Say your earlier experience is difficult to break into pieces as you held one title for a considerable amount of time, then the combination format could help you present highlights of your career before the professional experience section would be presented. Therefore this format allows you the opportunity to focus the reader’s attention on your qualifiers (type of experience) vs. potential disqualifiers (dates of experience).
Incorporate keywords and update jargon —
You will also want to make sure the jargon used within your résumé is up-to-date with today's vernacular in the nonprofit field. Antiquated or unrelated terms and even job titles can serve to immediately disqualify a candidate.
Certainly if you found your HR background a major plus in your recent role, then you would not want to omit it, nor could you when presenting an accurate picture of your background. I recommend reviewing all of your experiences — HR, engineering, and project management — and ensuring you are selling the transferability of the functions you performed in terms that resonate with your new target audience.
Revitalize your résumé format —
If you are using a résumé format you used in the 80s or 90s it will not only show your age but not utilize some of the key strategies of a 21st century job search. Be sure your résumé is in line with today’s formatting standards, opening with a qualifications summary not an objective statement, focusing on accomplishments not responsibilities, and utilizing an engaging style of action-oriented content.
Think about it, if a résumé is unattractive it repels readership, however if you have a pleasing aesthetic it compels readership and goes a long way to extending the screening process. Your résumés certainly could use a makeover to ensure they not only read well but also attract attention.
As for your question about how to frame your reason for leaving your last employer, this of course will not come into play until your interview. At that point honesty is always the best policy, but be sure to steer away from any negativity. Instead, focus on what the experience taught you about what you want in your next nonprofit engagement and employer, and of course, how the employer in front of you fits the bill.
With a review of these tips to “modernize” your résumé, your experience will shine and potential disqualifiers related to your fears of aging your candidacy will be removed from your résumé. I wish you great success!
As I work with a lot of clients with 20-30 years of experience, my website, and ‘Dear Sam’ archive, contain a number of samples which will reinforce the strategies presented above. View samples on www.ladybug-design.com/blog