How Boomers can get more bang out of their resume and cover letter

Posted October 13, 2011, by Josie Chun

Don’t let your resume date you as a dinosaur! Gone are the days when resumes were just a dry list of duties for every job you’ve ever had. If you want to be a contender in these competitive times, you have to modernise the way you approach companies so they see you for the dynamic go-getter you are – and then watch the interview requests roll in!

Key resume guidelines

Resume styles have changed over the years, with the emphasis now on actions and outcomes, achievements (tangible and preferably quantifiable), strengths and points of differentiation. The style needs to be succinct and punchy.

Rather than just listing your daily duties, outline various actions you took in your previous work and what their outcomes were, how you made a difference, how you met (or exceeded) targets and overcame specific challenges to create value for your employer. Maybe you managed various projects, created a new training program or wrote the company newsletter. It is especially good if you can quantify your achievements with things like increases in revenue, sales leads, customer database or website traffic, or reductions in costs or production time.

Don’t forget that even if you have worked in one job or one industry for some time, you will have developed many skills that are transferable and relevant to other jobs. This can also apply to other life skills you may have acquired outside of the job – any parent will have expertise in multi-tasking, time management and mediation! 

Keep it age neutral

Mature-age job seekers should ensure that their resume is age neutral by eliminating dates such as graduation dates and birth dates, which may indicate your age profile and leave you open to age discrimination, advises Phil Hatchard of Adage – a website which caters to mature-age job seekers and mature age-friendly employers.

Steve Gunther of 2discover, a recruitment firm committed to placing mature-age workers, concurs and offers the following general advice: ‘Remove anything like date of birth or whether you are married with three kids, and don’t have a 10-page resume that outlines every job you’ve had in the past 30 years. You should only include the past 10 to 15 years (depending on relevance) and then simply list your roles prior to that. Keep things succinct and to-the-point, and use bullet points as opposed to long-winded paragraphs.’

A word about keywords

Keep in mind that nowadays, many organisations are storing resumes on keyword-searchable databases and then searching those databases for key terms to quickly find resumes that contain the job-specific words they’re looking for. Even if you don’t know exactly what those words are, you can still make an educated guess.

As a general principle, try to use keywords that relate to the skills and experience the employer is looking for in a candidate. These can be job- or industry-specific skills or terms, job titles, technical terms (such as the name of the software you’ve used), industry buzzwords, formal qualifications, or the names of relevant products and services.

One of your best sources of keywords are job ads, especially the specific terms used in the ad for the job you’re applying for, as well as ads for similar positions. If the job ad has stated that they’re looking for someone with project management and team-building skills, be sure to specify those amongst your other skills and experiences (and back it up with concrete examples from your past). 

Career objective or professional summary

It is becoming increasingly common to sum up your experience, professional profile, career aspirations or who you are as a person in a succinct, punchy paragraph at the beginning of your resume. This gives the person reading your resume an immediate overview of you as a person and is a good opportunity for you to grab their attention. This may need to be tailored to meet the focus of the specific job you’re applying for. 

Resume tips

  • Tailor and tweak your resume for each different job so it highlights the skills and experiences which are most relevant to the role you’re applying for.
  • Keep it succinct and punchy, and use dynamic action words.
  • Tie your actions in to tangible outcomes.
  • In general, restrict your list of previous jobs to the past 10 to 15 years (unless preceding ones have been relevant).
  • Include a career objective or summary.
  • Use keywords specific to the job or industry.
  • Include all your personal details at the beginning – your name, address, home and telephone numbers, and email address.
  • Do not include your birth date, education/graduation dates or marital status.
  • Ensure that your resume is easy to read – use bullet points, don’t use too small a font, and use bold or italics where appropriate (e.g. for headings or emphasis).
  • Ensure that the formatting doesn’t get changed when you send it as an email attachment – try sending it to friends to test it out.
  • Most importantly, ensure that there are no typos or spelling errors! Always proofread, and get someone else to double-check.

Cover letter tips

The cover letter (or email) can often be more important than the resume for capturing an employer’s interest – so use it as an opportunity to make an impact.

‘The cover letter can be invaluable as it gives you the opportunity to establish why this role appeals to you, why you want to work for that particular organisation, and outline skills that are relevant to the job advertisement/description. Points of differentiation become very important – what sets you apart, what you can bring to the table and what value-add you will bring to the role and company,’ says Gunther.

Be sure to address the selection criteria point by point, demonstrating how you satisfy the criteria and match each requirement. Mirror the job ad to show that you are perfect for the role, and explain why you want to work for that particular company.

If you are an older worker who has been in the same job or company for many years, emphasise the transferability of the many skills you have acquired. If you have had a variety of different jobs, use this to demonstrate your adaptability, flexibility and ability to learn new systems and structures.

Stress your interpersonal skills and your ability to work with people of all ages. Most importantly, try to inject some personality and enthusiasm into the cover letter so the interviewer feels compelled to call you in for a meeting.

Related article: Interview tips for mature-age workers

Josie Chun

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