Should My Resume Disguise My Age?

Age DiscriminationI’m often asked by more senior professionals if they should somehow hide their age on their resume. Sometimes, they believe that age discrimination has been affecting their job search and it might open more doors if their resume appeared to make them younger. So they only include the last 10 or 15 years of their work history.

There are many opinions on both sides of this question, and I can understand those that disagree with me. However, I believe it is a bad idea not to acknowledge your entire career on resumes you present to prospective employers.

Here’s why, and some best practices…

Starting your interview in the hole. As soon as you show up for an interview they are likely to get a sense of your age. If your resume created an impression that you are someone in their 30′s, however, when you show up you’re clearly someone in their 50′s, they will feel like they’ve somehow been deceived. Whether age discrimination is an issue for them or not, you will be starting your interview ‘in the hole’ having to overcome the perception that you were trying to put something over on them. Compared to other candidates that they perceive to be more forthright, it may be an obstacle you can’t get past. Perhaps you’re someone that looks younger than you are… at some point they will discover your age and still feel you’ve been less than honest. It’s not your age that cools them toward you, rather your deception.

Your resume won’t change the problem. If the company truly does discriminate based on age, then hiding your age on the resume only delays the inevitable. If they don’t want to hire someone over 50, gaining an interview is not likely to change their bias. It only took things one step further and will lead to greater frustration for both of you. The fact that they are wrong in their bias, and potentially acting illegally is no consolation when you are turned down for the opportunity. Unless you’re fishing for a chance to sue someone, why put yourself through the experience? Why would you want to interview at a company that would reject you based on your perceived age on your resume? The idea that “They’ll change their mind once they meet me” doesn’t address the underlying problem. Even if you get the job, you now work for a company that decides not to interview someone because on their age. It’s not likely the company’s culture will make you feel at home!

So, what’s reasonable? While I believe it is important to acknowledge your complete career on your resume, I don’t think it’s necessary to emphasize your age either.

Your experience and responsibilities prior the past 10 or 15 years are not generally relevant as you pursue current opportunities. It’s not necessary to give much detail to positions prior to that point. Simply listing the Company, Title, and Dates of employment are sufficient. If the role was directly related to the position you are applying to, one brief line of description may be appropriate. Otherwise, the bulk of your responsibilities, skills, strengths and achievements should be listed under your most recent roles. Those are the ones that will matter most to a prospective employer.

Furthermore, if you had a number of positions earlier in your career, particularly if they were unrelated to the role you are pursuing, I believe it’s appropriate to group them together. Perhaps even something like:

Companies and positions unrelated to recent career 1978 – 1989

I also don’t believe it’s necessary to provide your graduation dates, whether it’s High School, Trade School, or College. And, if in your Summary section you have a sentence that begins with something like: ” Over 30 years of experience…”, I believe it’s appropriate to say “Over 15 years of experience…”. It’s still true, and doesn’t emphasize your age. If you are acknowledging your entire career in the rest of the document, they can do their own math if they choose to.

These best practices emphasize the most relevant, and minimize your least relevant information while still acknowledging your entire career history and presenting it in an honest way.

While age discrimination in hiring is not dead in today’s world, I am convinced it’s not nearly as prevalent as many people think. Presenting yourself in as an honest and professional way you can is the best policy when pursuing new opportunities, and ultimately will most likely lead to the greatest chance of success as well.


Harry Urschel has over 20 years experience as a technology recruiter in Minnesota. He currently operates as e-Executives, writes a blog for Job Seekers called The Wise Job Search, and can be found on Twitter as @eExecutives.

Harry Urschel has over 20 years experience as a technology recruiter in Minnesota. He currently operates as e-Executives, writes a blog for Job Seekers called The Wise Job Search, and can be found on Twitter as @eExecutives.

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  1. I agree with you. As a recruiter, I interview countless people a day. I recently received a fantastic resume with work experience starting out in the last 5 years. When I actually met the candidate however, it turned out that she had cut out about 25 years of work experience.

    I felt deceived and the interview started off on the wrong foot.

    I don’t believe that every job has to be listed on a resume, in fact I think that’s counter-productive. However, a simple heading of ‘Relevant Professional Experience” is good idea. Or perhaps a cover letter could go into more detail about previous experience.

    Leaving it out completely is unfair and not only wastes the interviewer’s time, it also waste’s the job seekers time.

    • It’s not a waste of the recruiter’s time if the candidate is qualified for the work. By saying that, you are inferring a bias toward older workers simply by meeting them and seeing their, ahem, maturity. Just as you are saying, essentially, that the candidate’s age isn’t a factor, you are saying that it is.

      The phrase “more than 15 years of experience” is a red light to a company recruiter hell-bent on interviewing only 30-35 year olds. That 15 years of experience for a 30-35 year old means pulling lattes at Starbucks or flipping burgers at McDonald’s, not professional-growth employment.

      Companies cannot have it both ways. Neither can the candidates, I understand, but they are the ones looking for jobs to sustain them and their families and being affected the most by what is, in fact, ageism. There is no way an individual can fight workplace age discrimination, because no individual can muster the legal resources to match an offending corporation’s. It’s no wonder to me that it goes by the boards every single day and is allowed to persist.

