Should you dumb down your resume?

The Charlotte Observerposts an intriguing question in one of their stories that ran earlier this week: Is your resume too good?

In other words, as reporter Kirsten Vallie observes, "faced with the cruelest job market in years, some unemployed professionals are lowering their standards for the jobs they're seeking -- and even toning down their resumes to avoid seeming overqualified."

Of course, on the surface, it sounds like a great problem for a hiring manager or boss. Who wouldn't want to hire someone who is overqualified for a job? After all, aren't you likely to get an employee who is something of a superhero, instantly able to handle any hurdle that comes their way in a single bound?

Well, maybe, but at the same time, employers are well aware that they may just be giving that person a temporary position, and that the overqualified employee will bolt as soon as something better comes along. And so some desperate folks are reportedly shrinking their resume down a bit, making impressive titles sound less impressive or removing a promotion or two--or three.

Anyway, I decided to seek out a career counselor and ask what she thought about roughing up your resume. I sought out career coach Sharon DeLay, president and owner of Permanent Ink Professional Development Services in Columbus, Ohio, to see if she thinks it's a good or bad idea.

DeLay says that if the prospective employee wants less responsibility or perhaps a new career, "downgrading is fine." She suggests it isn't ethical, however, if you're doing it to be more competitive in the job market.

Morever, DeLay points out that it's a risky strategy. "Because the candidate, should he or she actually get the job, will quickly become bored. In this case, one of two things will likely happen. To overcome the boredom, the candidate will ask for or be given more work to stay engaged and then begin resenting doing more work -- probably work that is in line with his or her actual skill set and experience -- for the lower pay level."

Once you realize you're working as hard as ever for less money, DeLay suspects that the employee "will disengage and decrease productivity, thereby risking keeping the position altogether."

She also says that recruiters and HR professionals are "a pretty smart group of people, and they're expert at reading between the lines and filling in blanks. They're also concerned about costs associated with turnover. If they don't figure out the truth from reviewing a resume, they'll quickly get the picture during the screening process and through the behavioral questioning. So all the work the candidate put into downgrading experience could have been better put to use selling themselves and the reason a company should hire them."

I also sought out Edward Klimczak, a recruiting director for an IT firm in southern California, who agrees that it's better and smarter to be truthful on the resume. "If you were the vice-president of something, you've got to put you were the vice-president of something," says Klimczak, who acts as the middleman between the prospective employees and hiring managers.

But if you're overqualified and want to apply for a job anyway, Klimczak has some suggestions:

  • Put something near the top under your "career objectives" that hint at why you're applying for this job. For instance, if you were a manager behind a desk but want to apply as a custodian, you might say that you're looking forward to a "more hands-on role" in your new position.
  • When you're listing your duties, if you need to, you could list the lesser important duties on your resume. But if you're asked in the interview if you managed people or did some other high-level task, Kimczak says that you should be truthful about that.
  • Instead of being afraid that people might think you're overqualified, "sell yourself," says Kimczak. "Sell what value you'll bring to the organization."

In the end, some hiring managers will be turned off if you clearly outshine the position you're being considered for, concedes Kimczak, but he says that he has met just as many hiring managers who are open to bringing overqualified people into a position. "They'll say that they need the bench strength, or that they fill skill gaps in our organization," says Kimczak. "It can go either way."

Geoff Williams is a freelance journalist and the author of C.C. Pyle's Amazing Foot Race: The True Story of the 1928 Coast-to-Coast Run Across America (Rodale).
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