Article may contain sponsored links

5: To CV or Not to CV? That is the Question When Hiring Over-50s Workers | Age Pioneers Action Panel Report

This report highlights the salient points from the To CV or not to CV? That is the question when hiring over-50s workers session with our guests, speakers, and the subsequent Q&A.

James Marsh
James Marsh
A published author, as well as a corporate and lifestyle media professional, James works across content, marketing and consultancy.

About Age Pioneers

Age Pioneers is an Action Panel of cross-sector HRDs and Heads of D&I. It includes the likes of Unilever, EY, Capita, Dentsu and Boots. We have a core group that attends each month and picks apart a single topic in relation to age inclusion. We use the first 30 mins to interview our panel on the topic to share their experience and have a Q&A (which is this article), then the next hour the group becomes the panel and debates the topic under Chatham House rules in an unrecorded event to allow peer networking and collaboration.

The Recap

The formal CV first came to widespread prominence in the 1950s and has grown to be a pillar of the world of recruitment. But is it still relevant? What role do CVs – or doing away with CVs – have in addressing employment issues for both the over 50s and their prospective employers?

A CV represents a particular problem for the over 50s – how can one possibly encapsulate 30 or more years of experience into a couple of sides of A4? And what if, because a candidate is seeking a significant pivot or a career change into a new sector, their decades of employment experience aren’t a precise fit for the new role?

When people enter their 50s, they often look for something other than career progression or an increased salary. This is not necessarily what many employers or HR directors are used to seeing – so, as the candidate’s backstory of their positions and expertise are not a direct match for their desired new role, they are… rejected.

But, but, BUT… The candidate has 30 years of work experience, a myriad of soft skills they have amassed along the way and a strong desire for a new challenge. Surely, that’s what organisations want from a new employee? Is that the applicant’s fault for how they are presenting themselves on their CV, HR’s fault for not being more flexible in their approach to CVs or nobody’s fault, as it’s just the way it is?

Watch the Recording of the Speaker's Q&A Session Here:-

Anonymising CVs or applications takes away attention from the bigger issue, which is removing the discrimination that exists in the first place.

The Conversation

1) Why are CVs a problem for the over 50s?

When it comes to recruitment, we already know older workers face discrimination – and, as a CV can easily suggest someone’s approximate age, it can unwittingly provide an opportunity to discriminate. It may be the number of roles mentioned, reference to outdated qualifications or naming of previous employers– all give clues to someone’s age.

In the session, Katrina Hutchinson O’Neill, Co-Founder and CEO of Join Talent, revealed that some sectors are more discriminatory than others: “I work very heavily in the tech, start-up and digital space, and age discrimination is rife. I see it nearly every day.”

It is a real problem for both recruiters and candidates. As Andrew MacAskill, COO of Fraser Dove International and founder of Executive Career Jump, said, “I look forward to a day whereby I don’t have to advise people to only have 15 years’ worth of experience on their CV. Or to remove their education dates.”

When people are younger, they often embellish their CVs to appear more experienced. Upon reaching their 50s, applicants may have to do the opposite and simplify the document. Otherwise, someone can appear to be over-qualified for a role and that leads to a lack of trust. As one attendee noted: “Even though a candidate may be looking for a different experience that is perhaps just a bit more flexible, potential colleagues are thinking, ‘They won’t fit in because they’re way too qualified. They’re going to try and control everything and they’re not going to fit in with the team.’ ”

Simon Wilsher, Executive Chairman of C-me Colour Profiling, explained this is one of the failings of the CV. “When we work with applicants, we are examining four things: we’re looking at their knowledge; we’re looking at what they do well or their capability; we’re looking at their attitude or behaviours; and we are looking at their temperament. I think CVs do the knowledge piece very well. The capability, behaviour and temperament? I am not so sure."

“And to tap into the over-50s market, I think you really need to consider their capability, behaviour and temperament. It’s really important. For that reason, I’d like to see less emphasis on the CV in the selection process.”

2) Could anonymising CVS help?

It’s not just details such as dates of birth or years of graduation, that can give a person’s age. Andrew explained: “Sometimes we see email addresses that suggest age, such as”

Would removing all details that relate to age help negate bias against older workers? A similar approach is sometimes used with the aim of avoiding discrimination based on gender or race. Katrina Hutchinson O’Neill wasn’t keen on this approach. “I started my career in the late nineties and, and early noughties. I was often told that you had to play down any femininity that might come through on your CV if you want to be taken seriously. I’m glad that we’ve moved past that now.”

She explained that, in the same vein, “I would feel quite aggrieved as somebody with over 20 years of career experience, if that experience was being disregarded or going against me.” Katrina continued, “Anonymising CVs or applications takes away attention from the bigger issue, which is removing the discrimination that exists in the first place.

“It is excusing poor behaviour from employers and hiring managers. It’s saying, ‘We’re going to treat you like children because we don’t trust you to make the right, fair and balanced decision based on all the relevant information. And we think that you’re going to discriminate, so we’re going to try to remove the ability.

