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September 21, 2016 1:34 PM   Subscribe

Is it ethical and/or advisable to use a resume that gives an impression that you are younger than you are? Does it matter ethically whether you wrote the resume with the intent to deceive, or just wrote it the way that made sense and then benefited from the mistaken impression it gave? Snowflakes inside.

I'm 32, and the first half of my twenties I had a pretty spotty work history. Recently, I was preparing to update my resume, and considering dropping my first job out of college from it (since it's not really relevant to the work I do now, and I'd like to save space for more relevant work). While doing so, I realized that if I also dropped the year of my undergraduate degree as well, I would look about 4 years younger from my resume. So my resume would go from:

2015-2016 Current Technical Job
2014 TechnicalTraining Program
2010-2014 Admin Work at Local University
2007-2008 Writer for Environmental Group
Education: BA in Poli Sci from Prestigious University, 2006


2015-2016 Current Technical Job
2014 Technical Training Program
2010-2014 Admin Work at Local University
Education: BA in Poli Sci from Prestigious University

which would make it look like I graduated in 2009 or 2010, and was 3-4 years younger than I actually am.

On the one hand, I think the latter is a more compact and compelling story (no point in highlighting my years of confusion and unemployment) and age discrimination in the tech field is real and somewhat pervasive, so the younger I look the better for my chances. On the other hand, I feel icky potentially circulating a document which, although entirely truthful, I know will tend to give a false impression about something that employers shouldn't consider, but often do.
posted by firechicago to Work & Money (23 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Ask a Manager says it's fine to leave your graduation year off your resume.
posted by BlahLaLa at 1:40 PM on September 21, 2016 [14 favorites]

I - an Old! - neither date my BA nor list my employment before the late nineties. This is both because I think it's just fine to deny employers grounds to discriminate on the basis of age (even if they really, really want to; even if they often do) and because listing even my two primary post-college jobs would take up way too much space.

I don't think a resume is required to contain every single thing an employer - scrupulous or not - might possibly want to know. It's supposed to make a case for hiring you, not provide enough detail to hire a private investigator.

Think about this: employers would probably love to know if a potential hire had health problems. What if you'd missed a year of college due to an illness? Would you feel obliged to put that on your resume so that they'd be sure to know that you're in your late twenties instead of your mid-twenties? They'd like to know, they'd probably use it for discriminatory purposes....would it be dishonest to withhold this information?
posted by Frowner at 1:41 PM on September 21, 2016 [20 favorites]

I'm the same age as you, and my twenties were also a tough time to find work. I went to see a career counselor a few years ago and she suggested separating my work history to "Relevant experience" and "Other experience". If the space isn't too much of an issue and you're concerned that you're somehow being dishonest by not listing your year of graduation and your first job out of college, could you consider doing that?

That said, I don't think most employers assume that every applicant has gone from high school --> undergrad --> job, many people take gap years to work and/or go through boughts of unemployment (especially people who graduated into the recession). In my view it doesn't look like you're trying to be deceiving on the updated version of your resume, and I don't think employers think there's a huge difference between hiring a 29-year old and hiring a 32 year old anyway.
posted by Enchanting Grasshopper at 1:42 PM on September 21, 2016

Are you lying about your skills and abilities? No? Then present yourself however you want on your resume.
posted by Phredward at 1:42 PM on September 21, 2016 [14 favorites]

In my experience as a hiring manager, people leave off their year of graduation for basically two reasons:
1. To obscure their age.
2. They didn't actually graduate from college.

Neither of these should actually matter to reasonable hiring managers so long as there isn't an outright falsehood on your resume.
posted by Francies at 1:45 PM on September 21, 2016 [3 favorites]

I put my graduation date on my resume specifically to appear younger than I am (I dropped out of college for ... a while) but my advice for resumes is always "stretch the truth as much as you can to get the job."
posted by griphus at 2:00 PM on September 21, 2016 [4 favorites]

It's totally fine to leave out work history that's old and no longer relevant to your career path. I've seen it recommended and encouraged, even. Last time I updated my resume (when I was your age, in fact!), I chopped off the first four years of my work history; by that time, it was just clutter.

