Writing Your First Resume at Fifty-Five Years Old

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Samantha Nolan is a Certified Professional Resume Writer with a graduate degree in Marketing and Communication, and owner of Ladybug Design, a full-service resume writing and interview coaching firm. For more information, call 1-888-9-LADYBUG or visit http://www.ladybug-design.com

Common Faux Pas and Expert Fixes

Dear Sam: I hate to admit it, but at 55 years old I needed to write my first resume. I have worked since the age of 18 and have been employed continuously for the past 30+ years, but I have never really needed to develop a resume. I suppose not needing a resume was a good thing as it meant I was always referred for opportunities by my friends or co-workers, but now having been downsized as a Baby Boomer I find myself in unfamiliar territory.

I created what I thought was a good resume, but having read your columns in recent months, and having put my resume into the market without so much as one response, I'm beginning to realize that my resume is outdated in style and format. Could you give me some tips to help me create an up-to-date resume that can market my candidacy? – Jim

Dear Jim: I know it doesn't make your situation any easier but you certainly are not alone Jim. You would not believe how many people I talk to each week that find themselves needing to write their first resume at an age at which they expected to be planning their retirement. Some people I speak to are frustrated, confused, and sometimes even angry, not to mention feel completely lost as to where to begin when thinking of crafting a resume to present their extensive career.

First, determine what direction you are going to take your career as this plays an absolutely vital role in what direction you must take your resume. If you have not figured this out, it is time to do so, as without that key target you will not know where to aim your resume and its content.

Second, start writing down the basics. Remember that hiring managers will want to know about the last 10-15 years or so of your career, so focus on your most recent roles. Think about your jobs not only in terms of what you did every day, but most importantly, what you did that added value to the company. If you have access to past job descriptions, performance reviews, letters of commendation, or anything else that will help jog your memory, now is the time to use those resources. Start talking to past co-workers, not only to build your job search network, but also to reach out to those that may have very valuable information on what you did that added value to your employer.

Once you have the basics drafted, carefully craft the content and design of your resume, being sure to not fall victim to the often-committed Baby Boomer resume faux pas…

Faux Pas: Don't use an outdated resume format
Be sure to follow best practices techniques in creating a resume that is up-to-date in content, design, and prioritization of information. You will not believe how many resumes I see for seasoned professionals that open with an objective statement and an education section, sections that do little to differentiate their candidacy.

Fix: Do open your resume with a strategically written qualifications summary
Up-to-date resumes open with qualifications summaries, serving as an executive summary of the information contained throughout the remainder of the resume. As a seasoned professional you should have a 2 or maybe even a 3 page resume, making the qualifications summary critical to the 4-7-second screening process. Take the time to make this summary market you well, conveying why a hiring manager cannot afford not to bring you in for an interview.

Faux Pas: Don't present too much information
When reviewing your career, remember that hiring managers are much more interested in what you have done recently, so including information from 20 or 30 years ago will likely do more harm than good. Be sure to focus on the last 10-15 years of your career, particularly if you are applying for a position that does not necessitate more experience.

Fix: Do include early career data if it adds value to your candidacy
There is a technique in resume writing called "bylining." This simply means breaking format at the end of your professional experience section and presenting earlier experience(s) without dates. To do this well you must change the way the information is being presented in order to justify the omission of dates. For example, if you are presenting your career back to 1995 but held a job in the early 1980s that is directly related to your current career target, you may add a statement at the end of your resume akin to: "Additional experience with ABC Company as a Sales Manager." You can elaborate on this statement if you like, perhaps presenting some key accomplishments in the role, but the key is to not present dates. Bylining this early experience allows you, as a candidate, to pull from all your related experience, discuss the benefits of that role elsewhere in your resume and cover letter, provide additional evidence of your qualifications at an interview, and do all of those things without unnecessarily aging your candidacy.

Faux Pas: Don't use the same resume format you used after high school
Think about it, if a resume is unattractive—and it will be if you are using the same format you used previous to the past 5-7 years—it repels readership, however if you have a pleasing aesthetic it compels readership and goes a long way to extending the screening process.

Fix: Do create a compelling design to complement your content
Check out professional resume writing websites like my own for ideas on attractive formatting, being sure to create your own look that doesn't look like an overused Word template available to the masses. The look of your resume says a lot about your candidacy, your attention to detail, and your ability to create an engaging document.

I really wish you much success as you embark on this new chapter in your professional career. I have many samples of resumes I have written available on my ‘Dear Sam' blog, many of which feature candidates not unlike you Jim. Visit www.ladybug-design.com/blog for inspiration!

Would you like ‘Dear Sam' to critique your resume? For a critique, send resume to her.

Samantha Nolan is a Certified Professional Resume Writer and owner of Ladybug Design, a full-service resume-writing firm. Do you have a resume or job search question for Dear Sam? Reach Samantha at dearsam@ladybug-design.com. For more about Sam's resume writing services, visit www.ladybug-design.com or call 614-570-3442 or 1-888-9-LADYBUG (1-888-952-3928).