“I feel very strongly that it’s the wrong answer. What we need to do is to educate society and educate employers to become more open to all aspects of diversity.”

Plus, Katrina pointed out that there is no evidence it makes a difference to hiring outcomes. Andrew agreed, saying, “There is no data to suggest that a CV is going to work negatively against you.”

I look forward to a day whereby I don’t have to advise people to only have 15 years’ worth of experience on their CV. Or to remove their education dates

3) Is LinkedIn a replacement for CVs for older workers?

Andrew is a recognised LinkedIn influencer and makes great use of the business social network. However, he doesn’t believe it will supersede the CV. “LinkedIn is our mechanism of finding people. I don’t think it’s an alternative to the CV. When you’re optimising LinkedIn for somebody who’s looking for a role, you’re optimising for buzzwords. Whereas in a CV, ideally, you’re optimising for competencies and achievements.”

Four out of five recruiters use social media to source candidates and LinkedIn is the most prominent of these channels. Yet, as has been revealed in 55/Redefined’s recent report The Unretirement Uprising, only 16 per cent of over 50s use LinkedIn. This suggests a change in tack is required if recruiters are to improve inclusive candidate sourcing and recruitment, and to reach over-50s where they are – because for most older workers, it’s not LinkedIn.

Over-50s lack of engagement with LinkedIn raises another issue, as Katrina explained. “On applicant tracking systems, there is often the ability to apply with one click using your LinkedIn profile. It then pulls all the data through to the relevant fields in your applicant tracking system.” If someone is not on LinkedIn, they can’t apply this way.

“I think it’s a much more digitally native way of allowing someone to apply for a role,” said Katrina. And that may further skew opportunities towards younger applicants.

4) Is there an alternative to CVs for the over-50s?

“CVs are an international language that is understood in every country in the world” says Andrew MacAskill. “They are a career passport that’s understood broadly and that most people can find their way around. Those are the positives.”

So, what are the negatives? “The trouble with the CV is that most people don’t feel it represents who they are,” continues Andrew. From the employer’s perspective, that can raise a risk. “People may be hired on their CV but then fired based on their behaviour and attitude. We’ve all overpaid for somebody that looked like a superstar on paper but, within three or four weeks, you wonder what it was you bought.”

For the over-50s, as one senior HR director from the financial sector noted, the CV tends to look back over a long career, when it actually needs to look towards the future. They continued, “My challenge with the over-50s is to make people look relevant, not for who they were but for what they want to do in the future. We need to make sure people look appealing so that it feels like you are gaining a great team member who has lots of wisdom. That may mean retraining or reframing their skills, because a CV is still a CV.”

Could a bespoke application form for each opportunity be the answer? Evidence suggests otherwise, as Katrina Hutchinson O’Neill explained. “It significantly decreases the number of candidates who are coming through the front of the funnel. The data is there to prove it – using an application form results in a sizable reduction of anywhere up to 70 to 80 per cent of candidates. That’s why I much prefer a CV to an application form for most roles.”

Lyndsey Simpson, Founder and CEO of the 55/Redefined Group, said the company’s Jobs/Redefined brand has avoided full application forms for this reason. “Our experience is that over-50s don’t like going through application forms on Application Tracking Systems. We’ve introduced a different process, which is more lead gathering. People can express an interest, share their name and email address, but don’t fully commit to making an application. That way we don’t lose them in the process and we find a different way of engaging with them.”

5) It’s good to talk

Simon Wilsher recalled how his company helped the first internet bank, Egg, with an approach that moved away from putting the CV at the centre of recruitment. Instead, the applicant was asked to complete a profile that would explain their interests, their passions and so on. Then, each HR advisor arranged a phone call for what Simon called a “powerful conversation”.

From that chat, the HR advisor would judge whether this person would fit the Egg team and the culture. Simon emphasised the powerful conversation was about the person’s “qualities” rather than their experience as listed on their CV.

Simon said Egg’s approach of using powerful conversations was incredibly successful. “The churn rate at the call centre went down from 33 per cent to 12 per cent within nine months. And the retention rate within the company rose to close to 100 per cent.”

They were impressive results and Katrina Hutchinson O’Neill commented: “That is the job of a potential employer – to figure out through a really good recruitment process whether someone’s likely to be a good cultural or behavioural fit for the organisation.”

Simon admitted Egg did use a reduced form of the CV in this process, but that the approach was more about the person than the experience – and that predicted the fit within the team and organisation, rather than just the role. “Ultimately if you can align who you are with what you do, then you will be more fulfilled. And I think an approach which aims to get to know more about the person before trying to fill the role is more relevant to people who are 50 plus.”

Simon also noted: “Applicants are often encouraged on CVs to present an image of themselves and their experience, by looking at the company website, using keywords and so on. That can limit the CV’s value. Also, studies have shown a very high percentage of CVS have misleading statements, though I don’t believe that’s such a problem with the 50s plus cohort.”

