Six Ways to Strengthen Your Resume and Reduce Ageism Bias

Searching for your next career opportunity from home during COVID-19 may feel overwhelming. Taking a new professional step in a time of social distancing and widespread uncertainty takes courage, no doubt. Fortunately in this digital age, much of the process already takes place online or over the phone: from getting back in touch with former coworkers to making new connections through LinkedIn, researching interesting companies, sharing your resume through networking channels, and submitting applications. However, breaking through to the interview stage can be difficult if you do not have a compelling resume—especially for those in the upper-middle part of their career.

We all carry subconscious bias, and these biases tend to direct us toward candidates that have similar characteristics as ourselves, unless we actively work to dispel them. As I have mentioned in a previous blog, ageism is real, and it places candidates mid-career and older in a particularly difficult situation when job searching. For those over 40, there are several things you can do with your resume to help mitigate subconscious bias in potential employers—and they’ll strengthen your resume no matter your age.

  • Create a compelling intro that highlights recent success. Think about how quickly technology has changed in the last five years—the rise of AI, Alexa, autonomous cars, the list goes on. These innovations have quickly become some of the most relevant technologies in our lives right now. Likewise, the work that you have done within the last five years will be the most relevant to your potential employer. That is not to say that you should ignore past success, especially if it is directly related to the role you seek. Consider the best blend for you and your situation, and highlight your recent success appropriately in an opening summary.
  • Choose ageless language. Eliminate terms or phrases that may generate age bias like “20+ years experience” or “seasoned” that point to a large number of years in the workforce. Though experience is valuable, an employer will be more interested in the work that you have done most recently. Instead, consider language that identifies highly sought-after skills that apply fairly universal across any field, such as leadership, communication, teamwork, or problem-solving, along with any other key terms specific to your field.
  • Keep your work history brief—ideally limited to the most recent 5‒10 years. This is important for two key reasons: One, technology moves at light speed, and programs or tools that you worked with beyond this time period are likely no longer relevant. Two, your resume is not a record of your job history. Many candidates I speak with believe their resume should align with their full work history. If an organization needs to capture this information, the application process will include it. But this increasingly happens in the later stages of the interview process—after the company has already fallen in love with you! If you consider older roles relevant to the one you’re aiming for, then simply include title and employer as a part of a summary at the end of your work history, under a header like “Additional experience.”
  • Prominently feature any recent technology solutions you work with. Proficiency in Office 365 matters, but a whole host of new technologies and applications have become table stakes for many employers. Data visualization software is a key example. Programs like Tableau and Microsoft Power BI provide an elegant way to transform spreadsheets into dashboards that visualize and automatically update data. A stakeholder recently told me that “Power BI is the Excel of 2020,” meaning they now expect candidates in the technology field to have experience with this data visualization tool.

Other programs that stakeholders increasingly expect from qualified applicants include Salesforce, a customer relationship management platform, and marketing automation systems like Marketo. Most roles that involve these tools expect basic usage or peripheral experience with these platforms versus certification. If any of these platforms are new to you, it may be worth an investment of time to get to know them, depending on your field. Most of these applications offer free or low-cost training.

  • Showcase ongoing learning. To stay relevant and succeed in the 21st century workplace, you must become a lifelong learner. What are some of the things you have done recently to continue moving forward in your career journey? How do you stay up to date in your field? Perhaps you have taken a certificate course or completed modules in LinkedIn Learning. Include these programs on your resume.

If you have a gap in your learning, explore free or low-cost programs to sharpen your skills and stay ahead in your field. EdX, for example, allows a free audit of most of its courses, taught by educators from schools like MIT, Harvard, and Boston University; and certificates are often low-cost. Other online education programs include Coursera, which offers classes that drive toward business or computer science and engineering degrees, and MasterClass, where you can learn from such greats as Anna Wintour, Jane Goodall, Neil deGrasse Tyson, and RuPaul.

  • Ensure your LinkedIn employment profile matches your resume. LinkedIn is a top resource for recruiters not only to source candidates, but also to learn information about candidates that the resume doesn’t always include, such as endorsements and recommendations. Your employment history on LinkedIn should align to your resume for consistency. When I notice that a candidate has listed an extra role on LinkedIn that the resume doesn’t include, I may come away feeling like the resume isn’t up to date, and vice versa.

As a best practice, update your resume and your LinkedIn profile at the same time to avoid gaps or inconsistencies that may detract from your candidacy or cause confusion. If you do not already have a LinkedIn profile, invest the time to create one. Having a profile is essential to 21st century job seekers. LinkedIn will help put you on the map of recruiters, provide invaluable networking opportunities, and give you the opportunity to showcase your thought leadership by sharing your insights around content.

Following these tips will help your resume stand out. If you’re over 40, they can help even the playing field by reducing subconscious bias from the resume review process. I’ll share one last bonus tip: Now that you know how to give your resume an overhaul, be kind to your future self by updating your resume every six months. This helps ensure you include your most relevant work and recent learning/certificate courses, while reducing the overall editing process.

What other tips have you found that are useful? Connect with me on LinkedIn to let me know!