Is It Smart to Dumb Down Your Resume?

Members of the 117th Air Refueling Wing participate in a resume writing workshop at Sumpter Smith Joint National Guard Base, Alabama.
Members of the 117th Air Refueling Wing participate in a resume writing workshop tailored for the USA Jobs site at Sumpter Smith Joint National Guard Base, Alabama, Sept. 8, 2023. (Tech. Sgt. Wesley Jones/U.S. Air National Guard photo)

If you're an experienced worker, you might be considering dumbing down your resume to land an interview for a position for which you might seem overqualified. This strategy could include downplaying or omitting work experience, resume skills, degrees and other credentials.

But is reworking your resume in this manner a wise thing to do? Employment experts weigh in with their advice.

Related: Does your resume pass the 6-second test? Get a FREE assessment.

Special Circumstances Can Warrant It

Tracy Parish, a certified professional resume writer and president of resume-writing firm CareerPlan in Kewanee, Illinois, has encountered situations when dumbing down the resume can work. "Obviously, a person needs to keep bread on the table, so accepting a lower position is becoming more common and the resume needs to be appropriately tailored," she said.

While you don't have to include everything you've ever done on your resume, don't cross the line into dishonesty. "Never lie," Parish said. "It will come back to haunt you." If you decide to omit some of your credentials on your resume, you still must provide a thorough account on a job application. A resume is a strategic marketing piece, whereas a job application is a signed, legal document that requires full disclosure.

What Are the Risks?

"Job seekers should think carefully before dumbing down their resumes," said Robert Hosking, executive director of OfficeTeam, a staffing agency based in Menlo Park, California. "Employers can easily learn about job seekers' work histories, education and credentials online or through references, so they should be truthful."

"We do not recommend that job seekers hide relevant information," said Carrie Stone, a former Disney executive and current president of cStone & Associates, an executive search and leadership consulting firm in San Diego. "If job seekers misrepresent credentials, they are seen as dishonest and employers will question their integrity."

William Finlay, professor of sociology at the University of Georgia and co-author of "Headhunters: Matchmaking in the Labor Market," also agrees that job seekers shouldn't dumb down their resumes. "Misrepresentation, if it is discovered, is a deal-breaker, because it calls the candidate's honesty into question," he said.

Overqualified Workers May Have an Edge

Finlay's research suggests some good news for job seekers who are willing to accept lower-level positions but are concerned about being perceived as overqualified. "We may be entering an era in which being overqualified is no longer a liability," he said. "A generation ago, a college degree became a requirement for jobs that previously required only a high school diploma. Now, we are seeing evidence of people with JDs and MBAs being hired for jobs that previously would have gone to people with undergraduate degrees."

Stone has seen this trend in her recruiting career as well. "Previously, employers may have been concerned about hiring overqualified individuals, fearing that when the economy rebounds, these employees may leave for other opportunities," she said. "Since we are not seeing a robust rebound in the market, savvy employers are hiring these overqualified employees while achieving value pricing."

Smarter Strategies

Parish, who agrees that dumbing down the resume is generally not a good idea, says job seekers should shoot for the stars. "If experienced workers are armed with an extraordinary resume and launch an aggressive job search, they could find their ideal jobs and won't have to settle," she said.

Here are three strategies for experienced job seekers who don't want to dumb down their resumes:

1. Customize: "A resume needs to be custom-designed, highly targeted and well above average to gain interest," Parish said. Include a targeted resume headline so employers understand your career goal, followed by a qualifications summary that provides an overview of your value.

2. Summarize: "It's perfectly fine to omit details that aren't relevant to the position you are applying for," Hosking said. "For example, you don't need to include a job you held in high school 40 years ago or expound on a job in another field that isn't relevant to the position you're seeking." Parish recommends detailing only the past 10-15 years of your employment history, and relegating older employment to an "Additional Experience" or "Early Career" section at the bottom. Unrelated degrees or specialized training can be downplayed or eliminated as long as they are appropriately listed on an application form, she says.

3. Overcome objections: Stone says job seekers should anticipate objections employers might have and use the cover letter to address how age and experience can be a tremendous asset to the organization. "Seek to understand employers' concerns and then sell around those concerns with brevity, clarity and confidence," she said.

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