How to Beat Tech Ageism with a Few Résumé Changes

Ageism exists; there’s no getting around that harsh fact. Even job ads on social media are biased against older tech pros. It sometimes feels dire, but you can still control that age-based bias with a few résumé tweaks.

Stop Bragging

You know what’s cooler than a two-page résumé? A one-page résumé.

Look, your long-tail job history is awesome. Your experience is valuable. Nobody is debating these things. But a hiring manager may not want to hear about it.

Instead of being thorough all the time, craft your résumé for the job you’re seeking. If it’s a senior-level engineering role, perhaps the longer history will prove attractive to a hiring manager. If the role is more ‘junior’ level, maybe your last two or three jobs is enough to make the list.

Pay attention to the job requirements. You may have 20 years experience, but the job asks for 5-7 years… so maybe just discuss your last decade on the ‘ol résumé. Overwhelming a hiring manager is a great way to have your résumé deleted.

Ageism Fellow Kids

Your Résumé Should Reflect Current Tech

Maybe that database architecture you worked on in 2011 really was the best there ever was. And hey, maybe it deserves to make a comeback. But nobody is going to bring it back, and you need to stop trying to make it a thing.

If you have experience with older frameworks, languages, or tech… drop them from your résumé. Focus more on the things you know that companies are using right now. More to the point, craft your résumé to hone in on tech listed in the job description.

Your skills matter most, and discussing that random-but-great thing you were enamored with all those years ago on your résumé will only highlight your age, not experience. Be contextual; the more you can show proficiency with tech in use today, the more valuable those years of mastering a lost art will seem.

Creed Bratton Ageism Tech Dice
Don’t make yourself seem old, but don’t go full Creed Bratton, either.

Prove Your Worth

It’s great that you were at your last job for six years, working on an Android app, but how can a hiring manager know what you’re really capable of?

You need some examples of what you can do. If possible, create and display projects that directly relate to the skills in the job listing you’re targeting. GitHub Gists are a great way to publish code snippets and light projects without maintaining a repo, which is perfect for this use-case.

Companies publishing apps will also want someone who is familiar with how the App Store and/or Google Play work, so publishing even the simplest app can be a good way to showcase your follow-through. Similarly, if the app can be open-source, hosting a repo on GitHub shows your willingness to collaborate and share info – two great soft skills for your résumé.

Bonus: Craft Your Cover Letter

Most companies want you to submit a cover letter. That’s a sensational way to tell a hiring manager what you want and what you can offer, in your own words.

You can distill your résumé to fit the job description, but you can’t hide from social media and LinkedIn. A cover letter is a great place to mention your expansive experience while alleviating concerns you may be overqualified. If you’ve got 15 years in the trenches, but really just want to simplify life and take a junior dev role, tell them! A good hiring manager will appreciate the honesty, and an experienced hand helping to guide a junior team may be just what the company is looking for.

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21 Responses to “How to Beat Tech Ageism with a Few Résumé Changes”

  1. I’m 57 and have faced ageism many times in the last few years. In my experiences dealing with the hiring processes, it was a numbers game. I had to find the hiring manager that did not care about my age. It also helped getting rid of the gray hair and gray beard, losing weight and looking as fit as possible and gettting a more modern hairstyle with the hair I have left.

    With regards to the resume, this post makes some great points. I got rid of anything older than 10-15 years, but what got me lots of interviews was something called the T-form cover letter. I put a two column table in my Word doc cover letter where the main job requirements are placed in the left column and how I met or exceeded that on the right side. This served as a fast screen for the HR or recruiter folks and in most cases I ended up with a face to face interview after the initial phone screen.

    It’s very difficult to overcome this ageism we see these days, but it can be done. It just takes longer than it did in my 30s and early 40s.

    Last thing I’ll mention here would be to focus on learning skills that are in such high demand that companies have little choice except to hire anyone that can do the job. For example, earning a Masters in cyber security while working as a network or system administrator might lead to more stability or longer term employment.

    Looking forward to all the great comments on this topic to come.

  2. Chris McKeever

    I’ve been noticing this in my most recent job search. I’m not getting interviews for jobs I could do in my sleep.

    One thing I’ve done is drop the dates off of my degrees. I got my bachelor’s in ’84 and my masters’ in ’88, which probably sounds like the paleolithic age to the typical millenial/GenX recruiter. I still list the degrees–I just don’t list the years I got them.

