should older candidates leave dates of graduation off their resume?

A reader writes:

I’m over 50 and have been laid off due to my company downsizing. Our HR director was kind enough to present a resume- writing session recently. He said that we should leave our year of graduation off our resumes, so as not to date ourselves. I don’t agree because to me it looks like one is hiding something (which you and others have indicated). Also, won’t HR and hiring managers be able to figure things out if we include dates/years of our jobs?

Yeah, the standard advice on this is to leave your graduation year off of your resume if you’re past a certain age. What that age is is open to debate, but generally I see candidates start to leave it off around 40.

It’s so common to do this that it doesn’t at all come across as if you’re hiding something. (In fact, I notice it more when a candidate in that age range leaves it on, simply because it’s much less common.)

Age discrimination concerns aside, it’s also irrelevant information — no one cares what your exact year of graduation was unless it was recent. If you’re freshly out of school, it’s relevant; if you’re not, it’s irrelevant.

You should, however, include the years that you held your jobs. Those are relevant — and not including those would look like you were hiding something. (Why are those relevant when the date of graduation isn’t? Because while I don’t really care when you wrote that paper on The Odyssey, I do want to know if your experience managing that team that achieved X was recent or if it was 30 years ago, and also whether you did it for seven months or four years. And in addition, education tends to be most relevant in the hiring process when you don’t have much else to sell your candidacy. It doesn’t really matter once you have solid work experience.)

One more point related to that:  I’d recommend not including jobs that are older than 15-20 years back. It’s really unlikely that they’re going to be relevant to your candidacy if they’re that far in the past, and it’s always odd to see a resume of a senior-level candidate with a really impressive last 15 years, who also uses space on her resume to talk about lower-level jobs she had two decades or more ago. A resume doesn’t need to be a comprehensive accounting of everything you’ve ever done; it’s a marketing document, and it’s fine to leave off much older jobs that don’t add anything to your candidacy.

{ 57 comments… read them below }

  1. jmkenrick*

    Perhaps this is navite, but I’m always confused by the idea that it’s a detriment to be “older” when job searching. I would expect that a canidate who was 40+ would have more experience and a better sense of committment than someone in their 20s.

    Just wondering what the reasoning behind that worry is. And if anyone has a sense how realistic those worries are.

    1. Blinx*

      Bless you jmk! Now will you please tell that to all the places I’ve applied to recently?

      There are many false assumptions regarding older workers, but one that might be true is that years of experience = higher salary expectations. If a company really only needs an employee to have 5 years of experience, why would they pay for 30 years?

      1. Jamie*

        “If a company really only needs an employee to have 5 years of experience, why would they pay for 30 years?”

        They wouldn’t. But if you’re not willing to settle for the lower salary, then this helps self-select applicants out as well.

        Until my utopia where every job comes with a sticker price becomes reality, there is always the weird dance at the beginning where one side is trying to figure out what’s the least you’ll work for while the other side tries to guess how much they’ll pay.

        1. Blinx*

          Oh, believe me, I’m willing to settle – no choice, really. But I do hate that “weird dance”, as you say.

          I wonder if there’s a smooth way to state that in a cover letter, without actually naming a figure? Besides the usual “salary is negotiable.”

      2. AnotherAlison*

        I don’t know the details of how this came about, but I knew of a position that was posted as a 2-5 yrs exp. job that ended up hiring a 30+ yrs of experience person for a higher level title in the same general role. I think some intradepartmental shuffling took place, but this is the kind of thing where I wish people could simply talk to people, rather than electronic document screeners doing the dirty work. With hypothetical candidates, a certain position & department structure makes the most sense, IN GENERAL. However, sometimes a specific candidate would be more appealing for a slightly different arrangement, but that candidate never makes it through the initial HR screening.

        1. Jamie*

          Funny – I’ve been told it’s the only thing I ever consider.

          That wasn’t said as a compliment…hmmm.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      The reasoning behind the worry about older workers is generally one or more of the following (and I’m not endorsing any of these viewpoints, just explaining what some employers worry about):

      – they’ll have higher salary expectations
      – they’ll be used to old-school ways of doing things
      – they’ll be set in their ways and less flexible/able to adapt
      – they won’t fit in well if the culture is generally younger
      – they’ll have certain expectations that aren’t realistic for the job, such as expecting a junior staffer to do some of the grunt work of their job (when in fact they’ll need to do it themselves)
      – they’re not hungry and ambitious anymore; they’re basically in maintenance mode while waiting to retire

      1. Jamie*

        I know you weren’t endorsing them, but am I wrong in that 40 is a little young to earn the last bullet point.

