The age barrier is something we’ve discussed before. Some employers look at a resume, see lengthy experience, judge the candidate as “over qualified” and toss the paper into the circular file. Dumb, dumb, dumb… but if that’s you we’re talking about, what can you do?

A reader asks The Forum:

Career professionals are telling older and more experienced people that have been “workforce-reduced” to remove information from their resume that makes them look over-qualified. (For example, shorten the work history, take off any graduate degrees unless needed for a particular job, omit industry-specific credentials.) Many experienced professionals are looking for an edge when applying for lower-level jobs and seem to be taking such advice. The goal of reducing the information on the resume is to get to the interview and then sell yourself to the hiring manager.

How do HR professionals view candidates that try to look less experienced? Do you think that this approach is a valid way to get to an interview? Thanks!

Should you mung your resume to… ahem… appear younger, less experienced and less intimidating to an employer? You guys go first… but I can’t wait to dive into this one. (And if you work in HR, what do HR professionals think of this approach to getting an interview? And why does HR avoid “over-qualified” applicants? Is less better? Do “career professionals” really tell people to devolve to get hired?? Can you be too good-looking, too smart, too experienced, too willing to take a lower salary? What is this world coming to?)


  1. Tangenitally, I love how the “Just for Men” ads get strategically placed to be seen by job hunters. My spouse has a face that (by itself) doesn’t tell his age, but he refuses to cover the salt & pepper …have read some very adamant advice in career books to the effect that “only CEOs can afford to go gray”.

    As for HR avoiding the “overqualified”, I think this begs a side discussion of landmines for the experienced candidate dealing with a manager who may be less experienced. In a somewhat insecure job market, is it dangerous to tread too close to leaving the decision maker with the impression (based on skill set/previous titles) that you could replace them?

  2. Well, if you want to work for a great manager, don’t worry about intimidating them. I’d love to hire someone who I suspect could replace me.

    But of course, job seekers don’t always have the luxury of picking and choosing.

  3. I know the answer to this one…unfortunately!
    Just as you do not tell a potential employer your social security number before you have the job, do not ofer your age, or your year of graduation, or anythng else that can give it away. Many of them can count (much to my surprise) and they make the short sighted decision to hire based (at least in part)on that factor.
    I thought I sensed this from some interviews that seemed like perfect fits, but have had it confirmed by three friends over the years who are in hiring positions.
    Is it right? NO! Is it short sighted? YES. Does it happen? EVERY SINGLE DAY!
    So, to compete in today’s youth market, get out the hair dye, replace glasses with contacts, be sure your hair and clothes are updated and “GO GET EM TIGER!!”
    PS If anyone knows of any employers who do not discriminate based on age I’d sure like their names (and web links) because there are a lot of us out here who have so much to contribute…our youth was spent learning the lessons that make us GREAT employees!

  4. Frankly if someone doesn’t want to hire me because of my age then I don’t want to work there anyway. I’ve run two very successful job searches in the last 7 years (one in the last year during all the turmoil). My feeling is that I bring a lot to the table. If my salt and pepper hair scares you off then I don’t want to work for you. If you can see past my hair, understand my skills and the value that I bring, then let’s talk.

    The real question you have to ask yourself is this. Am I willing to be misleading to get a job? If I misled my employer I’d never feel comfortable in that job. I’m not saying you tattoo your age on your forehead, but don’t try to be something you are not.

    Bottom line is always that good people get jobs. I’ve hired plenty of people older than me over the years, and I wouldn’t hesitate to do so again if their skills and fit were right.

  5. I explain this dilemma to my experienced clients in this way: If you send a response to an ad on a job board, then your resume will be in a file of 1,000 other resumes to be screened. Since HR needs to get this job done expeditiously, they will discard all resumes with no dates listed, and will discard all resumes for candidates who appear to be “too old (experienced)” or “too young (inexperienced)”. This will leave them with a pile of 200 or so resumes, which you will not be in.