  3. the problem with retraining is that when you reach a certain age you have a “life”. From age 45-50(2001 to 2006) I got a “Grad Cert in Information Tech” which was 8 classes in Oracle , C+, VB.net, , Javascript etc.(while working 50+ /hr weeks and being an IT adjunct 2 nights a week) Was I supposed to do the same in 2011 to 2016 with 2 kids in high school /college(needing to see about half their activities) all the time holding a 50 hr a week job? Luckily I am out at 63 and working 20 hrs/week install/support home IT for seniors(which I guess I am). Sadly, the h1B have a DNA of working all the time, many childless, and not being involved in community at all. It is making an IT career(which I did from 78 to 2018) not much fun

  4. There are a few good points in the article but the real problem isn’t the resume IMO. I have refactored my resume and it has gotten me many interviews. My biggest crutch in the process is when I am face to face with the CTO. In all 4 of the interviews I have had over the last several weeks, every CTO has been my junior by at least 10 years and a couple of times it was more like 20 years. It is very difficult to hide your experience and seasoning when interviewing in person. It seemed as though all of the CTOs were a bit intimidating hiring someone who reported to them who had more knowledge and experience than they did. I believe it comes down to one thing: persistence. You need to do some of the adjustments the author has suggested above to get approved by the gatekeepers for the company. After that, you have to just “hope” the actual decision makers can appreciate your pedigree and experience and aren’t intimated by it. Just keep going and try not to get discouraged (it is hard I admit) because there are companies that will appreciate what you bring to the table, it just takes longer to find them.

  5. This article is disingenuous.

    Resume tweaking and paring can get you more interviews, nothing more. Ageism in tech hiring is the rule, not the exception. Ageism in hiring form all positions except for upper management is rampant. In states where employment is “at will” and without contracts, no excuse is needed to hire or fire, and it is very hard to show age discrimination that violates Federal law.

    Once past middle age, it becomes harder to conceal physical signs of age. It cannot overcome subconscious bias against age by the interviewer or skepticism about ability.

    Interviewers can ask questions that indirectly indicate your age. AN interviewer can ask quaetions that don;t relate n interviewer from legally asking questions about details of your first job that indicate your age indirectly, because tech has a known history.

    The most common (and transparent) excuse used to weed out older candidates who make it to an interview is “over-qualification”. The next most common is that they don’t think that the work will be interesting enough for you. The third is that they don’t think that you can keep up with new tech.

    I was never rejected as overqualified (even when I was) before I was 40. It became the predominant excuse as I approached 60. I never left a job because I was bored. I was usually the one in those organizations chosen to clean up the tech they had and deploy new tech. I also noticed that the number of highly qualified and productive employees in tech jobs declined quickly so that few remained after age 55, the excuse being that subjective “performance review” ratings had declined. The replacement hires rarely performed a the same level of effectiveness; they cost less.

    Those not in tech jobs or upper management didn’t reflect the general population, but didn’t decline nearly as quickly as in tech until very closer to retirement age, but the same excuse and method was used to “justify” their being terminated, and the senior management was older by up to 15 years than the oldest non-management employee.

  6. This article is disingenuous.

    Resume tweaking and paring can get you more interviews, nothing more. Ageism in tech hiring is the rule, not the exception. Ageism in hiring form all positions except for upper management is rampant. In states where employment is “at will” and without contracts, no excuse is needed to hire or fire, and it is very hard to show age discrimination that violates Federal law.

    Once past middle age, it becomes harder to conceal physical signs of age. It cannot overcome subconscious bias against age by the interviewer or skepticism about ability.

    Interviewers can ask questions that indirectly indicate your age. An interviewer can ask questions that don’t relate to the job such as what tech you used on a previous job. Tech has a known history.

    The most common (and transparent) excuse used to weed out older candidates who make it to an interview is “over-qualification”. The next most common is that they don’t think that the work will be interesting enough for you. The third is that they don’t think that you can keep up with new tech.

    I was never rejected as overqualified (even when I was) before I was 40. It became the predominant excuse as I approached 60. I never left a job because I was bored. I was usually the one in those organizations chosen to clean up the tech they had and deploy new tech. I also noticed that the number of highly qualified and productive employees in tech jobs declined quickly so that few remained after age 55, the excuse being that subjective “performance review” ratings had declined. The replacement hires rarely performed a the same level of effectiveness; they cost less.

    Those not in tech jobs or upper management didn’t reflect the general population, but didn’t decline nearly as quickly as in tech until very closer to retirement age, but the same excuse and method was used to “justify” their being terminated, and the senior management was older by up to 15 years than the oldest non-management employee.

    • What you said is very true and it’s far more difficult to get tech jobs from mid to late 40s on. Like i said in my earlier comment, it’s a numbers game with finding a company and a hiring manager that doesn’t care about age or even appearance. When I see what looks like a high school class as members of the team that I would be working on, I know there is no chance at landing the job and I wouldn’t want it anyway. I’m very thankful to have found a company that does not discriminate coupled with a hiring manager who was confident in his skills that gave me a chance. I must have had ten face to face interviews before landing here. Companies are out there, it just takes a lot longer for older workers.