        I’m in my 40s and like most of the people my age I’m scrambling like hell to advance my career. I thought conventional wisdom said 30s – 40s was the time people were at the peak of their ambition? You’ve lost the mindset of “I have all the time in the world, I can do anything” and but don’t yet feel like it’s too late to rack up significant accomplishment yet.

        If it is too late I’m going to be really pissed that no one told me. And then I’m going to enjoy the sudden absence of pressure and go take a nap.

        I have seen what I call “looking for a secretary” syndrome by people who desperately want tptb to hire secretary’s even though I haven’t heard that word used in an office in…ever. Those are usually people well past 40…I would say it’s typically well past 60 and it’s getting less common all the time.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Oh yeah, totally agree. That list is meant to cover the whole range of people who might be subject to age discrimination, so some won’t apply to the younger part of that range.

          I also think that people in their 40s are subject to much less age discrimination in general than people in their 50s and older, and that in many cases, there’s none at all — unless they’re applying for very entry level jobs.

        2. jmkenrick*

          Yeah, the only reason I put 40+ is because that’s the age Alison gave in the answer about when people typically start leaving dates off. 40 doesn’t strike me as old at all.

          That’s also why I put older in quotation marks. :)

          1. Blinx*

            “Old” is usually about what age you’re at + 20 years. And it keeps on moving 20 years away, as you age.

            1. Jamie*

              I love this – and it’s totally true.

              And while I am happy I don’t have to pack my career in mothballs just yet, I am a little disappointed I’m not able to hand my to do list to the first person I see under 40 and go grab that nap.

              1. Blinx*

                It’s what I’ve always believed. When I was young, I had a “middle-aged” uncle who died. It wasn’t until I got older that I realized how young he really was — 37.

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  My 12-year-old niece told me recently that “middle-aged” is your 20s, because “that’s the middle of your life.” She was genuinely shocked and skeptical when I told her that’s not middle-age.

      2. Judy*

        Don’t forget that older workers are assumed to use more medical insurance, which could raise the rates for everyone.

    3. RecruiterM*

      There could be one simple reason – if a hiring manager is in his early thirties for example, he may -think- he might be uncomfortable managing a person his parent’s age. After talking to such a person, a manager might find out this is not a problem for him after all.
      Not fair, but here we are…

  2. PushAndShove*

    “A resume doesn’t need to be a comprehensive accounting of everything you’ve ever done; it’s a marketing document, and it’s fine to leave off much older jobs that don’t add anything to your candidacy.”

    On a related note: should I include my current PT minimum wage job that’s completely unrelated to the kind of work I’m looking for when applying for jobs in my field? I spend most of my time at that PT job, but I also do freelance work that is more in line with what I’m looking for (it’s just not enough to cover costs of living).

    1. Josh S*

      I’d say only include it if A) It’s relevant to the jobs you’re looking for, and B) You have significant accomplishments associated with that job that add to the strength of your candidacy/make you look awesome.

      Keep the focus of your resume on your relevant freelance work. If you’re a graphic designer for websites and holding down PT work as a grocery store checkout person, leave the PT stuff off.

      1. PushAndShove*

        That’s what my gut tells me, too. The only reason I could think of to include it is to show that I do, in fact, have a steady job at the moment (i.e. am not unemployed) and that some of the shift supervisors there have offered to be references. Since I relocated to the US less than a year ago, I only have two references in the US at the moment and I’m wondering if providing overseas references would be a turn-off for US employers.

        At the same time I feel that it doesn’t add anything at all to my candidacy and I wonder if it might even have the potential to hurt me in some way, especially when it comes to salary negotiations. After all, anything above minimum wage would be a step up at this point (sigh).

        Thanks for your thoughts on this!

        1. Anonymous*

          With the additional information, I feel this situation is more nuanced than initially presented – US employers often value US experience much more highly than overseas experience. However, the fact that the PT job seems to be more retail (“shift supervisors”) than office may negate that advantage. OTOH, any US work will demonstrate English fluency (or at least competency), if OP isn’t from an English-speaking country. It’s a tough call. What does everyone else think?

          i.e. I have no idea what I’m talking about :)

        2. Rana*

          If you’re freelance, you’re not unemployed.

          I point this out because I see a lot of novice freelancers acting apologetic for their work, as if it’s a hobby job, and not real work. If you can’t take it seriously, how will your clients? How will hiring managers.

          People will take it as seriously as you do, so stop telling yourself that freelancing is the same thing as being unemployed. It’s not, no matter how poorly it pays.

