Recruiter Suggests “Dumbing Down” Your Resume So You Will Be Less of a Threat Getting Hired in a Recession Economy – Is This a Good Idea?

Copyright © 2010 Ed Bagley

An article by Katie Johnston Chase appeared in The Boston Globe on June 22, 2010. It talks about “dumbing down” your resume to get hired. I could not disagree more with this tactic, and will explain why.

But first, here is the article by Katie Johnston Chase:

After hearing from several potential employers that he was overqualified, high-tech salesman Joe Collins of Medfield worked with a recruiter to come up with two resumes. One emphasized revenue gains and the number of people he oversaw as a manager; the other omitted those details, concentrating instead on his hands-on sales experience.

Collins, 55, figured that someone looking to fill a routine sales job might review his more high-powered management experience and assume: “He’s only going to hang around until he finds something else.”

As the tight job market forces the unemployed to apply for lower-level positions, more job seekers are “dumbing down” credentials, wiping graduate degrees and high-level experience off their resumes, recruiters say.

Applicants say the idea is to get hiring managers to at least look at their resumes, instead of figuring someone with extra qualifications will demand a bigger salary or leave for a higher-level opportunity once the economy turns around.

But too much background doctoring can be risky. Wakefield recruiter Bruce Allen, who has had more clients ask about altering their resumes during the economic downturn, stopped short of calling it unethical, but he said leaving off degrees and experience may come back to haunt job seekers. It’s hard to hide skills in an interview, he said. Background checks and the Internet can also quickly reveal what job seekers leave out.

“It’s less about ethics and more about what kind of quicksand are you about to step into,” said Allen, of Point B Search, who helped Collins craft his resumes.

Modifying a resume to fit a specific opening is nothing new, but when jobs are scarce, recruiters say, applicants are more willing to undersell themselves. Stephen Ford, of the career consulting firm OI Partners in Concord, sees this resume customization — not mentioning that you managed a $1 million budget if the company you’re applying to has a half-a-million-dollar budget, as he counseled one job seeker — as a way to broaden a job seeker’s appeal.

“I think we see it in each deep recession,” Ford said.

Former Web analyst Nicholas Carroll, who was laid off from his consulting job for IBM in 2008, is such a believer in dumbing down resumes that he dedicated a section of his 2009 e-book, “The Layoff Survival Plan,” to it.

In the section titled “How to Downgrade Your Resume for a Tight Job Market,” Carroll recommends taking titles down one peg, from director to manager, from manager to specialist.

Carroll removed his bachelor’s degree in technology management after he lost a job as a website developer during the dot.com collapse of the late ’90s in order not to appear overqualified for blue-collar work, and he didn’t stop there.

During an interview for a management position at Econo Lube `N Tune, “I deliberately hesitated a quarter second before every answer,” he said, and at one point decided to fake a “faint look of panic.”

The morning after the interview, he said, he was offered the job. “Somebody finds out you know that much more than they do, they get nervous,” Carroll said.

That’s true, says Robert Akerlof, a post-doctoral associate at the MIT Sloan School of Management, who is working on a theory about how it can be difficult to maintain authority over overqualified workers if they think a job, or a boss, is beneath them.

Dumbing down a resume is a way for job seekers to show that they are going to be respectful, said Akerlof, citing the “20 percent rule,” which states that bosses should be 20 percent smarter than their employees.

“I think it’s not so much that you’re lying about what your resume is, it’s that you’re trying to convey an appropriate attitude,” he said.

Recruiters also say they are seeing more older workers who delete the year they graduated from college, along with details about their early job experiences — both of which can date them.

But a job seeker who left the first 10 years off his resume didn’t get far with the Burlington public relations firm Davies Murphy Group. “In my book it automatically disqualifies the candidate because it shows a comfortableness with dishonesty,” said principal Andy Murphy.

People are so focused on getting back into the workforce that they are setting aside not just complete work histories, but their egos, to go after the kind of position they may have had years before.

Unemployed Denver science educator Nancy Hansen removed her master’s degree in ecology and her two Fulbright scholarships from her resume to send a message to a potential employer: “I don’t want you to think that because I have a great resume I’m above doing the work that is here.”

Hansen is still not getting many callbacks from the museums and schools she has been applying to, but at least she’s not hearing the dreaded “overqualified” word anymore. If she is asked about her education or work experience in an interview, she said, she will tell the truth.

That’s what Adrienne Rodney did after sending in a master’s-degree-free resume for an executive assistant position. Convinced that her graduate degree from Boston University was hurting her chances of getting the publishing and public relations jobs she was applying for, she stopped including it.

When she came clean about the omitted degree to her potential boss, Brooke Allen — who runs the website NoShortageofWork.com, about unconventional paths to employment — Allen told Rodney that he had left his MBA from New York University off his resume years before.

Much discussion, and a job offer for Rodney, soon followed.

End of Katie Johnston Chase’s Article

Start of Ed Bagley’s Reaction:

When resume writing clients of mine approach me about “dumbing down” their resume to help them get a job in a down economy, I discourage such foolishness, and here are some reasons why:

1) It is very bad form for anyone who wants to get ahead in this world to apologize for being educated, literate, ambitious or productive.