    I work with clients to help them identify decision makers in functional departments in the companies where they would like to work. Together we research companies, the competition, and the industry to identify the problems that the client can solve. As you know, this can be quite time consuming. In this market, many of my clients are desperate to find something, anything, before their money runs out. Almost always, they revert to sending their resume in to job boards, and getting frustrated. Do you have a word of advice for the desperate job seeker?

  6. I hear an underlying conflict here: do experienced workers need to lie about who we are in order to be hired? And do we want to live that way?

    Like Lynn, many of my clients are also feeling desperate…and yet…relying on job boards has always been inefficient, let alone ineffective. It gives clients a short term sense of relief that they are applying for an “actual” (which isn’t often the case these days) job. But they will usually get lost in the shuffle.

    If you really want to get a job in this market, there’s all the more reason to follow Nick’s recommendations. And it’s hard work..more than a full time job. Yet when you get clear about the types of challenges you are expert at addressing, then begin to identify the hiring managers and decision makers, do the research, approach them with your “consultant” hat on, offering well thought out solutions, you have a much better chance of being heard…and respected for your years of experience.

    Especially for the more experienced among us, relationship building is key.

    My advice: Avoid at all cost anything that puts you in the “system”. The system cannot read between the lines, all it can do is look at 1’s and 0’s…”either you have “X” or you don’t.” (“X” being a narrowly defined qualification) By its very nature, these systems encourage some of our best and brightest to hide the very expertise that would help organizations solve their most challenging problems.

  7. I work in a system, in which there is a desire for all employees to conform to the way of the borg…..they do not learn from mistakes, have wasted millions of dollars in not addressing retention issues, not valued their employees for years, spent little to no money on development, have not adopted new technology etc. etc…. and now as they try to make a wide spreade corporate change, they are expecting employees to further tighten their belts, shove their belles up to the bar and toe the new and improved company policy as if it were the bible….when the economy changes, there will be more exodus…….In my 20 plus years of working, I have always been more willing to follow a leader who makes mistakes, owns up to them and then asks for my our opinion on how to fix it…….just so long as it is not a pattern……..(the screw up part)

    When it comes to age, age generally means experience, that is valuable transferable and diverse. That is not to say that a new college grad doesn’t have something to bring to the table……many employers look at age as how many years can we get out of them…. as opposed to the qualty of the input…….this is a double edged sword. It does little to allow for an employer to develop a level of respect for the employee – whose neck would be on the block at the first whiff of trouble….I have never….found a leader young or old who would sacrifice themselves for a worker, and yet I have seen older workers sacrifice themselves for younger ones……allowing them the opportunity to develop the experience that counts

  8. I find that employers see employees as a cost, not as a potential source of profit.

    So, they want to pay “on the curve” rather than off the curve. (Whoo-wee — imagine paying off the cureve to get off the curve performance! Heaven forbid! That would goof up HR’s graphs!)

    They want to avoid the costs of older employees (health insurance, pension) — but they never consider what they might get out of older employees in the way of profit.

    This is silly bean-counter business. Ask not what your employees cost you. Ask instead, what profit can they produce for me?

    Hire for profit. Age becomes irrelevant, as do salaries.

    But now look at the flip side. Job hunters ask for higher salaries. Why? Because that’s what other people earn doing this job. So what? You’re not worth a dime more unless you can show how you will contribute more to the employer’s bottom line.

    Profit is the great equalizer. It’s not a bad word. It’s not exploitation. It’s the balancing of costs and revenues. If you can’t turn a profit, you have no business in the business — or in the job. Turn a profit, and the marginal increase you produce puts you on solid ground to ask for a bigger slice.

    (Okay, send in the firing squad. I’m dead meat.)

  9. Scandinavian hotel mogul Petter Stordalen has always said that a key to his success has been to hire people that are smarter than himself – which also includes older people, since The Petter himself is “only” 47 at present and started his career in the twenties.

    If more companies could learn…

  10. It depends on what the real goal is. If it is “I need a job,” then you tailor your information so you appear as the right fit. If the goal is to partner with a company for a mutually rewarding business relationship, by all means be candid.

