Should I ‘Dumb Down’ My Resume?

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‘J.T. & Dale Talk Jobs’ is the largest nationally syndicated career advice column in the US and can be found at JTandDale.com.

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.


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

Please visit them at jtanddale.com, where you can send questions via e-mail, or write to them in care of King Features Syndicate, 300 W. 57th St, 15th Floor, New York, NY 10019.

© 2009 by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

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9 comments

  1. Not that I disagree completely, but the issue is that many, many managers do not want “overqualified” candidates. And most of the ones I work with who have that view point aren't threatened by an overqualified candidate, but got burned by one or more in the last downturn. They hired someone who swore up and down they “really wanted a job with less stress and responsibility”, when all they REALLY wanted was a job. What I recommend to candidates is not to dumb down their resume, but instead to highlight and focus on the skills and duties they have that match that job opening. De-emphasize the higher level skills – don't remove them, and don't change your job titles, but make sure you actually show how you have done the duties required by the job. Too many overqualified candidates send in resumes that don't show they have done any of the duties in the job opening (ostensibly because they are truly looking for a higher level job). When I see that, I see “not qualified”, not “overqualified”.

  2. Not that I disagree completely, but the issue is that many, many managers do not want “overqualified” candidates. And most of the ones I work with who have that view point aren't threatened by an overqualified candidate, but got burned by one or more in the last downturn. They hired someone who swore up and down they “really wanted a job with less stress and responsibility”, when all they REALLY wanted was a job. What I recommend to candidates is not to dumb down their resume, but instead to highlight and focus on the skills and duties they have that match that job opening. De-emphasize the higher level skills – don't remove them, and don't change your job titles, but make sure you actually show how you have done the duties required by the job. Too many overqualified candidates send in resumes that don't show they have done any of the duties in the job opening (ostensibly because they are truly looking for a higher level job). When I see that, I see “not qualified”, not “overqualified”.

  3. Not that I disagree completely, but the issue is that many, many managers do not want “overqualified” candidates. And most of the ones I work with who have that view point aren't threatened by an overqualified candidate, but got burned by one or more in the last downturn. They hired someone who swore up and down they “really wanted a job with less stress and responsibility”, when all they REALLY wanted was a job. What I recommend to candidates is not to dumb down their resume, but instead to highlight and focus on the skills and duties they have that match that job opening. De-emphasize the higher level skills – don't remove them, and don't change your job titles, but make sure you actually show how you have done the duties required by the job. Too many overqualified candidates send in resumes that don't show they have done any of the duties in the job opening (ostensibly because they are truly looking for a higher level job). When I see that, I see “not qualified”, not “overqualified”.

  4. Good answer… and I agree! Dumbing down your resume is not a good idea because it's a mis-representation of who you are. If they didn't want to hire an over-qualified person in the first place, they aren't going to be happy down the road to find out they got one… who deceived them. I wrote about the same topic here:
    http://www.thewisejobsearch.com/2009/05/dumb-do

    Thanks,

    Harry Urschel
    TheWiseJobSearch blog

  5. JT, I love this quote from your comment on Karen's comment. “I might have many professional skills and experience, but you are entitled to pay for only the features you need!” There is so much talent out there that is potentially going to waste because employers don't want to take any risk and challenge or probe the passion and sincerity of an expereinced person who has the opportunity, because of circumstances, to finally do what he/she really wants to do in life. This economy has diverted the work experience onto an entirely new path and there are many expereinced individuals who are ready and excited about changing with it. They want to make a difference. They want that fire in the belly again, and they have far more capable of making change happen than someone who is just learning how everything in the world of work works. Let's get with it employers…do the phone screens or the exploratory interviews or whatever it takes to find these undiscovered gems out there!

    • Agreed, Hudson

      Employers will see different/better candidates when they step out side the traditional thought. Thanks for conveying that in your comment and for stopping by the site!

  6. Wow, I love that answer! I'm making a note of it in my arsenal of tools to use with my clients, because it is a brilliant way of defusing a potentially tense discussion. My guess is that the company that hired her ultimately valued and rewarded her skills appropriately.

  7. Unfortunately for all too many job seekers who have tried the dumbed-down-resume route, it often doesn't work, unless you are equally good at dumbing down your interview – and why would you want to sell yourself as less than you really are?

    • Karen – fantastic point!

      What happens when you get there and they see you are so much more than your resume lead on? I couldn't agree more. It's more about learning how to sell what you've got in a way that gets the employer to look past the fact that you are overqualified. Using analogies is a great way to do that. I recently had one client tell a company that, “I might have many professional skills and experience, but you are entitled to pay for only the features you need!” It made the hiring manager chuckle on the phone and he got the interview…and eventually, the job!

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