Crafting an effective resume when you’re over 50 has extra challenges. If you get it right, the whole world knows you’re good at what you do. If you don’t, nothing happens.
One of the benefits of experience is that you can make difficult things look easy. That’s a problem if you end up needing to convince someone new that you’re the right person for the job. People who’ve been effective over the long haul often lose track of what it’s like to not be that effective. That leads you to talk in terms of the job instead of how you did it. Working from that perspective presents you as a plain vanilla anybody. So before you write one word of that resume you really needed to have done yesterday, think through these questions.
What makes you a uniquely valuable hire? The vast majority of us have an extremely difficult time putting this into words. That may be because you’ve been taught not to brag or it may be a case of assuming everyone can do what you’re good at. Either way, your next employer isn’t going to know that you have exactly what she needs until you get the information out there where she can see it. Your first shot in that effort is with your resume.
The current jargon for what you need here is “personal brand.” Knowing what makes you a valuable employee and being able to put that in five to ten words is important in a job search. Ideally, you will have practiced these words enough that you come up with them as if on autopilot when needed, even in an unexpected place like at your kid’s basketball game or in line at the grocery store. Having the first few words come out automatically makes it easier to deal with the rest of the conversation effectively.
What’s a resume for? A resume is a marketing tool. This is not the place to tell your life story or to go on at length about the minutia of what you did in each job you ever held. Those of us with a lot of experience can easily shoot ourselves in the foot on this. The stereoype of aging that our culture holds associates longwindedness with mental decline. Use only what’s important and be concise.
What does my next employer need to know most about me? You will be way ahead of the competition if you write your resume so that it addresses how you can solve the hiring manager’s problem. The best way to do that is to highlight how you’ve helped your previous employers get what they needed done. Just mentioning that you served as the liaison with the Building Department is nowhere near as compelling as saying that you developed solid relationships with them and got permitting accomplished quickly.
What are the differences between the job description and how YOU performed the job? Quite often, these two things get confused by resume writers. Talking about the job instead of your performance obscures the value of your experience. The duties of the job are what’s written on a formal job description. It might be something like “handles walk in customer traffic.” How you did the job probably goes beyond that in some unique way. Were you effective at helping people figure out what they needed? At dealing with volatile complaints? At keeping track of clients’s preferences so they felt like they were “family” and became loyal to your place of business?
There’s a place for the job description language–in the experience section right under the company and job title listed. Use no more than two lines for that description. The rest of the space you allot for that job experience needs to focus on what you did particularly well.
How can I avoid being ignored because of my age? The first step in this is to be sure you’re not setting yourself up with your own thinking. Are you making excuses for not learning new things (including technology!) because you are “too old?” Are you telling yourself you don’t have the stamina you need for what you want to do next? Neither of these things is a given consequence of getting older. Change you lifestyle and stop telling yourself that you’re old.
In your resume, pay close attention to your choice of words. Use action verbs and short phrases to project energy. Consider an initial section that speaks in current terms–what you can do NOW–rather than putting everything in the past tense a chronological resume requires. Avoid as many adjectives and adverbs as you can–they bog the writing down. And avoid obsolete slang and phrases.
Having experience is a plus that has somehow become devalued in today’s job market. You can’t expect to be valued for the seniority you had at another company. But you can present yourself as a viable candidate because of how well you did the work. You can create momentum to propell yourself into your next job by projecting energy and making a clear case for how you can help the next company better than those who’ve had less of a chance to learn how to get things done.