      Corporate America is far more deceptive, and more potentially damaging to an individual’s future, in my opinion, with such two-faced (and under-handed) practices. Why does 30 years of steady experience translate into someone being considered old, unqualified to be part of the workforce of the future, and inflexible, when it might actually be an indication of that same individual’s capacity to keep up, adjust, improve skills, and continue to succeed?

      • Pat Dawkins says:

        Sandy, I am glad that someone has the nerve to bring this out in the light. I have over 30 years industry experience and cannot locate a job in my field. I decided to remove the 30 years industry experience from my resume and just hope I will get some luck in finding a job. What has America come to?

        These existing corporations that translate an individual years of experience as you mentioned, and make their decisions to withhold jobs from experienced workers to say “Old” will suffer some consequences sooner or later. I say this, hiring a younger person with little of no experience of a company industry operations is damaging. Knowing Windows, excel word and outlook including surfing the web is not true industry experience. Every company in America is guided and operates under Government compliance. A worker who has over 20 years experience vs 5-10 years experinece, who do you think will know the do’s & dont’s?

        The high risk of corporations facing severe law suits due to hiring little or no experience individuals will be montainous. Corporations no longer operates in the capacity to sit and train anyone so they will pay for the decisions that they make in their deceptive hiring practices later on.

  2. Great suggestions! Especially about changing “over 30 years” to “over 15 years”.

    Another thing to consider would be upgrading that old e-mail account (AOL) to a new, more updated one like Gmail. It’s free and also helpful to have a separate e-mail for job searching to keep everything in one place.

    Just a thought. Have a great day,

  3. Harry, this is an excellent blog entry about the dangers of a strategy I see pursued by many, many people. The same applies, incidentally, to LinkedIn profile pictures, and is just as wrong-headed. And I particularly appreciate your thoughts on best practices in this area.

  4. While this is an interesting point of view, I tend to disagree with the bulk of this advice. I would almost never recommend that someone include their entire career history on their resume. Let’s say for example, I’ve been working for approximately 33 years, chances are most of the first 20 years won’t be as relevant as what I’ve done in the past 13 years. This is especially true for career changers or people who have been in fast moving industries that have evolved with economic conditions and technological advances.

    The main purpose of a resume is to market one’s relevant skills to the target position and expectations of their target audience. It should be concise and precise and compel the recipient to invite the candidate to interview.

    This has nothing to do with age deception. It is about emphasis on qualifications, experience and achievements most pertinent to a person’s future career goal(s). Resumes are not historical documents, they are marketing collateral.

    Most people can fill up one or two resume pages with their most recent information covering 10-12 years. Each situation and person is different, so depending on level or type of career path additional years might be appropriate to include as well.

    There is no universal approach to apply when it comes to resume content and construction, but I find it hard to envision a case where someone’s complete career history is applicable to their future role and certainly see no value in taking up space by adding a section like this: Companies and positions unrelated to recent career 1978 – 1989

    If an employer is surprised that someone appears older/younger than expected, so what? Maybe they also appear taller, shorter, more/less attractive or more/less of countless other traits.

    I do agree that if an employer is inclined to discriminate based on age or any other factor, there isn’t much point in dwelling on it and it is tough to prove. Unless something is blatantly offensive in their conduct or comments, move on to something or somewhere that would be a better fit.

  5. While I understand the points you’ve made in this article, I would agree with the comments made by TalentTalks. Your resume needs to reflect the positions that are relevant to not only the position, but also, to reflect that you have the skills and expertise to deal with Today’s marketplace challenges.

    I believe it is ideal to represent all the positions and companies where you’ve worked to show the diversity of skills, however, I think showing the last 10-15 years or relevant work experience is a good strategy. You can list the other positions and companies in a section called, “Additional Professional Experience.” Some people choose to include dates to show longevity with a particular company while others do not.

    I believe the question to be addressed is what is the best strategy to showcase your skills and thought leadership for the particular position for which you are applying. After defining your strategy, then customize the resume to illustrate why you are the BEST fit for the position, regardless of how young or old you are at the time of application.

  6. Dr Data says:

    I generally agree with you and my solution has been to leave out 12 years from a totally different career and to summarize by title and years only some positions that were held over 20 years ago but for a prestigious employer.

    I was able to continually find positions through age 67, and I look at least 5 years younger than my age but after getting dumped about a year ago it took a year to get another position, and I’m just about to turn 69. It is hard to sort our age discrimination from other possible factors. I am also amazed that some employers blatantly ask for your age at the end of a long online application.

    Finally if you have an uncommon name, it is an extremely simple matter to find out someone’s age on any of a dozen free websites. And if they are flying you in for an interview you have to give your birthday which is needed when the ticket is booked.

  7. The interesting part is that I’ve been advised BOTH ways: leave the years ON and OFF, and by professionals (resume writers) to boot!

  8. Harry Brown says:

    Some really great comments with arguments on both sides of the fence.
    The reality is unfortunately companies do discriminate on age and often on size. If you are 58 and trying to land that elusive job with a vast array of experience the company often sees that you are only going to be able to give 7 years and are you as hungry or do you just want to be paid for doing the bare minimum.
    I accept this is totally wrong but the government needs to take a much harder stance on these issues as they want you to work longer and that may be until you are 70 before collecting your pension.
    Doesn’t go hand in hand if employers think you are out of your shelf like date

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