I don't think it'd be a huge deal to leave the graduation year in and cut out the work history you don't want to highlight. That's what I did, and I was prepared to say "well I worked at X Y and Z but I have since taken my career in a different direction and wanted to emphasize my past six years of relevant experience" if anyone asked about the gap. But it's also okay to leave the year off, and age discrimination sucks.
posted by Metroid Baby at 2:01 PM on September 21, 2016 [1 favorite]

Also, the impression that you're younger based on graduation date isn't "false" (in the sense of "fraudulent") in my opinion; the cultural assumption that you went to college right after high school and graduated after 4 years is just that: an assumption. If you can take advantage of that assumption, then do it. The unethical action is in the hands the person assuming you're a certain age based on a certain date of significance that does not inherently correspond to age, and using it to judge you as less capable.
posted by griphus at 2:04 PM on September 21, 2016 [7 favorites]

I try to keep my resume a one-pager which means I end up leaving a LOT off of it. It's fine. I think that intentionally leaving something misleading/incorrect on your resume is a bad idea. I don't think it's a good idea to try to trick somebody who wants to be ageist and would care, and I also don't think it'd be a good idea to work for them anyhow.
posted by destructive cactus at 2:05 PM on September 21, 2016 [1 favorite]

A resume is a sales document, it's not your professional life history. You shouldn't lie on it, but you are 100% clear to present things in the best light possible for you. My resume shows about the last 10 years of work history dated, and my degrees, undated.
posted by COD at 2:05 PM on September 21, 2016 [10 favorites]

A quick addendum to my previous answer: looking at the specifics, what you want to do is fine - I don't think my graduation year is on my resume, either, but I never removed it with the intent of confusing anybody - I'm pretty sure I just never added it. I hope nobody is thinking about my age when looking to hire me!
posted by destructive cactus at 2:11 PM on September 21, 2016

I think the first one makes you out to be a more favorable candidate. There are so many tech folks out there who do not know how to write well. I think you would be setting yourself apart from the other candidates (in a good way) by including the writing work. If I were in your shoes, I would include the graduation date too. My impression is that folks who leave it off tend to be older, so leaving it off may actually leave the reviewer with the impression that you are older than your actual age.
posted by TheCavorter at 2:27 PM on September 21, 2016 [2 favorites]

I was expecting an omission of a few decades from the description. If that were the case, you'd certainly want to manage expectations if you made it further in the process. But four years? Not worth thinking about.
posted by advicepig at 2:28 PM on September 21, 2016

I am not an HR person, but I have read resumes/interviewed people/hired them. I don't think there's anything wrong with doing as you suggest, but as a personal preference, I would find it a little too...precious? for a 2006 graduate to obscure their year of graduation. Class of '96, that's when obscuring your age starts to be a question. To go with Francie's comment above, if I saw a young person omitting their grad year, I would for sure assume they hadn't graduated, because I have non-graduated friends/contemporaries who do that very thing.

My experience on the other side, as an interviewee, may not be typical, but even in the "low-key" nonprofit environment, I've had interviewers grill me on resume gap years. As a result, I now list ALL my years on my resume. I'm older than you (class of '99), but if I can give a year-by-year account, then surely you can too, right? Your "spotty" work experience doesn't sound all that spotty to me, especially in this economy! It sounds normal, and more consistent than my personal list of 10,000 jobs from that era. Good luck!
posted by 8603 at 2:41 PM on September 21, 2016 [5 favorites]

It's ethical. One thing I might caution you on is how you present visually - if you walk in looking much older than they expect based on your resume, some people may wonder what you're hiding.
posted by Candleman at 2:47 PM on September 21, 2016

Also, don't undervalue the writing job - I hire technical people, and I'd give people that have written professionally a bump over people that haven't, even if it wasn't technical writing.
posted by Candleman at 2:48 PM on September 21, 2016 [3 favorites]

I graduated college two years after most people do, and my earliest career-relevant job dates to the following year. I guess I look 32 or 33 on paper? Nobody cares.

Nobody has ever asked my actual age in a workplace context. I suppose HR has that information, but as far as I know they've never made an issue of it.

I've also been in many workplace situations where it was assumed I was in my early 20s despite the fact that I'm in my mid 30s. Despite the fact that they must have seen my resume at some point. People are honestly oblivious to a lot of things.
posted by Sara C. at 3:07 PM on September 21, 2016

Depending on what field, being a little bit older (more mature) may well be a positive rather than a negative re: discrimination against 'snake people.'

