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Résumé advice for the over-50 crowd

Those with lengthy work histories must keep résumés brief and adjust to today's digital times, career specialist say.

By Marilyn GardnerStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / February 4, 2008

Résumé polishers: Robert Skladany (left) and Sandy Stone work for RetirementJobs.com, a Waltham, Mass., company that helps over-50 professionals with their job-hunting skills.

Mary Knox Merrill - staff

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Whenever Rob­ert Skladany conducts work­­shops for job seekers over age 50, he hears one word again and again: résumés.

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Among the men and women in these groups – some unemployed, others reentering the workforce – a common concern predominates. "They feel they are not at all familiar with contemporary résumés," says Mr. Skladany, vice president of research at RetirementJobs.com in Waltham, Mass.

One man told him he had not written a résumé for 25 years. In that time, résumés have indeed undergone a transformation. Paper documents, once read and filed by people, have turned electronic. Often they are screened by an employer's automated applicant-tracking system. These changes call for new approaches on the part of applicants.

"Older workers don't understand the environment they're putting their application into," Skladany says. "They still expect an acknowledgment."

By 2010, 1 of every 3 workers will be over 50 years old. To help them remain competitive in the job market, career counselors emphasize the importance of a polished résumé. Rob­erta Chinsky Matuson, president of Human Resource Solutions in Northampton, Mass., advises over-50 job seekers to consider four questions: Does your résumé look weathered? Has it grown to three or four pages over time? Is your first job after high school graduation still listed? Are you still displaying the date you graduated from college?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, she says, it's time to redo your résumé.

Including graduation dates is the subject of debate among career specialists. "You shouldn't lie," Ms. Matuson says. "I am not advocating hiding your age. I'm saying, why broadcast it? The people who are screening résumés are 25 years old."

Yet others suggest that applicants include graduation dates. "If you're 50-plus, play it up in your résumé," says Chuck Underwood, president of the consulting firm The Generational Imperative in Cincinnati. Still other job counselors call the use of dates "very individual" and say, "Use your good judgment."

Many career specialists advise older applicants to limit a résumé to two pages and to include only the most recent 15 to 20 years of their work history. Earlier jobs can be summarized under a heading such as "Positions held prior to 1990," with a list of companies and titles.

Skladany avoids the word "experience." The emphasis today is on capabilities, qualifications, and achievements, he says, not previous titles, duties, and length of service.

Chronological listings on résumés have given way in some cases to formats that highlight skills. "In a chronological format, your most important or relevant experience might be three jobs back," says Shel Horowitz, a professional résumé writer in Northampton, Mass. "Companies may not get that far in reading."

In an electronic age, Jeff Benrey, CEO of Trovix, an online job site in Mountain View, Calif., underscores the importance of a well-formatted résumé. Many examples and templates are available on the Internet, he says.

Advice for older job applicants

Last month, Melanie Holmes, a 26-year veteran with Manpower North America, started writing about various workplace topics in a blog called Contemporary Working (http://manpowerblogs.com/holmes/). She offers the following tips for over-50 job seekers:

• Flexibility is a big plus – emphasize that you can be open to a variety of scheduling, titles, consulting, etc.

• Experience is a given – provide details on your familiarity with processes, equipment, and systems.

• Past titles on your résumé may or may not be useful. Be sure to include a brief explanation of duties and related accomplishments.

• If you've upgraded your skills via a short course or certification, make sure it shows up on your résumé and in the interview.

• If you can work it into your cover letter, talk about loyalty, willingness to learn new things, and your comfort with technology.

• Try to limit your work history to what is relevant to the job for which you are applying. But, beware of leaving employment gaps – these can be a red flag to hiring managers.

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