Dumbing Down Your Resume

by Randy Wooden at The Wooden Group

Perhaps you’ve read my February 13, 2011, article in the Winston-Salem Journal.  If not, here’s a somewhat controversial take on adapting your resume to meet the job requirements.

You’ve sacrificed time and money to earn your degree, perhaps adding a master’s degree or better. You’re not only proud of your achievements, but employers should value your efforts.

But wait. You’ve lost your job and, perhaps, are perfectly willing to take a step or two backward to not only stop the financial bleeding, but to re-energize yourself.

We’ve been taught a résumé should make you look as strong as possible. But in some cases, your résumé can be too strong. It can make you appear overqualified for the job you seek.

So should you dumb down your résumé? And what does dumbing down mean?

Dumbing down typically refers to your education. Dropping a master’s degree from your résumé when the employer doesn’t require a graduate degree is appropriate in a tight market. The same can apply to your experience and accompanying job titles.

Deciding what to keep and what to drop can be tricky. Is there an accepted trade-off between, say, a master’s degree and years of experience? Employers have differing opinions.

Here’s my rule of thumb. Consider what a job is likely to pay given its requirements. Is a degree “preferred” or mandatory? If preferred, then drop the master’s and just list your bachelor’s degree.

Consider your years of experience and your job titles. Consider dropping jobs prior to 1995 from your résumé, particularly when the requirements are five to 10 years of experience. Do your job titles seem to match the job you’re interested in? If not, consider altering your title to one more in line.

What if you’re self-employed? As the owner and president of The Wooden Group, I’d list “Sales Manager” on my résumé. Or “Operations Manger” or “Marketing Director” or whatever role I needed to reflect my relevant skills.

Résumés are as much a reflection of your work history and achievements as they are a game of matching key words and educational requirements. If you’re too “heavy” on experience or education, you may be able to perform the job with your eyes closed, but most employers won’t consider you for fear that they can’t afford you or that you’ll leave once you find a higher-paying job more in line with your experience.

The immediate goal is to get an interview. And, assuming you don’t have a contact to bypass the screening process, your résumé needs to match the company’s requirements. At least once you’re in person you’ll have your chance to explain your situation. But by including all your experience and education on your application you likely won’t get that chance.

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