Dear Sam: I have more than 30 years of human resources experience with a Fortune 500 company. I retired and moved on to a position with a nonprofit trade association. I was very successful, however, due to a difference of opinion with my employer, I resigned from that position. Since then, over the course of the past two years, I have been trying to get back into nonprofit trade association management without much luck. Since I’m applying for association management positions should I forget about mentioning my 30 years of HR experience? How should I frame my reason for leaving my last employer? – Tom
Dear Tom: I’m so sorry to hear of the lack of response you have seen during your search. There are a number of strategies you can employ as a seasoned professional to avoid unnecessarily aging your candidacy, while minimizing potentially disqualifying factors that you may or may not have considered. One of which however, which I feel is absolutely one of the main reasons your resumes are not generating results, is that you have removed all dates of employment. Sure to tell a story far worse than reality, this is a huge ‘no-no’ in resume writing. Instead, why not build a substantial qualifications summary and then highlight key achievements, allowing you to push most of your employment dates to page two of your resume? Other tips that might help improve the effectiveness of your resumes include:
Present only the relevant amount of experience —
When reviewing your career, remember that hiring managers are much more interested in what you have done recently, so including information from 20 or 30 years ago may do more harm than good. Be sure to focus on the last 15 or so years of your career, particularly if you are applying for a position that does not necessitate more experience. As you are seeking a senior-level role, you certainly can bring in earlier experiences, but be careful how far back you date your candidacy. Early experiences (I really start evaluating the cost-benefit of including a candidate’s experience when I start exploring work in the 1990s) can be bylined. In this strategy, you could date experiences from titles you held during the past two decades while making only a brief mention of earlier positions without dates.
Consider the combination resume format —
As you are a senior executive it is likely that the hiring manager will be looking for a seasoned candidate expected to have 20+ years of experience. But, because I don’t know when you worked where, or when you held each title (as you have omitted that key data from your resume), you may have to use the combination resume format. Say your earlier experience is difficult to break into pieces as you held one title for a considerable amount of time, then the combination format could help you present highlights of your career before the professional experience section would be presented. Therefore this format allows you the opportunity to focus the reader’s attention on your qualifiers (type of experience) vs. potential disqualifiers (dates of experience).
Incorporate keywords and update jargon —
You will also want to make sure the jargon used within your resume is up-to-date with today’s keywords in the nonprofit field. Antiquated or unrelated terms and even job titles can serve to immediately disqualify a candidate. Certainly, if you found your HR background a major plus in your recent role, then you would not want to omit it, nor could you when presenting an accurate picture of your background. I recommend reviewing all of your experiences and ensuring you are selling the transferability of the functions you performed in terms that resonate with your new target audience.
Revitalize your resume format —
If you are using a resume format you used in the 80s or 90s it will not only show your age but not utilize some of the key strategies of a 21st-century job search. Be sure your resume is in line with today’s formatting standards, opening with a qualifications summary not an objective statement, focusing on accomplishments not responsibilities, and utilizing an engaging style of action-oriented content.
As for your question about how to frame your reason for leaving your last employer, this, of course, will not come into play until your interview. At that point, honesty is always the best policy, but be sure to steer away from any negativity. Instead, focus on what the experience taught you about what you want in your next nonprofit engagement and employer, and of course, how the employer in front of you fits the bill.
With a review of these tips to “modernize” your resume, your experience will shine and potential disqualifiers related to your fears of aging your candidacy will be removed from your resume. I wish you great success!