  11. One of the interesting things to note is that there are very few people in the recruitment function of a company who are above the age of 45. Where do all the internal recruiters go?
    The answer isn’t important – the point being, very few people in that “individual contributor” role want to stay there. They move on –
    Like people hire like people. So if the 25-35 internal recruiter is reviewing resumes, they can’t help but be drawn to people in similar age category. Because these internal folk aren’t super experienced and just staying a few years in their jobs (generally), they don’t have the broad, “what’s going to be great for my company” mindset versus “must fill requisitions”.

    My advice to the professional above the age of 40 is never include every job since the beginnning of time on the resume. While that information alone may date you, that’s not the point. This isn’t about hiding your true self – it’s about marketing and PR about you as a contributor. A true contributor, one who helps companies make profits as Nick’s talking about.

    On the resume, highlight this. Then be prepared to talk about it. The key is to be on the offense, not defense.

    Here, Here, Nick!

  12. I am a PhD in engineering and part of the white-hair crowd. I have two versions of my resume: a 2-pager with experience going back about 20 years, and education (without dates) listed at the end, and a 6-pager with everything on it including about a dozen academic publications. Guess which one I send out first.

    BTW, to Claudia: it’s “Hear, hear!”, not “Here, Here!”. Or where? where?

  13. When you need of a job now then you might have to play a little loose with the age factor.

    But if you want to find a job where you can really contribute and you want to work for a great company, then don’t. The company that looks past the gray hair factor is probably a very well run company and a place where you’ll like to stay. They’ll want you as part of the team because of your experience.

    In the past when I’ve been the hiring manager, I always look to get the most experience I can. I’ve always figured that if I have talented people working for me, then I’ll look good because they can deliver.

  14. If we’re talking resume only, concealing one’s age is possible but it will undoubtedly become obvious at interview time, particularly at my age. Aside from that, it’ dishonest, and that’s a bad way to start any relationship. I’m almost 72 and likely to be retired before my current company eliminates my job. If if I had to go looking again, I’d probably consult, since no one hires a 72-year-old for long term positions, but they might give temp work to a 72-year-old, knowing that when a contract end would not place me in the same vulnerable place as it might a 25-year-old with a family to support.

  15. @Ray: Your statement that “I’d probably consult, since no one hires a 72-year-old for long term positions,” reminds me of my canned answer for the canned interview question, “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?”

    Answer: Is your company gonna be AROUND in another 5 years???

    I’m not a fan of hiding age, no matter what the age. I’ve got 30 year olds telling me they’re worried about age discrimination – too old? And 23 year olds worrying, too – am I too young? Blondes wanna be brunettes, brunettes wanna go platinum and 14 year olds wanna look 25 while 25 year old wanna look 15.

    I wish everybody would stop worrying about what they look like and focus on dropping some profit to the bottom line. I know managers who would hire gerbils if they could program in C++ or close deals with new customers.

  16. Just wanted to say hello all. This is my first post.

    I expect to learn a lot here.

  17. Moral dilemna!

    Wazzup! I’ve hung around watching and reading for ages here.

    Anyways, I had this urge to talk about an event. There was this occurence… When I was done with school one day I headed out, I was starving so I stopped in at this restaurant and picked this sandwitch from the menu and took it to a table and sat down when I was done I remembered I didn’t pay!

    Yeah evidently they were super busy and distracted because there was this manager/investor type looking around everywhere and talking to them. So I was just about to go up to the counter and say I hadn’t paid but then I realized if I did that the owner guy might get mad at the employees. So I just left. What should I have done do you think?

  18. Unfortunately this is an ageist, youth-oriented society. To keep up you have to at least give the appearance of youth and good health. Especially women who seem to be eviscerated once they’re past 30 or so. I am in my mid-40s and fortunate to look 10 years younger and to have graduated 10 years later from college due to an illness. I never do anything or say anything that might suggest I’m over 40, and I dress youthfully as well. There are a lot of entry level positions I know I wouldn’t have landed if I looked my age, sadly.

  19. I honestly don’t think you should – some people may be looking for age diversity amongst the company and may sway their decision based on that alone.