Dear Sam: I am writing in regards to my mother. She is currently 56 years old, was laid off, and has been unemployed for more than two years now. She has been consistently applying to jobs online and in person, but her searches have yielded no results; I think it’s been almost a year since she’s even had an interview. Since she is having the worst luck with her search, I can’t help but wonder if the bad luck is because of her age or her resume. I’ve told her that her resume is too wordy, but I’d like an expert opinion. Also, she “adjusted” the time frame of her last job out of fear of the unemployment gap on her resume. – Nicole

Dear Nicole: I love that you wrote in to help your mom! Let’s dig into her resume and figure out what might be happening.

I can see she is seeking administrative assistant roles, and her resume opens with that heading; that’s perfect. The “Professional Skills” summary, which follows seems to steer a little away from a pure administrative assistant skill set with some of the functions highlighted, but I do not think anything in this keyword summary is doing her any harm. She may, however, want to think about adding more of a narrative review of her candidacy in this top section of her resume, followed by the core skill list she presents already. A summary would help tell a “story” of her candidacy a little more than solely highlighting skills that would likely be present for any administrative assistant applying for the job.

When the resume gets to the “Experience” section, I can see where a reader may have difficulty discerning the value your mom has added in her past engagements. Not because she hasn’t contributed value, but simply because there are only three highlighted bullet points where one would expect to see critical contributions or achievements. Her most recent position of 12 years seems far more complicated than one might assume an administrative assistant role to be. She should focus on the differentiating factors of this role versus many other administrative functions.

Perhaps by pulling out some of those differentiating factors, she will be able to highlight her value more prominently. For instance, one would never assume your mom supervised 25 other administrative assistants! She should know that this is not normal or expected! Leadership experience should be highlighted much more prominently; currently, it is buried in the middle of a long paragraph of information. Likewise, there are many other great nuggets of information that are incredibly impressive, yet the items she has chosen to highlight are not her most remarkable qualifications or experiences.

From your mom’s resume, one would never be able to calculate her age. As she has only presented experience back through 2000, one would assume she is in her 40s. Hiring managers expect to see about 10 to 15 years of experience on a resume, so she could even trim further if she wanted. Based on her chronology, however—given she has only held three roles over that timeframe—I would recommend at least presenting back to 2003 to collect two of her career positions. If there is particular value in offering her earlier experience—which occurred between 2000 and 2003—I would not be opposed to doing so, given it only accounts for 3 years.

Your mom should also note what she is doing at college. In her “Education” section, she states, “Attending Community College for Business Administration.” This does not allow an employer to understand whether she is pursuing an associate’s degree or considering transferring to a four-year college and completing a bachelor’s degree. Both could be important in further differentiating her from the competition.

The great news is that your mom’s resume is not optimized, so the lack of response in her job search is not a reflection of the strength of her candidacy. Once the resume is revamped—to apply best practices and highlight her “value”—I am confident she will start to see responses. Best of luck to both of you.