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Job Hunting After a Certain Age? Erase Your Past

Jan 27, 2017

The new administration h as put some wind in the sails of the market and, some would say, the economy too—which is potentially good news for job seekers. But if you’re one of those seekers and you’re of a certain age, career guru Marc Cenedella has some critical advice: “Don’t list any dates on your résumé before the year 2000.”

Just zap it. Erase it. Pretend those years never happened.

Cenedella, founder and executive chairman of Ladders, a professional career site aimed at job seekers in the top 25% of the market, riled up some of his 9 million newsletter subscribers when he offered this guidance in December. “I definitely got some blowback,” he says.

To be clear, Cenedella, who is 46, isn’t saying that age bias is okay. He’s saying that it exists. The first person who reads your résumé will be an HR department screener who will be right out of college. “They’ll say, ‘Wait, this guy was working in newspapers in the 1980s? No way will he understand Snapchat.’ ”

Boom, like that, your paperwork goes into the trash. Sure, this is biased and unfair. But these are the gatekeepers, and you need to get past them.

Trimming the early experience from your résumé might feel dishonest, but the document isn’t supposed to be comprehensive. “Your résumé is an advertisement, not a product manual,” Cenedella says. Confining a résumé to a single page is good advice for anyone.

Fair enough, but once I’ve slipped past Doogie Howser the résumé screener (yes, I’ve just aged myself with reference to a 28-year-old TV show), I still have to go to an interview, right? I’ve heard from countless people who wangled their way into an interview and then could tell, in the first 30 seconds, that the hiring manager had taken note of their graying temples and ruled them out.

Cenedella says you should expect to encounter age bias and have a plan to get ahead of it: “Show them you’re flexible and adaptable. You can collaborate. You can take direction and feedback from younger people.” You might also point out that your more extensive background can be an asset and that the team ought to perform better after adding an experienced hand.

After studying the most successful late-career movers, Cenedella recommends the following:

Be specific. Talk about a time when you embraced a new technology or took direction from a younger boss or colleague, he says.

Be passionate. “You’re going up against candidates who don’t have your experience. They’re selling enthusiasm and passion. You have to bring that too.”

Be your age. “You’re never going to adequately mimic the behavior of a younger generation.” So don’t dress like a college kid or try to use millennial lingo.

Age bias pervades every industry, Cenedella says. Maybe someday things will change. For now I’m going to take Cenedella’s advice. I just fixed my LinkedIn profile.  

Dan Lyons is the bestselling author of "Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Start-Up Bubble."

A version of this article appears in the February 1, 2017 issue of Fortune with the headline "Job Hunting? Erase Your Past."

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