    • Hi Jesse,

      Your 35 year career is very valuable. My guess is you haven’t been at the same position for the entire tenure, correct? If that is the case, break down your different positions over the last 10-15 yrs. if possible and then for other positions before that, have a line item for the other earlier positions but don’t put dates. That way it will show all of your actual tenure and also show your trajectory in the company which is another very valuable visual. I had to do the same myself with my resume. Hope that helps a bit bud.

  7. Really Nate? You are not really helping here as you are in the age category that is ‘assuming’ the tech industry. Your counterparts have the attitude that anybody over 40 is OLD and useless and should retire to make jobs for them. Yet the companies that adopt this ‘culture’ do terribly, have financial issues, employee issues and so on.
    I too experienced this unknowingly when I attempted to enter the tech job market. I found the ageism, the culture, the attitude of the younger recruiters rampant and obvious. They didn’t treat me as an applicant as much as their father. Uncomfortable.
    And I had interviews with AWS, MS, Google, and Skype interviews for positions all over the country. Those were based on my experience, and I did some of those ‘tricks’ in your article to get those interviews. But sadly I did not fit the culture.
    My impression of the younger workforce and employers is that older is ok for upper management, if available, but not for techs or coders, because the younger group know-it-all and don’t need our advice.
    So I consulted an MSP that was only 7 years in for a few months on contract (in a Los Angeles tech area) and found they had many of the issues we discussed here. But that was a good experience for me, as I could use my 17 years of running an MSP.
    Sadly I do not see an uptick in any hiring of any older, highly qualified individuals as the prevailing attitude is not going to change.
    So, I restarted my MSP business instead. Fulfilled in the work area, get to use my experience in business and tech, and avoid working with predisposed stupidly influenced millennials. But I’ve found some great ones too.
    If you can’t beat ’em, hire ’em. 🙂

    Good luck to all my age related counterparts, its not ageism, its discrimination.

  8. margarets

    This is all very generic jobsearch advice.

    And misguided. Sure, you can fiddle with your resume to seem younger, on paper, to a prospective employer, but at the interview the jig will be up. No matter how well you age, you can’t pass for 30 when you are actually 50. And if the employer does not want an older worker, they will not hire one. Same as they don’t hire people from other marginalized groups if they don’t want to. Other groups have been told for years to perfect themselves in every way possible, to essentially make up for whatever characteristic is the basis for discrimination against them. For the most part, it doesn’t get them anywhere.

    Ageism is probably one of the most unconscious of the biases. I’ve been told to my face by people *older than I am* that my age will be an issue in getting hired. I’m sure older managers have passed on their own age-peers in faviour of younger applicants, despite qualifications, because they don’t see *themselves* as being older. They really think they fit in with people 20 years younger.

    I really don’t know what the solution is. How can people work until 70 if they can’t get hired after 40? How can anyone save enough from 25-40 to cover 30-40 years of retirement/under-employment? The system is broken.

    • I feel your pain and you are spot on. I have had 4 job interview processes over the last 4 months that have gone to the final stage and I lost out to a younger candidate in every situation and it had nothing to do with qualifications, energy, looking fit or attitude. It was age only. I just want to tell you there ARE companies that appreciate pedigree, seasoning and life experience. It is just harder to find them. I am surprised that people older than you are conveying those messages to you. That is not only unprofessional, it is also a facade in their minds if they think they are without judgement due to there age. Experienced professionals in their 40s and 50s have 25-35 years of huge contributions to give in our society and we need to fight back on this terrible unethical trend.

  9. This is pure victim blaming garbage. It took enforceable laws to get the “Irish need not apply” signs removed, and even worse for minorities of color. Laws must be enforced, and the country needs to know this is a real civil rights issue, not some patronizing lecture about resume tweaking.

  10. The only way to beat ageism in tech is to have an exit plan into another career. I know about this all to well. When my agent tells me the interview went perfectly well but the funding fell thru for an international bank that’s a red flag. I could go on with stories of the interviews that I’ve had without any negative feedback, just some excuse why I didn’t get selected. Protect yourself and get into another line of work. The last two companies I worked for offshored development to Poland and China of all places.

    • margarets

      Thing is, this happens in all fields. Even nursing, which you would think would be the one safe haven for middle-aged women, has an ageism problem. They squeeze out the older, better-paid nurses so they can hire younger ones on temporary contracts at lower pay.

  11. davidicus

    Beat tech ageism? With resume tweaks?! Really, Nate?!?
    I think I’m done clicking on Dice articles.
    I keep thinking of China, who values age over youth. Yay, right? But, America’s the opposite. How do you change a country’s entire mindset? No chance. Not even with a HUNDRED resume changes 😉

  12. Nate,

    Out of curiosity, how old are you? Have you actually been through any situations stated above by people in the industry or are you just a writer gathering blog information? Please don’t give advice to anyone unless you have walked in their shoes.