I'm often asked by more senior professionals if they should somehow hide their age on their resume. Sometimes, they believe that age discrimination has been affecting their job search and it might open more doors if their resume appeared to make them younger. So they only include the last 10 or 15 years of their work history.
There are many opinions on both sides of this question, and I can understand those that disagree with me. However, I believe it is a bad idea not to acknowledge your entire career on resumes you present to prospective employers.
Here's why, and some best practices…
Starting your interview in the hole. As soon as you show up for an interview they are likely to get a sense of your age. If your resume created an impression that you are someone in their 30's, however, when you show up you're clearly someone in their 50's, they will feel like they've somehow been deceived. Whether age discrimination is an issue for them or not, you will be starting your interview 'in the hole' having to overcome the perception that you were trying to put something over on them. Compared to other candidates that they perceive to be more forthright, it may be an obstacle you can't get past. Perhaps you're someone that looks younger than you are… at some point they will discover your age and still feel you've been less than honest. It's not your age that cools them toward you, rather your deception.
Your resume won't change the problem. If the company truly does discriminate based on age, then hiding your age on the resume only delays the inevitable. If they don't want to hire someone over 50, gaining an interview is not likely to change their bias. It only took things one step further and will lead to greater frustration for both of you. The fact that they are wrong in their bias, and potentially acting illegally is no consolation when you are turned down for the opportunity. Unless you're fishing for a chance to sue someone, why put yourself through the experience? Why would you want to interview at a company that would reject you based on your perceived age on your resume? The idea that "They'll change their mind once they meet me" doesn't address the underlying problem. Even if you get the job, you now work for a company that decides not to interview someone because on their age. It's not likely the company's culture will make you feel at home!
So, what's reasonable? While I believe it is important to acknowledge your complete career on your resume, I don't think it's necessary to emphasize your age either.
Your experience and responsibilities prior the past 10 or 15 years are not generally relevant as you pursue current opportunities. It's not necessary to give much detail to positions prior to that point. Simply listing the Company, Title, and Dates of employment are sufficient. If the role was directly related to the position you are applying to, one brief line of description may be appropriate. Otherwise, the bulk of your responsibilities, skills, strengths and achievements should be listed under your most recent roles. Those are the ones that will matter most to a prospective employer.
Furthermore, if you had a number of positions earlier in your career, particularly if they were unrelated to the role you are pursuing, I believe it's appropriate to group them together. Perhaps even something like:
Companies and positions unrelated to recent career 1978 - 1989
I also don't believe it's necessary to provide your graduation dates, whether it's High School, Trade School, or College. And, if in your Summary section you have a sentence that begins with something like: " Over 30 years of experience…", I believe it's appropriate to say "Over 15 years of experience…". It's still true, and doesn't emphasize your age. If you are acknowledging your entire career in the rest of the document, they can do their own math if they choose to.
These best practices emphasize the most relevant, and minimize your least relevant information while still acknowledging your entire career history and presenting it in an honest way.
While age discrimination in hiring is not dead in today's world, I am convinced it's not nearly as prevalent as many people think. Presenting yourself in as an honest and professional way you can is the best policy when pursuing new opportunities, and ultimately will most likely lead to the greatest chance of success as well.