        3. PushAndShove*

          @Anonymous: It’s a coffee house chain. :) I would hope that my freelance work demonstrates English fluency, but who knows. FWIW, I’m completely bilingual and a US citizen.

          @Rana: I agree and I take my freelance work very seriously. Unfortunately, I currently only get freelance jobs every few weeks (if I’m lucky). It’s a field that’s based primarily on connections and networking and given that I moved to this city without any connections at all, it’s been hard finding work (especially in this economy). So I’m a little worried about how not having steady work would look to an employer.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            They don’t need to know how often you get freelance jobs. They only need to know that this is what you currently do: you’re a freelancer, and that has been your steady job. End of story.

            1. PushAndShove*

              Thanks for chiming in. :)

              How do you feel about the reference situation, though? Would having references from my PT work be beneficial? My other two references are both people I work for on a freelance basis fairly regularly.

  3. Greg Blencoe*

    I think Alison provided some really good advice.

    But I also liked jmkenrick’s comment. You can look at having more experience as a strength.

    However, I also think that lots of younger people have outstanding work ethics. I don’t think that people should always assume that an older candidate is going to have a better work ethic than a younger candidate.

    I’d want somebody who has a great attitude, can work well with others, can do the job well, etc. regardless of age. That person may be in their 20s or 30s. Or they may be in their 50s or 60s.

    In addition, unless the candidate doesn’t look over 50, the person who is interviewing won’t need to look on their resume to figure out approximately how old they are.

  4. Charles*

    I wonder, though, if including dates of graduation and attendance isn’t be beneficial in one way. A degree from thirty, twenty, or even ten years ago might be seen as—and quite possibly is—more rigorous than one from today. This may be less applicable in technical or science fields, of course. From personal experience, I know that my master’s degree in 2011 was no harder (and may have been easier) than my bachelor’s degree in 1997.

  5. Job Seeker*

    I am at a complete loss of how to get around dates on a resume. I think anytime you are in your late 40’s dates are a problem. I am trying very hard to know how to re-enter the workforce after so many breaks in employment. I stayed at home with my three children and then worked part-time when my youngest was in high school. Now, I am trying to help my mother get some medical problems taken care of. I went back to school for a year to update skills and did volunteer work, but now I have a this gap again. If someone gives me an interview, I don’t worry as much because I look young and am very fit. I think some of my problem is my resume because that is what gets you the interview. My problem is I need a way to explain my gaps in a cover letter or resume. I have good work ethics and have always been dependable. I feel like a old shoe right now.

    1. EM*

      I stayed home with my baby for a few years. I explained in my cover letter that after staying home with my son, i was ready to resume my career. You don’t have to mention how long you were out of the workforce.

      1. Suzanne*

        You don’t have to mention how long you were out of the workforce, but that will be obvious from your resume. Also, keep in mind that currently, unemployed people are apparently fairly routinely tossed out of the employer’s interview pipeline simply for being unemployed.

        I stayed home for a few years when my kids were little and wouldn’t give that back for anything. Unfortunately, if I were having kids now, I don’t believe I would have that luxury because many employers see being unemployed for a time as making you unemployable.

        1. Job Seeker*

          Suzanne, I completely understand what you are saying. I was out of the workforce really too long. But, it was the best thing for my family since we lived far away from everyone. I was the parent that volunteered in the schools, book fairs, Little League, Boy Scouts, sports etc. I was the homework helper and the housekeeper and the errand boy. I was the one taking everyone to the dentist and doctor and going from baseball field for all three children for games. I am grateful I could be home and would not change this for anything. I do not regret my choice but now I am having to prove myself. How do you prove yourself when you haven’t done anything professionally noteworthy?

          My huge challenge is I am not good at marketing myself. But, I am very dependable and when I worked part-time when my youngest was in high school I did not miss a day of work. I love people and am very flexible and do not mind working overtime until the job is done.

          I am a little nervous about time going by, because I know the longer you are not working how that appears. Suzanne, I just receive a kick in the seat to apply more places. You are right, my resume and the dates for me are a problem.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            If you haven’t already, put that volunteer work on your resume! Think about what skills from that translate to the work world, and draw those out.

            And when you list your part-time job, make sure that one of your bullet points for that job notes that you never missed a day of work! Employers like that.

  6. Blinx*

    Related question — I’ve followed all the advice, and only have my last 3 jobs listed, which total 22 years. But my degree is from almost 30 years ago. The year after I graduated, the college changed it’s name! I have the old name on my resume, since it matches my diploma, but it kind of dates the degree. Should I go through the trouble of having another diploma issued with the new name?