Ageism starts being a bigger issue the closer one gets to 40. Then, when you start going for director positions, being too young can get you burnt.

N-thing Candleman; being able to communicate (writing) effectively and well is indeed a very valuable interdisciplinary skill. That you were doing it for an environmental group might even allude to soft skills that are underdeveloped in most people.
posted by porpoise at 3:14 PM on September 21, 2016

I've never tried to estimate a candidate's age from their resume and don't know why I would want to. If the listed skills and experience are authentic, you haven't been dishonest.
posted by chimpsonfilm at 3:29 PM on September 21, 2016

I've had interviewers grill me on resume gap years.

Same, and IME, they like to see the years run down the side of the page, chronologically, in a clear line. I guess because it's easier to scan (and suggests a narrative).

(I've been asked about a couple of chunks on my resume, e.g. when I was promoted a couple of times at the same place, or had a number of different things going on at the same time [more than one job, contracts], or went back to school. I've cleaned it up - with help - so that it tells the story in the simplest way, visually, and still get asked questions.)

Your "spotty" work experience doesn't sound all that spotty to me, especially in this economy! It sounds normal, and more consistent than my personal list of 10,000 jobs from that era.

Same again, and agree that your writing job seems like a positive addition to the package (as it were). If you'd like more space for more recent and relevant stuff, summarize the writing job in a line or two of clear, commonsense language - almost like you'd do to explain it to someone you just met - and throw in 1-2 of your best-sounding achievements. (No need to do a list of responsibilities.)

All that said, I have zero issues with most of the takes people have offered.

I don't think it's a good idea to try to trick somebody who wants to be ageist and would care, and I also don't think it'd be a good idea to work for them anyhow.

I don't think fabrication is appropriate, but I do think it's a good idea to present your best story, even if this means omission (for something like a graduation year), to get past the first hurdle. Because most people don't want to be ageist, they just are - it's an implicit bias. As griphus said, if you're telling the truth, and people draw whatever conclusions they're going to on the basis of inappropriate expectations, that's on them. They can make a real decision about you when they meet you. (I feel the same way about gender and ethnicity. Applications that are as "blind" as possible would be ideal.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 3:52 PM on September 21, 2016

Is it ethical ... to use a resume that gives an impression that you are younger than you are?

Age discrimination in employment is unethical (and in some cases illegal). Therefore, preventing age discrimination by leaving off info that could help an employer discriminate is perfectly ethical.
posted by splitpeasoup at 6:13 PM on September 21, 2016 [4 favorites]

If companies were not prone to age discrimination, it might not be ethical to obscure your age by careful resume adjustments. Since age discrimination is illegal but very hard to spot, I have no qualms about leaving off details that make me seem older than early 30's. (I am in my late 40's.)

I've dropped everything before 2006 from my resume, and the only reason I go back that far is because the job I got in 2006, I held for seven years. I have been told that hiring managers only want to see the last 3-5 years of employment. (As someone who is sometimes pushed into reviewing resumes, I insist this is not entirely true, and it depends very much on the job in question.) Leaving off the year of graduation - but listing a degree - tells me that the person likely doesn't want to indicate when they graduated, and are probably older than is expected for people in this career. (I do not care. I despise the hire-only-twentysomethings culture and am happy to do my bit to subvert that.)

When facing an unknown hiring manager/recruiter who might be willing to discriminate, you have to decide if it's more damaging to leave a vague "I graduated, but probably earlier than you want to deal with," vs "I graduated in year X, which is definitely earlier than you wanted to deal with."

Early 30s, I wouldn't fret about the actual year. Leave it in; leave out any job that doesn't relate to the career you're looking for, and explain any gaps in an interview - "I worked in X, but didn't put it on the resume because the skills didn't seem relevant."
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 9:21 PM on September 21, 2016

I leave about 10 years of work history off my resume, and LinkedIn, and haven't had any problems.

A resume is supposed to be a summary of your relevant work experience. It's not meant to be your complete life history.

When I'm reviewing resumes for a job on my team, I just check for recent relevant experience. I never waste my time trying to work out how old a candidate might be.
posted by monotreme at 11:20 PM on September 21, 2016

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