How to Botox Your Resume to Land a Job
Age and experience can be liabilities for job hunters. Here's how to tweak your bio and increase your chances of getting hired.
This article is adapted from Career Comeback: Repackage Yourself to Get the Job You Want.
Your resume is supposed to be an advertisement for your own professional brand, but a few years ago, mine was showing me off to be about as cool as Betty Crocker. In particular, one line near the top seemed to be a stopper for hiring managers: “More than 25 years of experience.”
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I hadn’t thought that all my experience as a magazine writer, editor and photographer could be seen as a liability. Yet somehow, in the minds of young human resources people folks, “more than 25 years of experience” piled on a perceived 15 pounds, at least 15 wrinkles and more than 15,000 gray hairs.
If I was going to compete for jobs with Generations X and Y applicants, I realized, it was time to apply “Botox for the resumé,” a phrase coined by The Wall Street Journal.
Fast Results From My Resumé Tweaks
So I age-proofed my job bio by excluding some jobs I held decades ago and by making a few other key changes that I'll tick off below.
Here’s what happened: Once I started sending out the revitalized resumé, I began receiving job interview requests within 20 minutes. Just to see if my sudden success was a fluke, I sent the new resumé to previously unresponsive companies and they called me back promptly, as if they’d never heard of me before.
Within two weeks, I’d received five good offers and accepted two. I went from being a freelancer with a net income of about $3,000 to having a six-figure salary with benefits and stock options.
I think that if you’re in your 40s or older, Botoxing your resumé might do the same for you.
The Reason to Lop Off Jobs
Here’s why: Since every field has changed drastically in the last 10 years, let alone the last 25, there isn’t a lot of experience from “way back when” that’s relevant today, so you needn’t include every job you’ve had.
My “before” resumé noted that I’d worked as an editor at a teen magazine from 1985 through 1994. Although I learned a lot at that magazine and accomplished much, that job was the first to go. I also dumped the three-year stint before that as managing editor of a special interest, community weekly. The publishing skills I acquired at those magazines are simply no longer relevant;everhting about the industry has changed radically.
With these clicks of my keyboard, I lopped off 12 years from my age.
In case you think there’s something deceptive about the ways I altered my resumé, let me tell you that omitting work experience is perfectly moral and honest. You aren’t stating false information. The only work experience a potential employer cares about is what you’ve done that pertains directly to the job for which you’re applying.
Think of your resumé as an advertisement — and you are the product. An ad is a brief synopsis of a product’s highlights, not a long list of every single feature.
What to Omit
So you now know why it’s smart to omit some previous jobs on your resumé. Here are some other items you’ll want to consider leaving out:
College or high school graduation date Yes, it’s important to say that you graduated from college (and what you majored in) or, if you didn’t attend college, that you finished high school. Your actual date of graduation is not significant.
Your birth date Don’t laugh; a friend of mine showed me her resumé and she listed her birthday right at the top, under her name and address. Talk about showing how old you are.
Career objective Many outdated resumé guides suggest you state your career objective right at the beginning of your resumé. This can hurt your chances for a number of reasons, primarily because you don't want the person reading your resumé, who would probably be your superior, to think you're gunning for his or her job.
Also, people usually fill this space with vacuous blah blah, like "To be gainfully employed making a positive contribution to my employer and co-workers." Who doesn't want to do that? Most employers are not particularly interested in your personal goals; they want to know how you're going to meet theirs.
The dates you began and ended certain jobs It’s important to convey the amount of time you spent on a relevant job, not specifically when you worked there. This is especially useful if you have gaps in your resumé — time you took away from the workplace to find a job, care for a loved one or raise a family, for example.
(MORE: 4 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Applying for a Job)
Outdated tech skills While you definitely want to include your familiarity with current computer programs and online social networks, get rid of anything obsolete that you learned decades ago.
Anything that would lengthen your resumé beyond two pages The old rule that a resumé must be a single page no longer applies, but more than two pages will signify that you’ve been working for many, many years or that you don’t stay in one position very long.
Omit the jobs that lasted less than six months, if that’ll keep the resumé to two pages.
Vague buzzwords Empty, hard-to-define phrases like "can-do attitude," "problem solver" or "outstanding people skills" may sound nice, but they're impossible to define and take up valuable real estate on your resumé.
Type smaller than 10 points Many people try to squeeze in additional information in smaller type, but when an employer has to go through hundreds of resumés, it just takes too much time to read the fine print.
What to Include
No resumé should be without the following:
Contact information, right at the top That means your name, phone number, email address and, if you have a website or blog, its URL. Leave out your street address. (If it’s too posh, you might be perceived as not needing the job; if it's too far away, a long commute might make you less desirable.)
By the way, if you’ve been using the same email address forever and it’s a cutesy one that doesn’t include your real name, get a new one that does and use it for your job search. You can get a free Gmail address by going to Google’s site.
Career summary This is a list of your best accomplishments and should be featured, with bullets, right under your contact information. It should not be a big block of type in a paragraph format.
Key words Take a look at the job descriptions of the positions that interest you and note the skills and phrases in their postings. Sprinkle those key words liberally throughout your resumé, but don’t overuse any of them. If the employer's computer scans your resumé and doesn’t see the words or phrases it’s programmed to look for, you’ll end up in the discard pile.
Employment history When describing previous duties, make sure you point out accomplishments and achievements — the more specific, the better. For instance, you might say you increased sales by 30 percent or successfully launched three product lines. Accomplishments and achievements are where applicants over age 40 shine; you probably have more of them than your younger competition.
A list of professional skills, especially technological ones Include them within your job descriptions if you’re running up against the two-page limit.
Education List any degrees and honors, plus work-related courses you’ve taken. If you took classes many years ago, leave off the dates.
Interests, activities and professional memberships These set you apart. If you are a volunteer at a nonprofit or belong to a trade group, say so. List any interests or hobbies that could make you a more valuable employee or show that you’re energetic (to counter an employer’s perception that older workers are lethargic).
My Resumé Makeover
When I “Botoxed” my resumé, here are the key changes I made:
- Added a link to my blog, which had a great, professionally-taken photo and plenty of pertinent details pertaining to my profession. That way, if an employer clicked on it, I would be more than just words on paper — I'd be someone full of useful, relevant, up-to-the-minute information and the person seeing my resumé would get an immediate idea of my writing style, which was important for the positions I sought.
- Used alternate fonts and sizes for ease of reading
- Deleted my actual street address and subbed in my website’s address
- Replaced the big “Career Summary” block of text with a bulleted list of my “Career Summary and Skills”
- Eliminated jobs I had in the '80s and early '90s
- Removed my college graduation dates
- Added an “Interests and Activities’ section at the end
One Final Resumé Tip
You should also avoid the No. 1 mistake people make when submitting resumés by email or online: Titling their Word document simply “Resume.doc.” Doing so will make it virtually impossible for an employer to distinguish yours from ones sent in by other applicants. In fact, many employers ignore all submissions simply slugged “Resumé.”
Always, always use your name in the title of the document, something like “Lisa Johnson Mandell.doc.” Otherwise, the hiring manager may figure that if you’re not savvy enough to properly label your resumé, you won’t be sharp enough to handle work documents there.