A friend of mine shared a copy of the AARP Bulletin with me. It featured an article by the organization’s CEO, Jo Ann Jenkins, on the benefits older workers bring to employers. Jenkins moved to AARP after working in government for 25 years. Most people assume such transitions are impossible. Jenkins argues that this is not true. The number of employees in the workforce who are 50+ is growing despite the fact that some employers still practice age discrimination.
Older workers bring a wide range of benefits to employers. The most obvious is experience. However, employers also note that older workers bring reliability and knowledge. They mentor less experienced employees. Jenkins claims that these benefits outweigh any increased costs. She ends her article with these simple but strong words: “Experience adds value.”
Some employers will always want to hire younger workers. Why? They will work for a lower wage, and they will be easier to manipulate. I often tell clients who are worried about age discrimination that it can work in their favor because it will keep them from working for a bad boss or a company that does not want to pay its employees fairly. Any prospective employee – old or young – should be evaluated on their contribution, not their age.
Some people say always at the end.
Some say always at the beginning.
I say: "Be suspicious of people who say 'always.'" They usually follow rules without having any reason for doing so.
I put education where it does the most to help a client look like a highly qualified candidate. In most cases where a client has relevant experience, education goes last. However, if a candidate has recently received a new degree or certificate that enhances her marketability, why not put that information first? Similarly, most new graduates should have education as the first element on their resume because that is their primary selling point. But this is not always the case. Some new graduates have worked while in school and have relevant experience. In those cases, education should be placed after experience.
My simple rule is: What does the employer want to see? Put those elements first.
Every job posting asks for a combination of experience, knowledge, skill, and education. Another way to think about this is "weight." The employer wants to know that you can carry the load of a given job. For example, an entry level job will ask for less weight than one that looks for 3-5 years experience or a background supervising or training employees. In writing your resume or presenting yourself at an interview, you need to be able to show how and why you are qualified to do the job. Look carefully at job posts for positions you are seeking and identify the kind of weight the employer is seeking. Show that you can carry the load.
I was helping a recent graduate today, and she made the mistake many of her peers make by saying, "I have no experience." It is important to treat professional skills and knowledge learned in school as something an employer needs. Avoid referring to classes or teacher, which only underscores that you were a student. Instead, in both your resume and during interviews, present skills and knowledge as qualities that you can apply on the job. If you're stuck on what you have taken from your degree, get together with some friends and talk about how you can apply what you did in school to what you will do on the job. Another good source of information is job postings. Collect 5-10 job posts for the kind of job you will be seeking. Highlight what the employer is looking for and match it to what you have learned. Don't look back. Look forward. Practice showing an employer how you are ready to go to work. That's your first job.
Most clients who are considering career change start with two bad ideas. First, they assume they will have to go back to school. Second, they believe they will have to step down the career ladder back to entry level. Neither of these assumptions is necessarily true. If you can prove to a hiring manager that you can do the job, the experience and knowledge you have developed during your career will usually be enough to make a career change.
What would-be career changers too often ignore are transferable skills, which are skills that can be used on multiple jobs. Let me give you two examples from my recent projects.
Retail Manager to Human Resources: A client had extensive experience in retail management. Rather than talk about that industry, we focused on the skills he used that were related to HR: Onboarding, training, interviewing, and hiring. He completed certification in HR law and recruiting for diversity. This background, along with a good work history, enabled him to make the career transition he was seeking.
Event Management to Purchasing: Another client wants to move from an eight year career in planning and managing corporate events to purchasing. In her case, we focused on skills that included sourcing, negotiation, vendor relations, and logistics. In several cases, this client can give examples of how she reduced costs through her ability to negotiate price and terms. These skills will let her make the jump to a new career.
If you are considering changing careers, think about how you have developed and used transferable skills. It is very possible that you can pursue a career change right now. Show how you are able to do the new job, and be confident in your ability.
I’ve written about these topics before, but two recent client comments told me that it might be time to look at them again. One client who has been working in fields that are below his skill level told me that his humanities degree was “worthless.” I reminded him that most Americans (fewer than 35%) have college degrees. Employers look at college degrees as a marker of knowledge and discipline. Many value applicants with humanities degrees because they tend to be better thinkers and often have better communication skills. Rather than look at his degree as “worthless,” I persuaded my client that it will help him find a job.
Today a client who just graduated from a science program told me that she had no experience. Almost every new graduate feels the same way. What they forget is the value of knowledge. School teaches us concepts that we will use on the job. Most programs also offer some kind of hands-on experience in the classroom, labs, or internships. The client who claimed to have no experience actually worked in labs for four years while pursuing her degree. She used equipment and performed tests that were listed on every job post she brought as examples of jobs she wished to pursue. Experience does not only come on the job. It can come in a classroom, lab, or field exercise. If you’re a new graduate, start by looking at what the employer needs and how your education has given you knowledge and skill needed to be a strong candidate.
If you’re a new graduate, don’t despair about a weak degree or lack of experience. Be practical and find a way to market what you learned in college. It has value.
When I first meet clients, they often present themselves in terms of what they lack: “I don’t have a college degree.” “I just graduated, so I don’t really have experience.” “I don’t know how to use Excel.”
My answer is simple: Sell what you have. Market your strengths. When we think in positive terms, we are able to present ourselves with confidence. The language we use is stronger and more convincing. Most importantly, we are giving employers good reasons to make a job offer. I’m not saying that we should ignore gaps in our resumes and careers. If an employer needs something we don’t have, we need to be able to offer some alternative selling point. Be ready when an employer brings up what you don’t have. Show why what you have is more important than what you lack.
Internet experts will frequently say that education should always be positioned at the beginning or end of a resume. Beware of such one-size-fits-all answers. Education is a very important selling point, but sometimes it is not the most important selling point. If a client’s work experience is more important, I put that element before education. In the case of new graduates or clients who have completed graduate degrees that are important to career change or promotion, I put education first.
If I put education first, it’s not enough to simply list a school, degree, and graduation date. What does the employer want to see? Some people list classes and extracurricular activities. I think this strategy is a mistake because it presents a job seeker as a student, not as someone who is ready to work. My strategy is to list relevant skills or projects that show the client performing activities that are related to what she would be doing on the job. I want to underscore whatever the client is taking away from school that would bring value to the employer.
Where you position education on a resume is like all other aspects of resume writing: a matter of strategy. For me, the starting point is to put a job seeker’s best selling point early in the document. Sometimes that means education is up front; sometimes it’s in the back. Always start with what the employer wants to see.
I was working with a client today who expressed concern about having to compete against MBAs. Over the years, I’ve heard this concern from several accomplished clients. They worry that they don’t have enough education. In most cases, they don’t need to worry.
Most employers value and prefer learning gained in the school of hard knocks. My client was employed by a major company for over ten years. He had developed procedures that increased sales and improved productivity. He not only can demonstrate knowledge, his success stories are real world, value-driven. Even an MBA would recommend hiring someone with my client’s skills.
The simple solution? Focus on the strengths you are bringing to an employer. If you need to get extra training or a certification, you should do so. But be sure that it is needed. Don’t play down your on-the-job learning and success stories. Celebrate them. More importantly, know their value and sell them!