Hiding your age is the conventional job search strategy for most older job applicants. But why should you be ashamed of how old you are? Instead, stand up for your experience, value, and wisdom and still get the job.
In an ageist career marketplace, it might seem like hiding your age is a smart thing to do. But it opens up a pandoras’ box of issues that are ultimately going to undermine your confidence. It may even prevent you from landing a job where you’ll be accepted and valued.
Don’t Give In to the Age Police
Of all the questions up for debate around writing resumes and job searches, hiding your age is the biggest hot button. From my point of view, those who advocate for hiding your age are perpetuating ageist thinking. While it masquerades as practical advice designed to help you get the job, this message further reinforces the idea that your age is a shameful fact that you need to hide.
Accepting this way of thinking will put you on the defensive forever, and undermine your confidence in every job search interaction. As an example, this article in Fast Company jumps in with this sweeping and incredibly biased statement:
“but really, no one cares about a job or project you worked on 15, 20, or 30 years ago. For starters, those jobs are likely no longer relevant. All it does is give the hiring manager a clear indication of how old you are.”
And “old,” is of course “bad.” Notice how the article totally misses the value that a full set of experiences can provide an employer. They obviously don’t know what they’re missing…While there are some valid suggestions in this post on Glass Door, it still tip-toes with a bit of condescension around your decision to include your dates:
“”the employer doesn’t need to know you earned your MBA 17 years ago.”
Really? So you’ve had 17 years to deepen your knowledge of business after earning a prestigious degree. Do they think that your experience has the same value as someone who earned their MBA two years ago? Think about it: are you ashamed of your accomplishments? Are you ashamed of how many years you’ve spent learning and perfecting your craft, your skills, your specialized knowledge? Are you embarrassed about defending the experience and wisdom you’ve accrued from decades on the job?
Hiding Your Age Negates Your Experience
By removing the experience you had longer than 10-15 years ago, you’re denying the importance of that work to yourself and to your prospective employer. You’re buying into the expedient lie that it doesn’t matter, or doesn’t reflect anything important about you. Most importantly, you’re cutting yourself off at the knees and removing the competitive advantage that you have over younger, less-experienced applicants. Just because something happened 15 – 20 years ago doesn’t mean that it’s not valid.
Yes, it’s true that the experience may be entirely outdated at this point in time. The skills that you learned and that you used then may be long obsolete by now. But the value of the experience is not that you rely on those outdated skills, or that you want to promote using those outdated skills in your current work. The value of the experience is that you have learned how to grow and adapt. Your perspective:
- Makes you more capable of discerning what needs to change in today’s work environment.
- Gives you the insight younger workers may not yet have into when or why a project could be veering off in a bad direction.
- Reinforces the instinct and intuition to seize the right option, pathway, or strategy from a confusing selection that is confounding your younger colleagues.
Why Hiding Your Age Isn’t Going to Work
Leaving off dates and omitting experience in your resume won’t prevent them from finding out how old you are. And if age is an issue for them, you’d better believe they will find out. Note that I wouldn’t have to be an ageist employer to be suspicious of a candidate who is hiding something in their job search. What does this say about them? What else are they hiding? If I hire them, will they keep secrets on the job?
Face it, if the recruiter or employer are biased against older people, you’re not going to make them change their mind. Even if they invite you in and you make a great impression in the interview and they like you a lot, they’re not going to hire you because they’re biased. They honestly don’t believe you could ever be a good fit for them, no matter how excellent your credentials are, or how flexible you are in terms of work schedule, salary, benefits, or other working conditions.
Do You Want to Work Like This..?
If you misrepresent your age, and by some miracle they wind up hiring you, how is that going to feel every morning going into work?
- You’ll forever be behind the eight-ball, just waiting for them to find out how old you really are.
- Watch what you say. You’ll have to laugh along and not respond to their ageist jokes.
- You might be intimidated from contributing your full wisdom and experience for fear that this could “out” you or brand you as too old, or too arrogant.
Magical Thinking Could Backfire
Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that if you’re hiding your age, and then they hire you, you’ll change their minds once you get on the job. Don’t believe that the quality of your work, and your demonstrating that you really are a good person (despite your age), are going to undo their ageism.If anything, once they find out how old you are, and that you tried to end-run their age bias, your days will be numbered. You’ll be excluded from the mainstream and you’ll find yourself left off correspondence and uninvited from meetings. You might even be put on a “performance management” program by HR, which is their way of setting you up to be let go without violating employment laws.
Stop Wasting Your Time With These People
Don’t slink away in defeat from an awkward or humiliating interview.Don’t set yourself up for rejection that is based on prejudice. Losing a job opportunity is tough enough without it being the result of age discrimination.
Shift Your Focus to the Right Opportunities
Be more mindful of the positions you apply to. Do more research to learn about companies that value older workers. Use LinkedIn to see if a company with an intriguing open position counts workers your age among their roster.