Just because the world is full of mediocre minds and mental termites (many of whom take up space and do nothing more than enough to keep their job) does not mean you should be sucking up to them at their level of thought power, education, literacy, productivity and accomplishment.

You can temporarily lower your level of employment expectations, but do not lower yourself or your qualifications in the process.

Take a lesser job and salary if you must to survive until the economy turns around, but stand your ground when it comes to your qualifications.

Do not dumb down your resume by taking off your degrees, job titles, productivity and accomplishments.

You can tell me that they will not hire you because they feel you are a threat to their position.

You can tell me that they will not hire you because they are afraid you will leave for a better position when the economy turns around.

You can tell me that they said your are overqualified for the position.

None of these comments from potential interviewers or decision-makers amounts to a hill of beans.

If no one has every told you before, I need to tell you now – when someone says you are overqualified, that is simply the most polite way they have of saying they do not want to hire you.

It could mean they do not want to hire you because you are a threat, or because you may leave at the first opportunity for a better job, or any other reason, including the way you part your hair, the color of your eyes, or the sound of your voice. It flat does not matter.

You simply need to move on to another interview for another opportunity. Think this through for a moment.

If they think you might leave because you are a threat, what makes you think they will not undermine your effort and production if you are hired?

If they think you might leave because you will find a better opportunity, is it not clear then that you will be penalized for trying to better yourself? What kind of a person or boss would hold you back from becoming a better person, or trying to find a better, more productive way to support your family and yourself?

I will tell you what kind of a person would think and feel this way toward you. A loser, that’s who. What person in their right mind wants to work for, or with, a loser? Losers will always drag you down before they would ever think of lifting you up, that is why they are losers.

Winners do not think like losers. Winners do not talk like losers. Winners do not act like losers.

What would a winner’s reaction be if you came to him or her acting like you were educated, literate, ambitious or productive? They would read you resume, interview you and act appropriately – that is, make you a job offer.

Why? You must be kidding to ask such a question.

For openers, when you are educated, literate, ambitious and productive, they may not have to spend a dime to train you to do a job at a much lower level than you are accustomed.

You will likely be a high achiever and performer, saving them time and effort in monitoring your work habits.

They will be able to give you projects and assignments, and they will not micro-manage you in the process; they will be moving on to another challenge to make them and the department – including you – look better than your competitors to the higher ups.

You will likely make your boss look good, increasing his chances of an earlier promotion. And what do you think your boss will do when he is promoted? That’s right, take you to a higher position with him; he would be nuts not to, especially if he knows how valuable you have been to him under his charge.

Should you be offered a better position than the company you are working for can match, you boss will not be all that upset if you leave. Why? Because you may leapfrog over his position, turn around, and bring your boss with you. After all, he was smart enough to hire you.

2) Acting and playing dumb to take a job that pays significantly less than you were making is hardly an intelligent career move unless you want to devalue yourself and what you have to offer, and move backwards at the same time.

When you interview with someone for a lesser position, and you know that person is not even making half or one-third of what you were making in your prior position, do not let the interviewer make you feel like a lesser person by sitting there and listening to that baloney.

Be polite, be patient and then be gone. Life is short. You do not need to work for losers who want to tear you down while trying to build themselves up at your expense.

I fully recognize that in life there is no vacuum for followers, the vacuum is for leaders. Followers do not, and cannot lead if their life depended upon it. When a follower sees a leader, he will follow and become a good team player; he knows his place and will be happy as a follower.

Leaders do not enjoy any such comfort. Leaders are not comfortable unless they are leading. And yes, leaders were once followers before they became leaders; they just did not make a career out of being a follower.

There is nothing wrong with being a follower. As Shakespeare said, “Act well your part, therein all honor lies.”

Smart bosses and smart people in the hiring business know they are always money ahead hiring a smart, educated, literate, productive and ambitious person. People who fear competition are losers and will never get ahead in this world, unless, of course, their daddy owns the company and their daddy would let an idiot run the company.

Most winners in this world got where they are at by lifting themselves up by their bootstraps by the honest sweat of their brow – all they needed to become successful was an opportunity, not a handout.

And, this is important, when they were denied an opportunity, they created their own opportunity. Some people have a job; other people create a job with a business – in other words, they do not have a job, they own a job.

When you have your own business, you are not going to fire yourself or lay yourself off. If you want more income, you raise your prices, and operate only in the market that will pay your prices. Who says you have to serve everyone? You just have to serve someone in a special market segment to be successful in America.

One final comment – have some pride and backbone in who you are, and what you have to offer. Do not allow two-bit interviewers and snot-nosed personnel types to push you around mentally or emotionally, they haven’t lived long enough to earn that right. Let people know real quick that you are a person of substance and, if they cannot handle it, find someone who can.

Life is short. Idiocy is rampant. Success is elusive. You must reach out and grab success by the hand, and do not let loose of it until you bring it to you. You can do it. Anything you can conceive and believe, you can achieve. Create desire, develop belief, and get on with it.

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