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Toning down resumé should be job seeker's last resort

by Dr. John McFerran, PhD, CMC, CPsych, FCHRP

Imagine that you're ready to move and want to put your house up for a quick sale. The only problem is that your house has great curb appeal. Amazing curb appeal. In fact, it's so fantastic that potential buyers assume that they can't afford your house so they simply drive by.

In desperation for a reasonable bid, do you tear down the fence? Cut down the shrubs? Repaint the double garage door a shade of chartreuse?

This is the sort of dilemma being faced by highly skilled professionals seeking employment in a tough job market. To avoid being passed over by recruiters who assume they are overqualified -- and therefore likely to want too much money or grow restless in a short period of time -- many people are downplaying their resumés and underselling their achievements.

It's not really lying, some people reason, it's harmless fiddling with the facts of one's track record to appear more employable. Say, for instance, that a candidate whose most recent position was vice-president of sales but is now targeting a position as an account executive, may opt to scrap the VP title and highlight his achievements as a sales leader.

Those in favour of this practice say that in the current economy, people need to do whatever they can to find a job, make money and achieve career success. If that means downplaying the level of expertise they previously obtained, so be it. In some views, it's merely tailoring the story to be more relevant to the opportunity.

Those opposed to it point out that toning down or "dumbing down" a resumé is degrading to someone who has worked hard to earn their qualifications. Others go as far as asserting that omitting details from a resumé is intentionally misleading an employer and therefore, unethical.

Whichever side of the fence you are on, one thing is certain: the problem of too many overqualified, well-educated workers in this country is not going away any time soon.

In 2006, Statistics Canada reported that over 331,000 workers viewed themselves as overqualified for the jobs they were seeking, up nearly 30 per cent from 1993. With growing unemployment numbers and increased competition in the job market, this number is likely much higher today.

If you believe you are overqualified or have been turned away from the positions you apply for, consider fine tuning the way you conduct your job search.

"Look at the job your present resumé does in selling you. Broaden its appeal by highlighting your specific skills and accomplishments up front and move your education and years of experience to the second page.

"One resumé does not fit all. Consider re-creating your resumé to suit the position you are applying for, making relevant experience the most prominent. You may also choose to have several versions of your resumé ready that play up or down certain qualifications based on different opportunities.

"Unless you are in a desperate financial situation, avoid settling for a job you will not be fulfilled in. If you know you are happiest when tackling a challenge, don't gravitate towards jobs that will bore you quickly.

"Be very careful about changing or hiding job titles. If a recruiter speaks to one of your references or calls a former employer and learns you have not disclosed the whole truth about a previous position, your application will not go any further.

"If you do accept a position knowing that it is below your potential, you may have to adjust your attitude and expectations accordingly. It is not fair to grow resentful that your employer does not realize the full extent of your abilities.

No doubt about it, things are tough out there, but dialing down a resumé really should be a job seeker's last resort. You don't want to sell yourself short or appear to apologize for the experience you've worked so hard to earn -- so focus instead on the value you can bring to the organization that will be lucky enough to hire you. -- With reporting by Barbara Chabai

RESEARCH:

http://www.cbc.ca/money/story/2009/01/30/f-dumbresume.html
www.charlotteobserver.com/business/story/540443.html

This article was originally published in the Winnipeg Free Press.