Dodging the Age (And Any Other Discrimination) Bullet In A Job Search

Employers are not willing to admit it, but discrimination happens all the time during the search for a candidate to fill an open position. Most candidates don’t realize that there are clues that they provide every step of the way to employers that can ‘tip’ off prospective employers about personal attributes.

Sometimes, employers don’t like what they see based on a variety of personal biases, and this can lead to the callous ‘round-filing’ of a résumé that puts your career document at the bottom of the heap or worse yet, in the garbage can. Some employers shrug off dumping of résumés in this fashion by saying, “What? I never received anything from you… sorry…”

This kind of discrimination is difficult to prove indeed.

Recently, I met one-on-one with nearly 50 members at WEC in Vancouver, BC to discuss their résumés, and a common refrain included concerns about their age. Seems that many people, for a wide array of reasons, are finding the card deck stacked against them, and what they didn’t know is that what they are saying in their résumé is what is holding them back from the next level of the screening process.

It takes a little time, but you’ll need to ‘neutralize’ your résumé of those red flags to remove those obstacles. Here are some key tips to take into consideration to help dodge age or any kind of concerns that employers might have in reading your résumé before you are selected for an interview:

1) Beware of the ‘silly’ email address. Got a social email address? Great. Feel free to keep it, but make your job search email address PROFESSIONAL (and remember to check it often if you have to create a new one). Use your name and don’t include numbers that might include your age, what year you were born, or what year you graduated high school. Don’t include any information about your personal interests which can also tip off employers. Keep it professional and simple. And if you have a common name like Sue Smith, then create an email like [email protected]. It’ll make a world of difference on the employer’s perception of your professionalism!

2) Only list up to 15 (no more than 20 years) of work experience. Fifteen years’ experience is actually your sweet spot, so if you can find some kind of ‘break point’ either in a different position within the same employer, or at a different company altogether, then you want to cut off your experience at that job record. And let’s face it, employers aren’t so concerned with what your sales numbers were in 1984, right?

3) Don’t list your graduation year from school. That’s like broadcasting your exact age… although employees who have work experience and are now encore students out there would LOVE to be thought of as newly minted 21-year-old college student!

4) Watch your words. Words like “Seasoned” (an over-used résumé word) and “Mature” are not your friends. Think about it… you want an employer focusing on what you can do, not how long you’ve been doing it.

5) Volunteering / Affiliations can help you… and they can hurt you. Most people who volunteer or belong to organizations carry a great deal of respect for those groups and feel that this specific involvement has helped them or fulfills a desire to contribute to a community. But what if you are proudly volunteering for a political group and the employer reading the résumé sees this notation, and their affinities fall on the exact opposite end of the spectrum?

6) Show traction and career progress by aggressively pursuing professional development.  When you stop being a learner, you’ve left yourself dead in the water.  Show your engagement in your career and industry by taking advantage of the many professional development opportunities out there that can enhance your job-specific knowledge.
Uh oh… there goes your résumé into the round-file!

Résumés are PROFESSIONAL. The usual suspects that can lead to discrimination including factors such as religion, political affiliations, age, race, ethnicity, and gender preference should be kept out of this document… even health! Here’s a specific example: one of my clients volunteered at Lance Armstrong “LiveStrong”, and also at the Susan B. Komen Race for the Cure… both noble causes, right? Well, from an employer standpoint, seeing one listed would be okay, but TWO cancer-related organizations could give them pause… does this mean that the candidate is motivated by a personal bout of cancer? Whoa, thinks the employer. That could be a huge health care liability I don’t want to handle…

…and the résumé is then tossed into the garbage.

The point is that employers make wrongful yet personal assumptions about candidates all the time based on what people tell them in their résumé … these biases are not fair; they are illegal yet extremely difficult to prove.

Keep things out of your résumé that have nothing to do with your ability to the job… unless they are specifically relevant to the job for which you are applying. Why? You never know what an employer is thinking and what might set them off, so keeping groups and organizations that you belong to or volunteer with limited to being RELEVANT to your line of work is your best bet to getting to the next level of the screening process.