Cover Letters Tips for Older Job Seekers
Tips and Advice for Age Proofing Your Cover Letters
Applying to jobs when you're in your fifties, sixties, or beyond brings with it some unique challenges. Sure, you have plenty of experience. But hiring managers don't necessarily see all those years on the job as an asset. They may believe seasoned, mature candidates will expect more money or responsibility, struggle to work with a younger manager, or lack up-to-date skills.
And while the Age Discrimination Act in Employment Act means that discriminating against older employee and job candidates is illegal, I hear from many unemployed job seekers who feel that their age is an issue.
They say things like:
- I have learned that age does matter in employment.
- My age seems to be my biggest enemy.
- I think my age is my downfall right now.
It's true — despite legal protections, being considered an older job seeker can hinder your chances of finding employment. However, there are ways you can age-proof your resume and address age issues when writing cover letters. Review these cover letter writing tips for older job seekers to help market your candidacy effectively to employers.
Cover Letter Tips for Older Job Seekers
Target your cover letter. The most important way you can convince a hiring manager that you're worth interviewing is to customize your cover letter. Take the job posting and list the criteria the employer is seeking. Then list the skills and experience you have, either in paragraph form or in a bulleted list. This way, the hiring manager can see why you're qualified for the job.
Don't summarize your entire resume. This advice applies to candidates of all ages. A good cover letter doesn't read like an autobiography or a distillation of your resume. For older candidates, it is important to veer away from a sequential recounting of your employment, and instead focus on experience relevant to the job at hand.
Don't include years of experience. Don't list the length of experience you have in your cover letter. For example, it's not advantageous to say you have 20 or 30 years of experience. It will flag you as an older candidate.
Don't promote your age. Avoid terms like seasoned professional, wealth of experience, worked for many years, or anything similar. There's no need to highlight, in general, your years of experience. Instead, stick to the facts (e.g., "I led a team of 10 marketing professionals over at XYZ company.").
Do emphasize your related experience and strengths. Your cover letter is an opportunity to mention your proven experience, which a less experienced candidate may not have. Again, specify how that experienced is related to the job you're applying for - the more specific you are, the more relevant a candidate you'll be.
Do mention connections. As always in a cover letter, it's powerful to mention a connection. Here's more information on how to mention a referral in a cover letter and here are examples of cover letters with referrals to review.
Focus on flexibility. Mention your flexibility, adaptability, and willingness to learn in your cover letter. It will peg you as young and eager, even if you aren't so young in years.
Similarly, highlight any knowledge of current technology that you have since this is often a big concern for hiring managers.
Be careful about salary requirements. If the job posting requests your salary requirements, note that you're flexible. That way employers won't think of you as being overqualified and/or overpriced.
Polish up your cover letter. Presentation matters. Make sure your cover letter is correctly formatted. That means opting for the right font (and font size). Use a plain font, never a scripted one. Include a space between every paragraph, and choose an appropriate salutation and closing sign-off, too.
It's essential that your cover letter does not look old fashioned. Watch for dated language, too. Your word choices can potentially make you seem older or younger than your actual age.
Favor short, snappy sentences over longer, more complex syntax. Consider having a younger professional - preferably in your industry - read through your cover letter to make sure your phrasing doesn't date you.
Be prepared to email your cover letter. Be sure that you are following email etiquette guidelines when you email your cover letters.
Resume tips for older workers with skills to spare
Your age is no match for your experience. This is how to put your relevancy front and center when writing your resume.
Your resume should tout your skills, not your age.
If you’re among the generation of older workers approaching 50 or older, you have so much value to bring to prospective employers—experience, hard skills, a been-there-done-that track record of industry know-how. So it’s a bit ironic that all your expertise could wind up working against you when you’re looking for a job.
By structuring your resume strategically, you can combat ageism in your job search and showcase the qualifications that are most relevant to the job you’re seeking, says Kim Isaacs, executive resume writer and resume expert.