Eliminate Age-Bias Up Front
Take age bias off the table before you even get into a conversation with a prospective employer. Imagine how much more secure you’ll feel, knowing that you’re not going to get sabotaged after you’ve gotten your hopes up. Prioritize your more recent positions and knowledge on your resume. Then create a summary section at the bottom that bullets your early experience, and all relevant graduation dates, award dates, and key achievements. By not hiding your age, you are eliminating age-biased recruiters and employers from your prospective opportunities. Anyone who responds to your submission is doing so in full knowledge and acceptance of your age. This strategy allows you to focus on positions and employers who are set up to accept you for who you are. As a result, the potential for landing a position (or consulting gig) will increase. Yes, you will likely eliminate a number of prospects by following this advice. But I believe that the peace of mind, and ability to freely share your value proposition significantly outweigh that loss.
Pro Tip: How to Summarize Your Early Positions
You may have 30 years of significant experience, and a great career narrative, but you need to give up on including all of the details for those early positions. You want to summarize that experience under one or two headlines towards the end of Page 2, right before your education, affiliations, awards, or memberships. One headline will suffice if you worked at one or two companies until 10 – 15 years ago, assuming they were in the same field. The headline title could read, as an example:
Project Manager – Commercial Real Estate Construction 1988 – 2003
Managed construction of x development projects for Company A, and Company B, ranging in budget from $z – $y. Also consulted for Company C.
You can interpret and adapt this concept to your own career history and apply it to your job search. If one headline doesn’t describe an additional skill set that you developed during your earlier period, add a second one, but keep it similarly short and sweet.
Take a “Portfolio” Approach
Engage with prospective employers in a different way. Stop thinking of your career as a linear sequence of jobs that are climbing a ladder of seniority. Instead, look at it as a broadening portfolio of skills, opportunities, and achievements. Pull from this portfolio selectively and strategically as you choose prospective positions and respond to these opportunities. Be prepared to show how your skills, talents, abilities, and accomplishments work synergistically. That can be a powerful value proposition to share with a recruiter or hiring manager. This is why it is vital to stop hiding your age. Include those early positions in your resume, even in the abbreviated form I suggest. Including them provides the context for how far you have come, and how you have grown. This adds depth and credibility to your presentation.
Less Is More
Your resume has to be concise and readable. It must be structured so that it’s meaningful and relevant to the position you’re applying for and the skills required. Most recruiters and coaches will agree that it’s vital to reduce everything down to two pages. Don’t make the mistake of trying to cram everything into the resume. The resume is the teaser that should get them excited to interview you. If you include too much information or fail to provide context, you may not even get to the interview. Remember that you’re trying to tell a story. Remember that you have a portfolio to present. Put yourself in your prospect’s shoes: what would impress and intrigue them enough to call you in for an interview? Share your resume and your LinkedIn profile with colleagues who can take the POV of a recruiter or employer and give you actionable feedback.
Seek Out Age-Friendly Employers
More and more employers are waking up to the value of older workers. Seek them out. Get to know their people. Spread the word and make referrals and connections.The Age-Friendly Foundation is one resource for you to consider in making the important distinction between employers where you’re welcomed, and those where you would be hiding your age. Other organizations (including the AARP) provide similar resources to support and encourage the recognition and acceptance of older workers.
Isn’t it Time to Be Proud and Confident?
Imagine how much more confident you’ll feel if you’re not worrying about what you can and can’t say. Imagine feeling free to share your ideas without second-guessing or censoring yourself.You have decades of valuable experience, lessons, and insights to share – and to apply in your next position. Set yourself up for success by focusing on a target market that wants to hear from you.Stand strong in your conviction. You who are on the right side of this question, and the ageist recruiters and employers are on the wrong side. It’s time to leave your insecurity about your age behind you.
An Incredible Asset
The road you’ve traveled makes you who you are today. Deepen in that awareness. Don’t discard it. Use it to be even more valuable, relevant, updated, and empowered.In fact, your age is one of the biggest assets in your job search and on your resume. Believe it. Seeing it here in print in this article is maybe the first time in a long time you’ve actually dared to pump your fist in the air and agree that, yes, growing older is not a liability, it’s an asset.
This sounds good on paper but the reality is that age, particularly as it relates to women, does matter. One career coach was honest enough to admit that to me. He said it’s not so much the case for men. He said he hired his well qualified mother because of her similar experience. I have applied for positions you would have thought they used my resume to create, but I didn’t even get an interview. But maybe it was because I refuse to remove from my resume organizational memberships that identify my race.
Not to worry, I have formed my own company and I’m doing just fine.
Thanks, Barbara – You’re absolutely right that this question is more fraught for women – as is pretty much everything else in the workplace, starting with pay equity.
Yes, it only sounds good on paper because we still have a long way to go. I have no illusions that this is an aspirational goal. But my point is that we have to start somewhere. And we have to be strategic and dynamic about pressing the issue.
By circumventing this process and establishing your own business, you are demonstrating the value that older professionals bring to the workforce and the economy. You are modeling the kind of talent and initiative that can be a reference point for others looking to keep working and overcome age and gender bias – including employers who are still mired in legacy mindsets and prejudices.