The Job Hunter
By Rabbi Mordechai Kruger
I’ve met a few liars. They weren’t very good at lying. In each case, I was handed a résumé and asked to “fix it up a little” so that some employer might be convinced to offer an interview. So I started reading and asking questions.
“It says you were a top salesperson. How many units did you sell?” “I didn’t keep track.”
Or, “If you were the office manager for a law firm, why does the website say it’s a dance club and you’re the DJ?”
Most people don’t want to lie on their résumés. But like a pimply teenager on the first day in a new school, there are some things that they hope won’t be noticed. A degree from an online college. Or no degree at all. Or a gap in their employment history. Or that most feared and embarrassing defect—being “too old.” Job hunters are sure that these are deadly viruses that kill their chances of getting a job, and if they can’t be cured, at least their résumé can hide them long enough for them to get a foot in the door. So they come to me like some plastic surgeon for the jobless, hoping that I can smooth out their wrinkles and fade their age-spots, making them young and attractive in an employment kind of way.
The astute reader (defined as someone who has read my previous five articles on résumés) will ask, “If employers are interested in what you are ready to do now, then all of these things shouldn’t matter. Either you know how to do the job or you don’t. Either you are the candidate who can deliver the maximum level of performance or you’re not. All of these ‘defects’ are past history. Why worry about them?” I would agree with that astute reader, but I would also disagree.
When a job needs to be filled, the first issue facing the employer is not “Who am I going to hire?” but “Who am I going to ignore?” There is going to be a pile of résumés or a line of people at the job fair, and the first thing that needs to be done is make most of them just go away. It’s impossible to choose from a zillion options. So the employer needs some excuse to quickly ditch a lot of applications. So:
“Online degree? Probably not smart enough to get into a real school.”
“A gap between jobs? Really good people find new jobs right away.”
“Above the age of whatever? Not flexible, not up-to-date, resting on his laurels, and marking time till retirement.”
Is any of this true? Who knows? They’re just excuses that enable the harried employer to winnow down the pile. They are assumptions that are commonly accepted, so that if someone asks, “Why did you throw out this résumé?” there will be enough of an answer to get by. But they are not real, and they really should not matter.
Except that they do. And every job hunter has to deal with them. Because no matter your age, work history, background, or anything else, there are always assumptions or stereotypes that an employer may take on, and the burden rests on you, the candidate, to dispel them. If your school doesn’t have the greatest reputation, you need to know that, and your résumé, your pitch, everything about you needs to clearly state, “I’m a great worker.” If there was a gap of unemployment, the message has to be, “I’ve kept up-to-date in my field; I’m sharp and ready to go to work.” If you are older than the typical candidate, show that you are flexible, continually taking on new challenges, and ready to give your all.
I have heard too many senior job hunters bemoan their fate that no one will hire them because they are too old. I respectfully reject that argument. The latest research shows that employers actually prefer to hire more mature, stable workers, and the superior work ethic of the boomers often trumps the youthful vigor of Gen X. So these workers are not being passed over because of their age. They are being passed over for the same reason as everyone else who didn’t get hired—because they did not present a convincing case that they are the best people for the job.
So what if someone is a little long in the tooth? Isn’t a bit of résumé Botox still a worthwhile strategy? If the employer is actually savvy enough to prefer an older worker, then the job hunter has just strategized himself out of a potential job. And if the employer wants a younger candidate, either the strategy will not work or it will. If it works, you’ll get an interview with an employer who is really not happy about being fooled. If it doesn’t work, you won’t get an interview, but you might get a reputation you don’t want. So a natural, gracefully aged résumé is by far the best choice.
Those embarrassing gaps between jobs? They might mean that you’ve lost your edge. Just as many people lose their edge over time, even if they are going to work every day. So don’t try to hide your gap. Show how you’ve stayed sharp, taken on new responsibilities, and anticipated the latest trends. That’s what every employer wants from the people he hires and from the people he retains. It’s what every worker should want from himself. v
Rabbi Mordechai Kruger is the founder and director of Pathways to Parnassa, an organization providing job-search and career coaching to our community. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.