Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Age Discrimination in Engineering

Age discrimination, although never stated directly, is a problem for many job seekers and is a particular problem in the engineering field. Can you offer some advice on what to say in a resume so it conveys experience without emphasizing age?

Dates on your resume give clues to the reader as to how old you might be. As a rule of thumb, you're not expected to go back more than 10 years on your resume, however, you can if it's to your benefit.

To help you figure out how far back to go, consider these two things:
1. How relevant your earliest positions are to your job objective; and
2. How old you want to appear on your resume.

Age discrimination is illegal but, like it or not, employers usually try to figure out your age using the dates you give. Most employers have an age range they consider to be ideal for a particular job, based on salary expectations, skill level, ability to supervise or be supervised, and amount of experience needed (mind you, age discrimination works both ways -- too old and too young). A well written resume uses dates to lead the employer to deduce that you are at least the ideal age for the job you're after, regardless of your actual age.

To understand how dates on your resume make an impression about your age, use the following formula:
x years of experience + 20 = y years old

Translation: Subtract the earliest date on your resume from today's date (using years only, no months). Add that number of years to 20(as a ballpark figure for how old you might have been when your experience started) to get a total of "y." That means you are at least y years old.

A case in point:

Ted, 43 years old, is applying for a job as a software engineer. He thinks employers are probably looking for a professional in his early 30s -- a go-getter who will work long hours without expecting as high a salary as someone who has been in the field for many years.

To present himself in his resume as the ideal candidate, Ted decides to go back only 10 years in his work history (since the reader will most likely take 20 years old as a starting point, add the 10 years of work experience shown in his resume, and arrive at the conclusion that Ted is at least 30 years old). Likewise, he states his degree but does not give his graduation date since it would give away his age.

The dates on his resume are all honest, they just don't tell all. In the interview he will have the opportunity to sell himself with his enthusiasm, professional manner, and appropriate salary request -- thereby fulfilling the employer's expectations of the ideal candidate.

On the flip side of the coin, what if you're starting out in your career and don't have a lot of experience, but you do have enthusiasm, smarts, and a willingness to learn? How can you play up what you have accomplished (even if it was from a non-engineering job)?

Use the formula we just talked about to maximize your experience and make yourself look more mature than your actual age. Let me tell you about a job seeker with exactly that situation.

For example: Sam is a new grad who has worked in his dad's hardware business all through high school and college. He's a remarkable achiever and is ready for more responsibility in the workforce than most his age. He applies for a position as project manager, knowing that if he can just get his foot in the door he can convince the owner he can handle the job.

He decides that the employer is probably expecting to hire someone in his late 20s. So on his resume, Sam goes back in his work history eight years to when he started working for his dad in low level positions, and shows his progression over the proceeding years. He states that he has a degree but does not give the date since it might indicate that he is only 22.

Everything on Sam's resume honestly paints the picture of someone who has the experience and maturity of a 30 year-old without ever saying his age.

By the way, dates in your Education section are optional. List them if they make you "look" the right age for the job. Delete them if they lead the reader to deduce that you are older or younger than you wish.

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