate for the specific job you’re seeking.
Also, double-check that your résumé emphasizes the particular skills and strengths that make you the perfect applicant for this precise opportunity.
5. List your volunteering experiences, especially if you had roles with authority. “If you’ve held a leadership position within a volunteer organization, include this in the professional experience section of your résumé,” Haper says. “The skills you learned volunteering are as valuable as ones you picked up during paid employment. Consequently, there’s no need to distinguish between paid and unpaid work-related skills on your résumé.”
Volunteer experience also gives you an opportunity to show your ability to work with different kinds of people, including ones of different ages. If you’ve volunteered as a mentor, include this on your résumé.
One more tip: Create a great LinkedIn résumé online. Some employers now ignore traditional résumés and instead review candidates’ profiles on the social media website for business networking, LinkedIn. “If you don’t have a LinkedIn profile, you’re not in today’s world,” Bugg says. (Read the Next Avenue article on how to create a great LinkedIn profile.)
A LinkedIn profile shows potential employers that you’re tech savvy and keeping up with social media. If the hiring manager Googles you, your LinkedIn profile will be one of the first things to show up in the search results.
Your LinkedIn profile needs to be completely filled out and accompanied by a good photograph of you dressed professionally. Women: make sure your hair and makeup is done. Remember, the picture you put up could be a prospective employer's first impression of you, so you'll want it to be ideal.