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Working in Norway

Older job seekers: The painful need to leave your past behind

Written by Karin Lee Modified: Apr. 12 2021

Since we’re so often told that all of our previous life experiences have formed us into the individuals we are today, it’s hard to leave out large numbers of them when telling our story to others. Yet do this we must at times – especially if we’re actively looking for a new job.

But what to leave in and what to leave out? There is an answer, but it’s often not an easy one for many older people who are looking for new work.

Case in point and a quick update for unaware readers: The drastic fall in oil prices over the last few years has led to thousands of job terminations in Norway’s offshore oil industry. One of the groups hit by this unfortunate trend includes workers who have been living on the planet for awhile, in other words baby boomers in their fifties who have had to leave the jobs they once believed were theirs for life. Suddenly, these people have to, among other stressful things like apply for unemployment, sit at their computers tapping out the story of how they got to where they are today – that is, the very short version of their story. Max two pages, most HR managers say.

The job search world today

I was reminded of this not long ago as I sat editing the resumé of a client who’d been let go from his senior engineering position at a leading regional offshore company. A hard blow to his ego and bank account, to be sure. However, my ‘editing’ mostly involved deleting the job titles and long descriptions of what he had done at each place he’d worked at over the past twenty-five years. Twenty-five years! And he’d obviously remembered every single one, from the bartending job he’d had in college to his most recent project designing drilling platform equipment to be delivered to a Brazilian conglomerate.

The document I returned to him was a much shorter one that had originally landed in my in-box.

The e-mail he quickly sent to me was also short. Why, he asked, did I remove these important parts of his life? How could I dismiss so easily all the effort he had put into each and every job that had made him the mature, reflected person – and great employee, by the way – he was today?

I’m sorry, I wrote back, but it is this severely edited version of your working life that just might land you an interview the next time you submit it for a new job. There is no insult intended, it’s just the way the job search world is today. This edited version will make you stand a chance of getting ‘the call’ from a potential new employer. End of story.

Leave out jobs

Actually, he was hardly alone in his unwillingness to leave out jobs that he feels has shaped not only his professional skills but also his personal character. At my most recent resumé-writing courses, I’ve started making it a point to bring up this topic of what ‘mature’ job seekers need to do when putting themselves out there on the market. I also make sure to talk with them during/after the course, as they always seem to need reassurance that it’s okay to condense their story to the abovementioned two-page summary. It’s not just okay, I assure them, but absolutely necessary, as overworked HR managers looking through digital stacks of jobseekers’ life stories just don’t have time to read theirs if it goes on and on in their tired, sore eyes.

And speaking of eyes, during these brief talks we look at one another with an understanding only people who have been breathing for more than half a century have for one another in a double standard working world that talks on one hand of older workers’ valuable experience while on the other looking to younger workers for their energy and new ideas. Mutual sympathy doesn’t fix everything, but it sure helps in the moment to know that you’re not the only one feeling what you do. Our look says a lot: ‘I see that you get that I’ve worked long and hard to get where I am today, and that it all matters a great deal to me. It’s just really hard to think of all of these experiences in my life as details that need to discarded just so anonymous strangers will consider hiring me. But you know what? I’ve been in hard situations before and I got through them, and so I’ll get through this one, too.’

leaving out doesn’t mean leaving behind

When writing your life’s work story, leaving out doesn’t mean leaving behind; your experiences are your own, and you’ll never forget them or what you learned from them. But for now, focus on the recent past and your interesting present in order to get the future job you both want and deserve.

Read more tips and advice regarding CV and cover letter

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