Should I ‘Dumb Down’ My Resume?

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Dear J.T. & Dale: What are your thoughts on “dumbing down” a resume to get a job? I’ve read that it’s the only way to get called for jobs that I’m overqualified for. I worked hard for my advanced degrees and senior positions, but I’m seeing evidence that it is placing me out of the market. — Russell

J.T.: It’s funny that on the day we got your question, Russell, a fellow columnist, Jon Jacobs, sent me the article he wrote on the same subject. You describe yourself as “overqualified,” and Jon concludes that if you give even the slightest hint that youthinking that way, managers will not hire you for fear that you’ll come to the job “with an attitude” and set yourself apart from the team.

Dale: We all can agree on that. But the issue here is with the resume. And I’ve seen managers react in two ways to getting applicants with unexpectedly high qualifications:

There are those who consider such applicants overqualified and assume they’ll be know-it-alls and/or leave the moment the economy perks up.

Then, there are those managers who are delighted by the possibility of picking up a “bargain” employee.

The former tend to be managers who are insecure and thus threatened by star employees; the latter tend to be those confident, broad-minded leaders who are always looking for a chance to upgrade their teams. When you dumb down your resume, you’re sending a mating call of mediocrity, appealing to managers who’ll turn on you once you start, creating a “set-up-to-fail syndrome.”

J.T.: Yes, instead of talking down your qualifications, amp up your networking. Make it so the resume is the second or third thing a hiring manager sees about you, after he or she has heard from a colleague about what a great addition you’ll be, or maybe after your first phone conversation or visit to the company. By the time they see your resume, they’ll already have concluded that you’re a good fit, and those qualifications will seem like what they are — an added bonus that makes you a more appealing candidate.


Jeanine “J.T.” Tanner O’Donnell is a professional development specialist and founder of Dale Dauten’s latest book is “(Great) Employees Only: How Gifted Bosses Hire and De-Hire Their Way to Success” (John Wiley & Sons).

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