August 2014

Get a Job

Mauri Scwartz

Q: I’m a senior level business professional, well into my career. My product division has recently been acquired by a company in Atlanta. I’ve been offered the same position in the new firm but don’t want to move, have decided to look for a new position in the Bay Area, but am concerned about my age. What would you advise someone in my situation? How far back in my work experience should I include on my resume. I’ve heard to put only the most recent 10 years.

A: I get this question often. The number of years varies. Some experts suggest listing only the most recent 10 years; others say 15. My most common answer to clients’ questions regarding resumes and interviews is, “it depends.”

I don’t believe there’s one right number of years to include on a resume. Those who advise a set amount of time, such as 10 or 15, do so because it’s simpler to take a one-size-fits-all approach than to advise people on an individual basis. There are many guidelines that are common to nearly all job seekers, but everyone has something that calls for special attention. In addition to these particulars, other variables include how much experience is deemed appropriate for a specific industry, company, function, or job level.

Unfortunately, age discrimination does exist, primarily against older workers, but often related to younger employees as well. Age discrimination, which is illegal, it’s usually impossible to prove. For older workers I’ve found that in most cases the issue isn’t tied to age. It may be the expectation that a senior candidate will require higher compensation than someone earlier in their career. Or, there’s a concern that an older candidate may be approaching retirement, and will only stay employed for a few more years. Notably, the average job tenure among employees of all ages is less than five years, according to 2012 U.S. Department of Labor data, and just more than three years for those younger than forty.

The primary reason employers may pass on an older applicant may be that they believe the individual has tired, stale ideas and ways of performing the job, as well as less energy and enthusiasm. These are factors that you can and should eliminate with your actual behavior, body language and voice during an interview, even when it’s on the phone. But, you must first get the interview, which means that you don’t want to give them any reason to discard your resume on first glance.

For those who have been out of college for more than a dozen years, I’d omit graduation dates. In general, I’d recommend listing between 12 and 18 years of experience, depending on the variables I previously discussed, as well as how pertinent the particular experience is to the position you’re seeking. My advice is to include only achievements that are relevant to your targeted role, even when considering your more recent experience.


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