This week, much of our attention has been consumed by the ongoing discussion about discrimination and bias in the United States. An important step we can all take is to present ourselves in ways that reduce opportunities for bias or discrimination against us when we seek new employment.
We can use our resumes to de-emphasize age, ethnicity and other factors, and emphasize our accomplishments. Here are 4 steps we can take now:
- Avoid disclosing our age,
- Eliminate references that suggest our religious affiliation or ethnicity,
- De-emphasize employment gaps to reduce gender bias and other forms of discrimination, and
- Focus on positives rather than illness or disabilities.
Chances are that the job market will never be perfectly fair to everyone, even if fair employment policies and laws are implemented and followed rigorously, so we should take steps on our own to minimize conscious or unconscious bias.
Avoid disclosing your age.
Many of my clients in the past 20 years have been over 50 years of age, so this is the most common bias issue I deal with.
An attorney told me yesterday that “ageism is rampant in the job market because employers prefer younger workers.” Age discrimination accounted for more than 21% of the charges the EEOC filed in 2019, according to their website. In fairness, when I asked employers about this issue at a focus group some years ago, I was told “we do not reject candidates based on age. We recruit candidates that have current skills or experience.” The result, in my view, will be the same. Your resume will be rejected if your experience and skills are obsolete.
Another factor that comes into play is that employers cannot readily verify employment that ended more than ten years ago. The organizations I’ve worked in have not retained records for more than seven years. You also cannot count on “institutional memory” to pick up where official company records end. Your former supervisor and colleagues have probably gone to 3 other jobs since you worked with them. Sometimes, you may find them on LinkedIn but a prospective employer won’t go to that length when they verify your old jobs.
Emphasize jobs you have been at during the last ten years and skills you have used in those jobs. For example, a recent client was proud of the work he did as a junior programmer at IBM when he graduated college 30 years ago, and the programming languages he learned and used at that job. Today, he works on Android apps. We wrote about his accomplishments in building and testing mobile apps and included his app building skills. On the other hand, we just listed his role as a junior programmer at IBM with no dates at the bottom of the resume. Also, we did not include his skills in FORTRAN and COBOL on the resume because prospective employers rarely value theses skills anymore. More importantly, the client would reveal his approximate age by including his years of employment at IBM and the skills he used there. The year he completed his college degree is also not on the resume anymore.
Remove obsolete skills and old jobs even if you are not in a technical field. The skills you used in a mailroom 40 years ago are not relevant either, since many aspects of shipping, receiving, document production, and document distribution are automated now.
I’ve used this approach with clients for more than 20 years with good—and sometimes great—results. Recently, one of my clients—an IT project administrator—got a new job through his temp agency the next day. I sent another client with a specialized background his resume last Tuesday. He had at least 2 interviews by Friday.
Avoid references to your religious or ethnic affiliation.
Frequently, I find references to places of worship and religious organizations on resumes job-seekers send me. There is no reason for prospective employers to know your religious affiliation. Most of the time, these entries represent places where job-seekers have volunteered. Employers do value a commitment to community service, I believe. Nonetheless, I recommend only including secular volunteer work on your resume.
You should be proud of your commitment to faith-based and other organizations in your community. We live and work in a diverse world, though, so we do not want our religious, ethnic, or other affiliations to sway employers one way or the other.
De-emphasize employment gaps to reduce bias.
Many positive and negative situations in our lives can lead to gaps in salaried employment. Frequently, we associate gaps in work histories with the career breaks parents take to raise families. Researchers have found that employment gaps in excess of six months result in reducing the chance a job-seeker will be selected for an interview.
I’ve worked with hundreds of job-seekers that have gaps in salaried employment. The vast majority of clients with employment gaps, I’ve observed, were not sitting home watching TV or surfing the Internet. They were volunteering at their child’s school, raising funds for a community program, doing part-time consulting (sometimes informally for little or no pay) for a family member’s business, or caring for children. All of these activities can be considered jobs for resume purposes. An engineer I worked with was thrilled when I showed her that she could fill her five year gap with informal consulting she did for a relative’s start-up business.
We can fill employment gaps honestly even in the most challenging situations to help job-seekers reduce the potential for discrimination.
Avoid the potential for bias due to illness and disabilities.
Another reason job-seekers may have employment gaps is because of illness or disabilities. This could be a more important issue in the wake of our COVID-19 Crisis. Once again, you will probably find activities you can put on your resume, even if you were not receiving a paycheck. If you are doing some form of community organizing—even online—we will probably be able to use it.
We are here as always to review your current resume if you have one and show you what we can do to make it shine for you. You can also start by clicking the link below. Also, take a look at our free report on common resume mistakes that will eliminate you early in the process.