For instance, think twice before leading with “decades of experience” on your resume. That’s a career red flag that might signal to employers that you’re outdated or overqualified, when, in fact, you’re exactly who they’re looking to hire.
“Older workers tend to have a boatload of experience—often in many different functional areas,” Isaacs says, “so the challenge is to whittle the resume content down to what employers would find most valuable.”
Ready to put together a resume that’s anything but old-school? Follow these pro tips:
Spend time on the summary
“The career summary section is where an older worker can shine—your accomplishments are usually strong and there’s a level of expertise that younger workers haven’t reached yet,” says Isaacs. (Notice it’s called a summary and not an objective—that’s so 1980s!)
Keep in mind that you don’t want to sound out of touch. Ditch industry jargon that might not be obvious to recruiters who may very well be younger than you. Also, it’s OK to say “experienced,” but don’t say “over 25 years of experience.”
Don’t fudge the format
Though you may hear people suggest that a functional resume style is ideal for older workers, don’t fall for it. “I never recommend using a functional resume,” says Isaacs. “This type of format is typically used by job seekers trying to hide something, and employers know that so they start looking for potential issues as soon as they start reading.”
Also worth noting: Functional resumes do not perform well in applicant tracking systems.
Isaacs suggests sticking with the traditional reverse chronological format. As long as yours is visually distinctive, concise, and to the point, there’s no need to mess with what works.
Tweak as you go
Take the time to tailor your resume each time you apply for a job, says Susan Weinstock, vice president of financial resilience at AARP. “It’s time-consuming but worth it,” she says. “For example, make sure you include keywords from the job description in your resume.” This will help you stand out to recruiters and hiring managers who are looking for a very specific skill set, not to mention that it will make your resume more discoverable by search engines and software.
Go back, but not too far back
The question most people have is how far back should they go? Employers are most interested in what you’ve done recently, says Isaacs, but there’s nothing wrong with sharing older career milestones.
“Focus on accomplishments from the last 15 years or so, but still provide brief highlights of earlier positions,” she recommends. Tip: Group older positions together in a brief Early Career section, and omit the dates.
Focus on growth and success
No matter what your age, the best way to market yourself is to showcase your best attributes and accomplishments—especially the ones that align with the job you’re vying for.
Your aim should be to keep the resume focused on the job target and downplay irrelevant information, says Isaacs. This can be especially tricky if you’ve gone through a career change (or two) over the course of your work life. So even if you went from the nursing profession to the hospitality industry, Isaacs says to try and highlight skills developed in one career that are transferable to another career.
Also important is to show how you’ve developed and improved throughout your career by including accomplishments that reflect professional growth. “If you’ve been promoted, include previous job titles as well as higher ones so the history of advancement is clear,” says Isaacs.
Hide your age (sort of)
Although you should never lie on your resume, you don’t have to make it glaringly obvious that you went to college during the Reagan administration. The way around that is to just list your schools and degrees.
“Remove graduation or school dates, since some employment algorithms will screen out employees over a certain age—and they can do that by looking at graduation dates,” says Weinstock.
Address the tech elephant in the room
Just because you’re over 50 doesn’t mean you lack technology skills, but that stereotype does exist, and you have to overcome it—especially for positions that require some digital savvy. “In your resume and cover letter, talk about the technology you use and know well that is relevant to your field,” says Weinstock.
Isaacs adds that including recent training completed, conferences attended, and involvement in professional organizations can be strong indicators that you’ve continued to learn and develop new skills. Even better? “See if your tech skills can be woven into an accomplishment to show how the technology was used to achieve a desirable result,” says Isaacs.
Also, go ahead and list your technology prowess in the skills section of your resume, but steer clear of mentioning anything that’s outdated. Say “Word 2016,” not “Word 2002,” for instance.
Looking for a simple way to get your resume noticed? Join Monster today. As a member, you can upload up to five versions of your resume. Every day, recruiters search Monster to find qualified candidates for top jobs. (Hint: That’s you.)