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“Dumb Down” Your Resume?

image There was an article in the Wall Street Journal recently, titled:
The New Resume: Dumb and Dumber with a subtitle of:
Job Seekers Play Down Their Credentials to Avoid Looking Overqualified

The story was about people that took graduate degrees, years of experience, or titles off their resumes that made them appear ‘overqualified’ for jobs to which they were applying.

Does that work? and… Is that a good idea?

Two very different questions, and in my opinion, with two very different answers.

Most people would agree that it’s a bad idea to add credentials to a resume that aren’t true. Adding a degree, an inflated title, a company, or certification that you don’t have is both wrong and potential career suicide.  Not too long ago the CEO of Texas Instruments was famously dismissed from his position when it was discovered he didn’t actually have a degree that he listed on his resume. The truth may be discovered in a pre-employment background check, or it may be discovered a year after you’ve been in the job. Either way, it won’t be a positive outcome when it happens. Perhaps the truth will never be discovered. What will your life be like in the meantime, waiting and wondering?

When excluding relevant information from your resume, it is also deceiving the employer in order to get a job. A quote in the Wall Street Journal article from a recruiter is dead on:

"How do I know I can trust them later down the road if there's something on their résumé they decided to take off so they could have a better chance at getting that job?"

If the employer would not have hired you because you’re overqualified, they are not going to be pleased later to find out that they now have an overqualified employee… that deceived them. The reasons they did not want an overqualified employee in the first place haven’t likely changed and now they feel they have an employee they’re not sure they can trust.

Companies often have legitimate reasons for not wanting to hire someone with more experience or qualifications than the role requires, such as:

  • Statistically, the employee is much more likely to jump ship if a more appropriate opportunity arises.
  • The employee is less likely to feel fulfilled or challenged in their position, leading to complacency.
  • They are less likely to be ‘coachable’ in company processes or procedures
  • There is a higher likelihood of an employee with an “I’m better than this” attitude

If the company feels that way to begin with, it’s not likely to be a satisfying place for you to work. Yes, it may be tougher and take more effort to find a position that is more appropriate to your qualifications. However, it will also much more likely be the better situation for both you and the company.

All that said… I do believe it’s acceptable to downplay your qualifications on your resume.  If you have a PhD and you’re applying for a Sales position, you don’t have to put your degree at the top of your resume in bold font. Listing the information in a normal font at the end of your resume is fine. If you’ve had 25 years of experience and you’re applying for a position that requires 10, include details of your positions for the last 10 years and then only have a line that states something like: Additional related experience 1984 – 1999.

You are acknowledging your past and not trying to deceive them, you are just presenting your experience in a way most appropriate for the position you’re applying to.

As in every area in life: Honesty is the best policy!
Go out and find the position most appropriate for you!


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Anonymous said...

Why can't we play the same game employers play? A couple of years ago it was good enough to match 3 out of 5 requirements. Experience was often valued over certifications or degrees.
Today I see jobs for Manager Positions stating PHD or MBA preferred and it is best to meet all 5 requirements and maybe have a few more things to over. Preferred seems to be today a "must have".

Cindy Kraft, the CFO-Coach said...

This is such a quandary for job seekers today. I just had this conversation with a writer for e-financial careers last week. Dumbing down a resume "might" trick a company at the beginning, but eventually the truth is revealed. That kind of deception can turn into baggage that a job seeker constantly has to carry ... and explain.

Beyond that, is someone who is over-qualified "really" going to be satisfied for any length of time in a position that is completely unchallenging? Yes, it pays the bills ... but at what cost to your family?

Susan Ireland said...

I agree that it's sometimes not a good idea to leave information off your resume. However, if someone has an advanced degree in a field that's unrelated to their job objective, and it could put off an employer, I recommend using a section heading such as "Relevant Education." The word "Relevant" gives you wiggle room to exclude items such as an unrelated PhD.

The job interview is a great place to answer questions about over qualifications. And on the job application, always include ALL degrees and such, even if they make you appear over-qualified.

Thanks for bringing up this great topic, Harry!

@PipMacdonald said...

I agree honesty is the best policy. It's not about playing the game - it's about painting an accurate picture in the best possible light.
I would make sure the details are on there but as you've said Harry, not make it a focus of attention.
This is why it's so important to:
a) include a positioning statement on your CV painting the focus of your career which includes the level of role you're applying to

b) highlight in a cover sheet-if you choose to include it-that you acknowledge your last position may be a senior one, or you acknowledge your wealth of qualifications but identify what points of the role or the company that particularly apply and why you'd be an asset for the role at this stage of your career.

Thanks for the discussion - poses an interesting point



Anonymous said...

last week our group held a similar discussion on this subject and you illustrate something we haven't covered yet, appreciate that.

- Kris

Anonymous said...

I think people are confused about the role of a resume. It is not your personal biography. It is a sales tool. A brochure to arouse the interest of your sales prospect: the employer. Employers are looking to put a square peg in a square hole. If you want to buy an SUV and the auto sales person shows you a sports car instead, you'd think he was inept, right? So if you're looking to take a job that only requires a high school diploma, you're going to have to take your bachelor's degree off your resume. Yes, yes, I know it took you 6 years and $60,000 to earn it. Get over it. It's making you UN-employable in an economy where 80% of the jobs we create are in minimum wage retail, hospitality and restaurants. Here's a tip: read the job description thoroughly and customize your resume to parrot back the key words in their job description exactly. Contrary to popular myth, most employers are not looking for ambitious people. They're just looking for a square peg.

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