Dear Sam: When I graduated from high school (with Honors and a 1,400 SAT score), my family did not have the money to send me to college. So, I joined the Navy and spent six years as a nuclear reactor operator on a submarine. When I left the Navy, I got a job at the local cable TV company as a Senior Microwave and RF Technician. Using tuition reimbursement, I obtained a certificate in Instructional Design and an Associate’s Degree in Technical Writing from a junior college. I then developed and conducted technical training programs for all technical levels of the company, including fiber optics.
After 10 years at the cable company, I secured a job at a major telecommunications firm. I spent 15 years as a Senior Staff Technical Writer and then 7 years as a Documentation Project Manager. I led writing teams that set the standard for technical documentation and received acclaim up to a VP level. Four years ago, 1,250 employees were downsized in a billion-dollar cost-cutting move with our jobs outsourced overseas.
As part of my severance agreement, I was provided with a hiring consultant to help develop an effective resume; however, over the past few years, I have applied for literally hundreds of technical writing and project management jobs with no response. I have also networked with personal connections, LinkedIn connections, and more, all to no avail.
I don’t know if it is automated algorithms that see I only possess a two-year degree or that you can calculate my age of 60 years old if you add my positions together, but something is eliminating me from the screening process.
What does a person like me, with only an Associate’s degree in Technical Writing from a junior college, have to do to get back into the technical industry that I excelled at for almost 40 years? – Anonymous
Dear Anonymous: I am so sorry for your situation, and I can hear the genuine frustration in the tone of your question. It honestly sounds like you were doing all the right things in terms of leveraging known and unknown networking connections to facilitate your search. In addition, if your résumé was developed by a professional, it should be a strategic picture of your background that positions you for what you want to do next.
It sounds like improvement could be made; however, as there should not be a way a hiring manager can add the number of years of experience together from your résumé to calculate your age. Never would we present 40 years of experience on your résumé because that would almost immediately disqualify someone for fear of compensation requirements, of course, the potential ageism factor, and perhaps even just questions about how much longer you will want to work.
Typically a résumé presents the past 10-15 years of a career, but for you, I would recommend just including your last 2 roles totaling 22 years of experience. If you need to pull in earlier career experiences (prior to 22 years ago) to showcase your key qualifications, I would recommend using a combination résumé format to focus on relevant versus recent experience. By using this format, you can still only present the past 22 years of your career and still have the flexibility to highlight earlier experiences without needing to include and date those positions. I sincerely doubt that your associate’s degree is disqualifying you from screening processes. I imagine it is much more likely that you presented yourself as an overqualified candidate, essentially not presenting a competitive picture of your candidacy.
Take another look at your résumé and make sure it does not narrate your entire career story, but instead, truly serves as a strategic picture of what you have done that positions you as a competitive candidate for what you want to do next. Continue leveraging your network and LinkedIn to gain access to hiring influencers and decision-makers, using those relationships to show the value your years of experience can offer, but presenting a resume with a more palatable picture of a competitive candidate for those that don’t know you. I really wish you success.