Is ageism undermining your job search? Here's how to "age-proof" your efforts

In a YouGov poll of more than 1,100 employees over the age of 50, commissioned by the Centre for Ageing Better, 14% of those surveyed believe that they've been turned down for a job due to their age and nearly one in five (18%) have chosen not to disclose their age in job applications - or at least considered doing so. In addition, nearly half (46%) think that their age would put them at a disadvantage when competing with younger employees for work.

Whilst provisions in the Equality Act 2010 make it illegal to discriminate against a candidate based on their age, the reality is that ageism in the workplace is rife in the UK. Although there's no magic solution to change the population's negative attitudes towards ageing, we have some tips to help you to "age-proof" your CV and remain competitive in today's jobs market.

Job seekers and especially older workers can avoid age discrimination when applying for a job by following these professional CV tips.

Signs your CV is making you look old

You've stated your age directly...

It used to be a staple, right up there with your name. However, putting your age or date of birth on your CV implies that you're behind the times. Plus, nothing opens you up to age discrimination like unnecessarily putting your age out in the open.

...or indirectly 

It's not just spelling out the number in black and white that can give the game away. When listing your education history on your CV, don't include precise dates of schooling or graduation, as these can easily hint at age. You should also take a close look at the specifics of your listed qualifications ‒ a reference to O-Levels rather than GCSEs is a giveaway. Dodge the issue altogether by simply including the subject and grade achieved.

You've included a photo

In some countries, it's expected that you include a photo on your CV but, in the UK, it's frowned upon. If you are an older worker, adding a headshot ‒ however beaming ‒ will open you up to discrimination. 

You've added your references 

You worked hard for that ringing endorsement from your last boss and you've every right to wave it in the face of your would-be next manager. But it no longer belongs on your CV. The days of listing references' names on a CV, as well as their titles and contact details, are behind us - their addition will age you in the eyes of a discerning employer.

The expression "References available on request" is a popular alternative, but we advise against that too. Though it has a sophisticated ring to it, references will likely not come into play until late into your candidacy and employers already expect that you will provide them when asked.

You've included your street address

Adding your full street address to your CV was necessary in the days of snail mail, but we've moved beyond that. Now that communication is carried out primarily through email and phone, you only need to give an employer a general idea of your location so that they know if you're in the area. Your town and postcode are enough.  

You've forgotten social media

We're living in the digital age and an HR manager will expect you to be aware of that. Failing to include links to important social media accounts ‒ such as a LinkedIn profile ‒ gives the impression that you're not up to date on the conventions of the modern workforce.

Your CV is too long

The question of the perfect CV length is eternal, so know this: in most cases, anything over two sheets of A4 is typically discouraged. As it pertains to age discrimination, a lengthy CV that details every aspect of a decades-long career will naturally put your age out in the open. Experience may be a job seeker's greatest weapon, but too much of the wrong kind can send messages that don't work in your favour.

How to age-proof your CV

Focus on relevant experiences

The further along you are in your career, the less relevant your earlier work experience becomes. Companies are most concerned with the details from your recent job history that relate to the vacancies they're filling, not your experience from 15 or more years ago. Therefore, you should provide more information about the roles you've held in the past 10–15 years that are related to your current job search and less information about your earlier career history.

Delete the dates related to work experience, education, and certifications if they are 15 years or older. You can consolidate older work experience in a separate section, but including the dates of employment for these jobs is unnecessary. Similarly, it's important for your CV to include your older credentials, but not the year in which you earned them.

Restrict your CV to two pages

Limiting your CV's length is another reason to focus on your recent positions. Whilst there are some exceptions, most professionals should strive for a two-page CV length – even those with decades of experience. When you have so little time for your CV to impress employers, it's important to provide them with a succinct document that summarises your experiences, education, and qualifications.

An Early Career Summary is a good way to cut down on your CV's length.

Get your CV past the ATS

These days, companies often use recruitment software known as an applicant tracking systems (ATS). With this technology, employers can scan and analyse CVs and eliminate the least-qualified candidates for a role. To improve your CV's chances of passing through this digital screen and onto a human for review, make certain that your document includes the appropriate keywords. If a word or phrase repeatedly shows up in the job adverts you're interested in, incorporate these terms into your CV.

Upgrade your email address

Older workers are sometimes seen as lacking technical know-how or being behind technical trends. Don't give employers a reason to believe you might fit this stereotype. Ditch your outdated AOL or Hotmail email account for a free, professional-looking Gmail address that incorporates your name.

Provide your mobile number

Mobiles are overtaking landlines when it comes to communicating over the phone. For this reason, it is best to include your mobile number on your CV. In addition to demonstrating that you primarily use your mobile (a modern practice, for better or worse), you will also have control over who answers important job-search related calls.

Showcase your technical proficiencies

Show employers that you've kept up with the latest tools and platforms related to your field by listing these competencies on your CV. If you're in a non-technical profession, create a small section towards the bottom of your CV that lists these technical proficiencies. If you work in a technical field, your CV will likely include a more prominent section towards the top to showcase your technical skills. 

Prove your skills

At this point in your career, employers are more interested in what you've accomplished in each of your positions, rather than every single task you were assigned to complete. Similarly, they want to see examples of when you've used the skills you claim to have. Support any claims on your CV by providing a specific example, figure, or case study that illustrates exactly what you've achieved and the skills you used to do it.

When adding these, use bullet points to draw the reader's eye.

Have your CV reviewed by a professional

From using an antiquated CV format to failing to incorporate the right keywords, there are many ways that your CV could unintentionally be undermining your job-search efforts. If you're unsure what belongs on your CV, or you don't have the time to write it yourself, consider outsourcing the task to a trained professional. Specialists such as TopCV offer everything from free reviews to professional CV writing services.

Add social media

As stated, if you're neglecting to include social media on your CV, you risk being seen as out of touch. As LinkedIn is the most popular social media platform for professionals, it's the most important one to include. But if you've got a relevant blog or link to a personal website or body of work, have them positioned with pride at the top as well.

In the name of aesthetics, don't simply paste the full URLs ‒ the long string of meaningless letters and numbers will take up space and make your CV look crowded and clumsy. Instead, type the name of the platform and, with a swift highlight and right-click, add a hyperlink.

Other ways to avoid age discrimination in the job search

Get active on LinkedIn

If you've resisted the urge to use LinkedIn in the past, now's the time to reconsider your position. A study by Jobvite found that over 90% of recruiters use LinkedIn as part of their recruitment process. Once you create your LinkedIn profile, get active by posting, joining groups, and participating in conversations with other professionals. This will not only help you to build your network, but also show that you've embraced modern practices. 

Educate yourself on current popular tools

If you notice that job listings you're interested in mention a skill or new tool you're not familiar with, it's a sign that you need to upskill. Seek out online resources to learn new skills at your local library or university that would allow you to gain this understanding and make you a more attractive candidate. Your age won't matter if you are proficient with the latest technologies and practices. 

Keep up with industry trends

Every industry evolves with time and it's important that you don't get left behind. Read articles, participate in seminars, and listen to industry leaders so that you know not only where your field has been, but also where it is and where it's going. This knowledge will come in handy in an interview, where you can alleviate concerns that you're stuck in the past by discussing current trends in your line of work.

Your CV may be opening you up to age discrimination. Find out where you stand by getting a free CV review.

This article was updated in December 2020. It contains work written by Alasdair Lane and Lauren Settembrino.

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