When preparing “mature” job seekers for their job search journey, one of the most challenging conversations I have is a discussion around how to make themselves appear younger to the hiring community. I certainly have my share of recommended practices and tips, but that is not the tough part. The tough part is seeing the job seekers trying to whittle down their work experience into a 15-year time-frame so as not to appear “old.” But does this indicate to older job seekers that they should hide part of who they are when applying for a job? Are job seekers not the sum of their total work experience?

In coaching conversations, I see so many older workers wrestle with the desire to continue to work but feel they are not needed or wanted in the workplace. I can find someone younger and cheaper to do the job, some employers might say. But is that the case? When we see someone successful, we often focus on their achievements, not the work it took to get them there. It is like that with work experience; we want what the experience can do for our company, but we do not want to value all a person has gone through to acquire it. And in some ways, we throw that experience away, thinking there is a microwave version somewhere out there.

I get that as time passes, skills may become obsolete. Still, some skills that do not become obsolete are the backbone of sustaining an organization, such as effectively communicating, problem-solving, leading, inspiring, team building, or mentoring. Even if earlier work experience becomes outdated, mature workers can evolve, adjust, and still have significant achievements. Many of these workers had to demonstrate flexibility by shifting directions, learning new skills multiple times through their work-life, all while remaining committed and loyal.  

Wouldn’t your interview be better if the whole person showed up? They can focus on highlighting their experiences instead of trying to answer as not to appear old. Instead of telling people to leave half of their work experience off their resume, maybe we should:

  1. Embrace the total person – every experience, whether old or currently trending, holds some value. The whole person is what allows an employee to accomplish that next task quicker, cheaper, or solve a problem based on the abundant experience they bring.
  2. Recognize the real value of extended work experience – it could be well worth the investment to pay for the experience that someone has accumulated over a lifetime. Cheaper is not always better.
  3. Recognize that this is a golden opportunity to hire a person who is engaged, focused on making a difference, knows what makes them happy and fulfilled, and could be a great mentor.
  4. Embrace age as a part of your diversity and inclusion strategy.
  5. Use flexible schedules and alternate work arrangements, such as job sharing, to entice older workers to remain in the workforce and feel wanted.

I learned valuable lessons early in my career. I learned how to pick my battles, lead an employee resource group, and that people’s perception is their reality. Those learning experiences continue to serve me well. Instead of training older job seekers how to age proof their resume, why not come up with ways to allow them to showcase their total work experience?

Shaunna Tyus, SPHR, SHRM-SCP is a human resources recruitment and retention consultant specializing in helping organizations create a workplace culture that results in increased employee happiness, productivity, and retention.