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Laid off and searching with over 25 years of experience

Q. I am a recently laid off worker and I have over 25 years of experience in high technology. For the first time in 12 years, I need to create a resume to show to a prospective employer. I have changed positions several times in the past, but the resume was only a formality then, the position was narrowed down to only a couple of candidates before the interviews began and resumes were reviewed. I started leaving off my early college co-op jobs a number of years ago and I am considering leaving off my first 12-year long position because the specific technology skills (programming in COBOL, FORTRAN and BASIC) are now quite stale, but I do still utilize the analysis skills that I developed during that time as a programmer analyst.

Would it be better to leave that time listed but with just the relevant skills highlighted? I also wonder if my experience is working against me now. Employers seem to want a proven employee, someone with 3-5 years of experience, but after 10 years it seems that the assumption is that young workers are more malleable and fresher than a senior worker.

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A. You raise a difficult issue – age discrimination. Here are a few targeted pieces of advice:

- In your resume, demonstrate your value. What you are really trying to accomplish with a resume is to show that you can add value to a prospective employer. Include very specific metrics on how you added value in the past – how you saved dollars, how you improved quality, how you retained staff, etc. Whatever your accomplishments, critically evaluate them and try to develop them into metrics. An example: “In 2007, increased sales in the New England territory over 30 precent by cold calling, cross-selling our product line, and getting referrals from existing clients.”

- One method of resume writing that helps a resume writer “attack” the plain piece of paper and start writing the resume is the P-A-R method. Problem-Action-Result. This will help you better identify your accomplishments, goals, and measureable results. An example: “Evaluated, selected, and launched a comprehensive XYZ system in 2006. Trained over 35 supervisors and managers across the country in less than 3 months, resulting in a smooth implementation and cost savings of 23 percent annually.” Use action words too.

- Consider developing more than one version of your resume. One may target the high tech industry, while another may target consulting or contract opportunities.

- Many career management experts believe that job seekers should only detail the last 10-15 years of relevant experience in their resume. So yes, college co-op jobs are probably best left off a resume of a candidate with 20-plus years of experience. What you can do, though, is add a section and call it “Other Relevant Experience” if you feel that this experience demonstrates a skill or experience that is not captured in your most recent work experience. Be careful though – if this experience is dated, your skills may appear more dated than they really are.

- Develop and practice a 1-2 minute elevator speech. If a former colleague approaches you or you meet a neighbor in a local coffee shop, you need to be ready and prepared to tell that contact that you are looking for a new role and what you are looking for. It needs to be concise, crisp, professional, positive, and current. Think about whether you want to start off your elevator speech (or a cover letter) with “I was laid off…” Instead, consider a more positive approach like “I recently began a job search …”

- Be aware of yourself and your emotions. What do I mean? Some laid off employees have difficulty bouncing back and remaining positive. I understand a job loss is a loss and a serious one. But I have also been on the other side of the table and interviewed a lot of candidates that were wearing their emotions on their sleeves. They were angry, bitter, depressed, or unhappy. No one wants to hire an angry, depressed, sad, or disgruntled employee. If you are feeling sad, depressed or angry, you may need to consult a therapist. Of course, some of these feeling are normal for a period of time.

- Be aware of how you present yourself. Are you wearing a suit that you bought in the 1980s? If your shoes are scuffed and old, that may leave a lasting impression on the interviewer. Whether we like it or not, we are all evaluated every day on how we present ourselves. A crisp, professional, updated, yet not distracting, presentation is often best.

- Your email address – please make it professional, crisp, and not of a personal nature. And don’t include your date of birth (e.g., John1940@xyz.com) or other personal attributes (e.g., dancingfool@abc.com) in your email address. I have recently seen more inappropriate email addresses than I can count.

- Use technology but don’t use it as a crutch. Scour job boards but most job seekers still land jobs through referral, personal connections, and word of mouth.

- Hold yourself accountable. Set job search goals for yourself. Your new full-time job is looking for another opportunity. You should have a deadline for a new resume. You should then hold yourself accountable for job search activity. One example may be 10 networking calls on Monday. Another one may be meeting 2 former colleagues on Tuesday. Another one may be attending an alumni networking group on Wednesday. Be disciplined.

It is a tough market right now, with unemployment in Massachusetts at over 7 percent. However, persistent, smart, and reasonable candidates are landing jobs. It is possible.


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