Resume tips for 55+ job seekers

Ready to update your resume? For job seekers age 55+, find specific ideas to update your resume, bring it up to speed with current hiring practices, and ensure it’s an effective tool for promoting your strengths.

Current hiring practices  

When you send in a resume to a job posting, an initial resume review is typically conducted by an applicant tracking system, or ATS, that machine-scans the resume for a match to the job posting. Most large companies use an ATS, while some – but far fewer – small and mid-sized businesses currently use them.

Even if a person is the first stage of resume review, once a resume is in front of human eyes, hiring staff typically take just 6-7 seconds to scan it, looking for headings and keywords needed for the position. So in either case, it’s important to follow ATS guidelines that make a scannable, attractive resume to get through the first stage of evaluation.

Common resume issues to watch for

Resume experts who provide critiques tell us that the resumes of older workers tend to share some consistent errors. See if you recognize any of these in your own resume:

  1. With decades of experience, workers 55+ tend to write very long resumes
  2. The resume includes previous jobs that have no relation to the job they’re applying for
  3. Resumes list skills and knowledge, volunteering, and training that is out of date
  4. These resumes fail to mention technology skills
  5. They use full sentences, include too many words, use fussy punctuation so difficult to read
  6. They use the same resume for every job posting

8 tips for an excellent resume

How to tackle the task of writing an effective resume when you have decades of work experience that may or may not relate? These 8 tips will help guide you around what to include and what to leave off.

Customize your resume to each job you apply for. You don’t have to revise your entire resume for every job, but it’s important to match the top third of the resume to each job posting. That includes editing your Professional Summary, Skills Summary, and Objective, if you use one. This is what employers scan first to determine if the applicant is a fit for their needs. Be sure to match your resume language to the job posting language, where you can.

Combination format. Use a “combination” resume format that allows you to emphasize your skills and accomplishments and downplay the length of your career. This includes both a skills summary near the top, and a work history that references job title, employer, start and end dates, along with accomplishments and responsibilities for each job.

Make it clean and easy to read. Use headings for resume section titles (see Resume samples). Use simple clean fonts such as Arial, Times Roman, or Calibri. For lists, use plain black dot bullets, and bars ( | ) to separate items in a section. Avoid other types of bullets as they may not be readable by an ATS. Also avoid using many commas as they make a resume difficult to read. Avoid using tables, since formatting can get jumbled when the resume is scanned.

Take a skills focus. Create a Key Skills or Professional Skills section, and cluster your skills under three or four categories that are important to the open position. These may include leadership, teamwork, computer skills, communication skills, supervisory skills, and so on. Make this substantial and personal, including the specific skills you offer, with a brief description. Avoid using general or generic skills like “good communication”. Keep it relevant and sharp: avoid dumping out all your skills here. To get your resume past an ATS, it can help to express the same skill in two different ways. For example, list it in your key skills section, then mention it again in your work history.

Include a technology skills list. You may be extremely proficient on a variety of systems, but some employers may hold stereotypes about limited technology skills for workers 55+, so experts recommend including your tech skills and including a list if you have at least 5-6 items to include. Keep to the “recent and relevant” rule: reflect only skills from the last 10 or so. If this is a weak area, consider taking short classes to quickly upgrade your knowledge. Platforms such as LinkedIn,, and others offer free classes on basic technology skills and software such as Microsoft Office.

Relevant work history. Briefly list your jobs from the past 10-15 years; for each job, include several key tasks with a couple of major accomplishments. Avoid listing unrelated experience or listing too much – since that may cause your resume to be discounted. Leave out irrelevant jobs you’ve held, especially from more than 15 years ago. 

Be sure to include your dates of employment, as most ATS systems reject resumes that do not include dates for work history. Consider using “15+ years” jobs you’ve held longer than 15 years. Aim to describe your responsibilities in one line per task, using a variety of action verbs. Include numbers, data, facts, around people you served, documents you produced, money you earned or saved the company, budget size, etc. Match as closely as possible to the list of responsibilities noted in the job postings you apply to.

Education & training section. Include the highest level of education you have completed, noting your degree or training program. Only include High School Diploma or equivalent if that is your highest level; be sure to include recent or current job training. If you’ve taken college courses but did not earn a degree, note it as: “College coursework, XYZ University”. For the ATS to recognize it, write out the degree, such as Associates of Arts or Bachelor of Science. If your major isn’t relevant, don’t include it. Leave off the year you finished unless it’s within the past five years.

Always get a review. Your resume should be free of errors, use simple, current language, be skills-focused, and target the specific job opening you are applying for. Ask friends or family to check your resume for these points and contact your local American Job Center to ask for free, professional feedback. 

More resume and cover letter tips for workers 55+. Or see complete step-by-step resume writing instructions at the Resume Guide.

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