One of the attendees, who had worked within HR in the civil service, picked up on this. “In my experience, younger people knew how to game the system or massage the narrative and would get the job. So, a 35-year-old person with little experience would be awarded the role over someone who was 50 plus with over 30 years of experience. The older person had not managed to sell themselves in the right way or massage the narrative. Or didn’t do so out of integrity.”

When you’re optimising LinkedIn for somebody who’s looking for a role, you’re optimising for buzzwords. Whereas in a CV, ideally, you’re optimising for competencies and achievements

Key Conclusions and Recommendations

1. CVs aren’t going anywhere. But…

All speakers agreed CVs are a vital part of the recruitment equation but the process that uses them has major flaws.

“It’s not so much should a person produce a CV as part of their application or not,” said Simon, “because I think they should. Instead, it’s how the organisation uses the CV to make sure that they get the right fit for the role and the company culture.”

Andrew added: “Too often, CVs create really boring interviews – trying to use past experience as a predictor for future success. Good organisations use CVs as part of the assessment to try and understand the individual.”

2. Let’s all think hybrid

We need to move the CV into this century and make it forward looking. It needs to be in the right language that helps over-50s be successful in their careers.

The panel didn’t want to “bin the CV” but did feel that it needed to be modernised and that it incorporates the rapid transformation in the way we work. There may be a hybrid model that combines the best of traditional CVs, services such as LinkedIn and emerging technology solutions such as blockchain. One of the attendees noted their organisation in the financial sector is trialling virtual reality to see if it could play a role in recruitment.

3. Don’t anonymise!

This was a surprise to many attendees – don’t disguise your age. There have been many tests and studies, using A/B testing and other methods and the conclusion is clear, anonymising doesn’t work.

As Katrina Hutchinson O’Neill emphasised: “Any campaign to scrap the CV or to anonymise CVs would simply be taking away attention from what we have to be talking about – and that is removing the discrimination that exists in the first place.”

4. Job descriptions can be improved

One attendee said job descriptions now have very defined criteria of the minimum requirement of the of the number of years within a sector, maybe a masters’ degree and so on. This immediately starts to pigeonhole the people that recruiters are seeking to attract. By being less prescriptive in job descriptions and opening the conversation to experience outside the immediate role, greater numbers of over-50s will feel able to apply.

5 Education, education, education

Ageism is a major issue that any over-50s seeking a new role will face. And ultimately, no matter the approach, at some point the candidate is going to have to sit in front of the hiring manager. At which point, unconscious and conscious bias comes into play. As Lyndsey said: “This is the root issue we need to address rather than just chucking more people down the recruitment pipe.”

There are two areas of education:

  • The employers and recruitment industry
  • The over-50s candidates themselves.

On the former, 55 Redefined is already educating and campaigning on removing ageism from the workplace. On the latter, candidates need help to present their transferable skills in a more positive way, sharing things that you might not always see on a CV. This requires education, awareness and training.

Also, candidates and employers should rid themselves of the notion that they need a long-form, biographical CV that covers every gap in their career history. One very senior HR professional commented: “I hate anything more than a one-page CV!” and that presents a challenge for any candidate trying to include great detail.

Final Thought

In the current job market, traditional roles can seem to be reversed: hiring professionals are the candidates, not the person applying for the role. That could mean if the industry is relying on CVs and processes that don’t help the candidates, it is out of touch with how the over-50s candidates are behaving. It may be time to reconsider how appropriate a CV is to the recruitment of the over-50s.

This session was recorded in November 2022.

Thanks to Our Guest Speakers

Katrina Hutchinson O’Neill, Co-Founder and CEO of Join Talent

Katrina is a multi-award winning hugely experienced and well-respected figure within HR. After working for various banks heading up the HR function, she founded Join Talent in 2019. In the short time since she launched the business, it has grown to more than 200 people in 23 countries. Katrina is passionate about improving the recruitment process for the over 50s.

Simon Wilsher, Executive Chairman of C-me Colour Profiling

Originally from Zimbabwe, Simon is the founder and Executive Chairman of C-me Colour Profiling. It is a bespoke behavioural profiling system, developed to provide immediate insight and impact. Simon is also an experienced executive business coach and in-demand keynote speaker.

Andrew MacAskill is CCO of Fraser Dover International

Andrew is an acknowledged recruitment and executive search expert, both as CCO of Fraser Dover International and previously through his organisation Executive Career Jump. A passionate career coach, Andrew has produced over 80 episodes of his podcast The Executive Career Jump, has almost 100K followers on LinkedIn and is a LinkedIn Top Voice of 2022.

The Action Panel privately discussed these points following the speakers Q&A which is not recorded. To be part of this confidential conversation, get in touch HERE.

Access an Untapped Pool Of Over-50s Candidates

Older workers are a massive ‘hidden pool of talent’, just waiting – and wanting – to be tapped. 55/Redefined is skilled in reaching this demographic via our jobs board and employer-branded content. We raise the profile of clients as Age-Inclusive employers and create bespoke campaigns to appeal to the over 50s.

Get In Touch

Age Pioneers is brought to you in partnership with Join Talent, EMEA's leading partner for embedded recruitment solutions & TA strategic consultancy,