I turned 65 this year.
Sounds like a milestone, right?
Actually I was feeling about the same as I did at age 25 — OK, maybe a little slower and weaker — until, out of nowhere, the government sent me a Medicare card. The sight of that card shocked me into “old age” for a couple of hours.
Many job seekers — long before they reach Medicare age — feel a similar electric shock when they update their résumés. Often they obsess about potential age bias or simply about looking “too old” to compete for hot jobs.
We can run, but we can’t hide!
I discuss “résumé age” frequently with nervous résumé clients who fear age bias.
Conventional wisdom says you should hide your age by deleting old jobs and graduation dates.
Doing that is perfectly OK, but, personally, I don’t think it protects you from age bias.
Even if you delete graduation dates, anybody with an internet connection can find your age in less than a minute. Worse, deleting graduation dates and old jobs opens up a “black hole” in your chronology, which makes your story less credible. For example, a skeptical interviewer might think, “what else are you be hiding?”
Five ways to look younger on your résumé — without trying to hide your age
You can make yourself look younger by projecting energy and speed. Here are five tips that you can implement today.
Read your résumé out loud, from beginning to end.
How does it sound?
Does your writing sound like ordinary speech that you would say to a person sitting next to you at Starbucks or the local bar?
Congratulations, your writing passed the barstool test!
But if you stumble, stutter, backtrack or hesitate — like just about everyone who tries this exercise — rewrite your text at every stopping point.
“Conversational” writing — not to be confused with a sloppy or casual style — improves everything you write. Your natural writing voice sounds younger and stronger than a pompous (a.k.a. “professional”) résumé voice.
Free bonus: As you read your résumé aloud, you’ll discover hidden typos, grammatical errors and missing words.
2. Shorten everything (easy)
Use shorter words, shorter phrases and shorter paragraphs.
Break blocks of dense of text into bite-size pieces. Inject a break after four repetitions of anything. For example: After four bullet points, switch to something new, like a subheading. After four lines of paragraph text, switch to bullets or a new subheading.
Winston Churchill, a master of the writing craft — right up there with Shakespeare, IMHO — said it best: “Short words are best, and the old words when short are best of all.”
Tip for faster communication on your résumé: The word “use” is 10 times more effective than “utilize.”
3. Use active voice, not passive voice (easy)
For commercial writing — for example, your résumé — recast as many sentences as possible from passive voice to active voice.
Sometimes passive voice is unavoidable, but try to minimize it. Here are two examples:
- Active voice — simple and direct: Mary mailed the letter.
- Passive voice — same meaning, said indirectly with extra words: The letter was mailed by Mary.
4. Use the Hemingway App (easy)
A year ago, I discovered an editing tool that automates my first three points — the barstool test, use of shorter words and sentences, and use of the active voice.
Called the Hemingway App, it simplifies your writing and checks your spelling (useful backup — I don’t trust the Microsoft Word spell check 100%, do you?)
Try the Hemingway App yourself — it’s only $6.99 (www.hemingwayapp.com).
BTW, if $6.99 sounds too pricey, you may already have similar functionality built right into the Microsoft Word spell check tool. It’s the “Readability Statistics” feature. To activate it, go into “Preferences” in Word, choose the “Spelling and Grammar” option and then click the “Show Readability Statistics” box under “Grammar.”
With “Show Readability Statistics” activated, when you complete a spell check you’ll get a window listing, among other things, your document’s word and character counts, as well as the number of sentences per paragraph and a Flesch-Kincaid grade level score.
5. Minimize use of the verb “to be” (highly effective, but requires some thinking)
To project maximum speed and energy — your goal for a résumé — minimize the verb “to be” and all its variations: be, is, am, are, was, were, being and been.”
Example: Instead of writing “The boy was sick,” replace the verb phrase “was sick” with a more descriptive phrase that uses a more specific verb, such as “fainted” or “ached:”
- OK, average: “The boy was sick.”
- Better: “The boy fainted,” or “The boy ached in every muscle.”
Every time you replace “is” or “was” — or any variation of the verb “to be” — you increase writing energy and improve writing precision.
Comment: This tactic — called “E-Prime” — improves everything you write, not just résumés. Unfortunately, E-Prime can slow your writing to a crawl because it forces you to think through every word.
So, next time you update your résumé, remember to update your writing style. Good luck in your search!