Cover Letter: How to Talk About Age and Dates to Avoid Discrimination

Age discrimination is illegal, but like it or not, employers usually try to figure out your age using the dates and number of years of experience you give in your cover letter and resume. If you think age discrimination is preventing you from getting a job interview, there are some honest "tricks" you can learn for presenting dates and ages in your cover letter. They just might help you get your foot in the door for a job interview.

Most employers have an age range they consider to be ideal for a particular job, based on salary expectations, skill level, ability to supervise or be supervised, and amount of life experience needed. A well-written cover letter refers to time spans instead of actual years to lead the employer to deduce that you are at least the ideal age for the job you're after, regardless of your actual age.

Keep in mind that age discrimination works both ways: You may be considered too old for one position or too young for another position. The following two sections show you how to work with time spans in your cover letter to create the ideal image.

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How to Appear Younger in a Cover Letter

Alice, 56, is applying for a job as a data entry operator in a credit union. She thinks the employer is probably looking for an employee in her late 20s since the employer wants someone who is proficient on the computer, yet won't expect wages as high as someone who has had a long career.
To present herself in her cover letter as the ideal candidate, Alice decides to speak only about the last nine years of her work history, since the employer will most likely take 20 years old as a starting point, add the nine years of work experience she writes about, and conclude that Alice is at least 29 years old. Likewise, on her resume, Alice is careful not to include dates from more than nine years ago so as not to give away her exact age.

The sentence "I have been in data entry for nine years" in Alice's letter is honest, it just doesn't tell all. In the interview she will have the opportunity to sell herself with her enthusiasm, professional manner, and appropriate salary request—thereby fulfilling the employer's expectations of the ideal candidate. In addition, Alice shows she is proactive by saying she will call the reader to follow up.

Creating an Older Image

Don, 22, is a new grad who has worked in sales positions all through high school and college. He's a remarkable achiever who is ready for more responsibility on the sales force than most people his age. He applies for a position as a regional sales manager, knowing that if he can just get his foot in the door and score an interview, he can convince the hiring manager that he can handle the job.
Don decides that the employer is probably expecting to hire someone in his late 20s. So in his cover letter, Don refers to his retail experience from eight years ago when he started working for his dad in his store, as well as his sales achievements at other places of employment. On his resume, he states that he has a degree but does not give the date since it could indicate his actual age.
Everything in Don's letter paints an honest picture of someone who has the experience and maturity of someone several years older without ever giving his age. It also helps that Don’s letter beams with enthusiasm and commitment—good qualities for any employee!

The EPT Formula

There is an easy formula to help you make the kind of impression you want to regarding your age. I call it the EPT (Experience Plus Twenty) formula. Add the number of years of experience stated in your cover letter to 20 (as a ballpark figure for how old you might have been when your experience started) to get a total of x. That means you are at least x years old.

For example, a letter written in 1997 that talks about experience dating back to 1981 tells the reader that the job applicant is at least 36 years old (16 years’ experience plus 20 equals 36).

If you sincerely believe you can do the job, give the EPT formula a try to help make sure you get a fair shake at being hired.

Susan Ireland, Resume Author