    1. Natalie*

      I don’t think it matters that the resume matches the diploma. I’m not sure why anyone would see your diploma anyway – when I have been background-checked, no one has asked for a copy of my diploma to verify that I graduated from college. That wouldn’t be that helpful – anyone can find a steel-cut-engraving style picture of a campus building and dummy up a fake diploma if they are so inclined.

      1. Jamie*

        Yes – in fact providing the current name is more helpful as that’s who they would go to verify, if they are so inclined.

        1. Jamie*

          I totally subconsciously stole the “if they are so inclined” line. I didn’t even realize you wrote that first, so I didn’t want you to think I was being snotty or something…apparently I just liked the turn of phrase and appropriated it immediately!

          Yes, I am paranoid and I do tend to over explaining things which no one else would notice – is that bad?

          1. Natalie*

            I have no idea if you are overexplaining as I am socially paranoid and frequently sound bitchy on the internet. FWIW “if they are so inclined” is one of my favorite phrases ever. I probably over-use it.

        2. Blinx*

          They way I state it now is both — Blank State College (currently Blank University).

          But you know, I think I’m just over thinking again. After 10 months of being out of work, and 6 months since my last interview, I’m jumping on anything that might point to a reason why my attempts aren’t working.

      2. Blinx*

        At my last job, after I had temped for half a year and was made an offer, I DID have to bring in my physical diploma, as well as a transcript (only place that ever asked). But that was after the fact, after I had accepted the offer.

    2. Lexy*

      Don’t bother, any time anyone has verified my degree they do it with transcripts. I would put the current school name on your resume since that is where the transcripts would come from (if they are requested). I’m assuming this was a change from something like “Chocolate Teapot State College” to “Chocolate Teapot University” in which case I don’t think anyone will care.

  7. Medea*

    OP here– thank you, Alison, for your sagacious response (as usual)! Also appreciate everyone else’s thoughts. Ok, I’ve been convinced — I’ll leave my graduation year off then.

  8. Bill*

    If you decide to leave a job off your resume that you had 20+ years ago I assume when you fill out the application for employment it will ask for your employment history and at that point you should list all relevant employment? In my situation, after graduating from college I had one job for 2 years, then 2+ years of unrelated work (basically a gap), then 20+ years with the same company. If I leave off college dates from my resume AND only list my current employer (20+ years) I am not sure how that might look when compared to the application I fill out (or also if anything comes up during the interview related to this history). I just turned 50 and while I don’t feel “old” I do have some concerns as I explore new opportunities for the balance of my career. However, I am inclined to just leave all the info on my resume (at leas the full job history). Leaving the graduation dates off doesn’t seem like a big deal though so I may do that.

    1. Jamie*

      There is no problem with the application being more comprehensive than the resume as the resume isn’t meant to detail everything.

      And I’ve not filled out an application until I was already hired – just a formality to keep on record. It was never used in the hiring process – but it’s possible things are done differently elsewhere.

    1. Syd*

      I am in my 40s and recently graduated, so I do include the year. Additionally, I’ve worked for three firms in the past 20 years, 11 in my most recent position. My most relevant experience to my career change, outside of a couple of very recent volunteer internships, is from 15 years ago. I look young for my age (no more than 35), but I’m afraid my long work history is a problem. I wouldn’t be trying to hide anything with a functional resume, but would a hybrid resume perhaps work better?

  9. Heather*

    What do you do if you had a job that you were at for over 20 years? I just found out my dad recently got laid off (he’s 60), and will be looking for a new job. He worked for a company from 1983-2003, which I think he should obviously keep on his resume, right?

  10. Ellie*

    If you leave the dates off of your degree(s), watch out for back door attempts to discover the graduation date. The employer might try to ask something like “how was that working and going to school at the same time?” Whatever you do, don’t say that the oldest job happened after the graduation. Instead, reply something like “just fine thank you, it is all a matter of time management, or how was what working while going to school?”

  11. Gary*

    There is a question that has been asked over the years, but now seems to be more prevalent.

    “When did you graduate from college?”

    Recruiters are always asking and, as you all know, there is only one reason to ask it. Many Websites I looked at state that it is an illegal question, but hard to prove age discrimination if you’re not hired.

    The irony is that many of these people are also “older”.

    I respond by saying I understand the reason for the question, and say that if the hiring manager is in his thirties, I probably won’t be considered. If they are 50ish or more, than it usually isn’t as much of an issue. If they don’t like my response, then screw ‘em.

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