Older Engineers: Don’t Listen to Penelope Trunk

There’s a lot of advice on the internet directed to engineers and other tech workers who reach a certain age. According to Penelope Trunk, you’re supposed to hide your age on your resume by deleting work experience older than about 15 years ago and omitting the date on your college degree. (I’m going to blow Penelope’s cover: I knew her when she was still Adrienne Roston, and I’m pretty sure she’s no 29-year-old!)

I receive a number of these resumes, and I’m here to say, don’t be silly. Hiding your age on your resume is like a comb-over: You’re not fooling anybody, and it looks a little pathetic to boot.

There are a lot of good reasons that employers should prefer seasoned engineers, but look, I’m certainly not saying there isn’t age discrimination in the hiring of tech workers. (Although I certainly hope we don’t suffer from it here at Cardinal Peak!) The statistics cited by both blog posts linked above show it, and I’ve seen firsthand that some of our customers prefer younger engineers. I’m certain age-discrimination exists.

The thing is, once you’re over 40 or so, you might as well highlight your strengths and experience — you’re not going to “pass” for a 25-year-old by omitting some details from your resume. On the receiving side, it is obvious what you’re up to.

Far more important, from my perspective, is to keep current: If you’re a Java engineer, tell me about how you’ve written a small app for an Android phone in your spare time — that’s much more valuable than some 10-year-old Swing project.

But this advice applies to everyone, regardless of age.

I even think the prevalence of age discrimination presents an (unfortunate) opportunity for employers to perform a bit of arbitrage, Moneyball-style. If older workers are devalued in the marketplace relative to what they can add to our team, hey, great! Send us those resumes!

But please, put back in all the great experience you have from the 1980s. (Briefly, though: A two-page resume is long enough for anyone.) True, older history is not as relevant as your more recent experience, but it does have value. And regardless of whether we end up hiring you, let’s both agree to approach the whole hiring process with a little dignity and pride.