To “Dumb-Down” or Not “Dumb-Down” a Résumé?

A raging debate about how to list credentials on a résumé is taking place right now, and the battle lines have been drawn. In this economy, many people are desperately looking for jobs. Or any job with a paycheck, in fact. This might mean that they are seeking jobs that are vastly below their skills, knowledge, and abilities.

This then begs two questions: What do you do when your credentials seem more of a liability (rather than an asset) for a job application? Should you ‘dumb’ your résumé down?

It’s a complicated answer, and requires some consideration on your end to determine the best way to address it effectively.

The one thing you don’t want to do is to convey to a hiring manager that you are far more qualified than the job position, and therefore send a subliminal message that you will literally jump ship to a higher position the next chance you get. Remember, the prospective employers are evaluating you as a candidate to fill the current open position. It is very costly to an employer to have you use the opening as a springboard for your career, which would mean that the training would be wasted and they lose money by having to start the whole hiring process all over again. This is a common frustration of hiring managers and human resource professionals, heard over and over again. And let’s face it: Many workers do exactly that just to get their foot in the door!

Conversely, there’s another angle on this dilemma: the employer’s standpoint: The companies that are hiring right now are also on a shopping spree. It’s a buyer’s market, simply because they can ‘buy’ top industry talent that they couldn’t have afforded, salarly-wise, just five years ago. Sure, there’s the danger that a much-credentialed candidate will move up or out at the first available opportunity. But the company that would make the hire now can definitely reap the benefits from being able to hire an industry expert, albeit for a shorter amount of time. So listing all of your relevant credentials could put you at the top of the pile for some employers who are on the hunt to build company capacity and quality with talented top staff.

It’s pretty obvious that there really isn’t a right or wrong way to go about it because both sides of the equation have merits. The only real way to try and solve this issue to make your background work for you is to know your audience.

By understanding more about your target company culture and values, especially by doing what you can to get insight from someone on the inside, it will help you evaluate whether you should ‘dumb’ your resume down or not.

Know what they are looking for by leveraging your network to its fullest, and don’t be afraid to call in those favors within your business, professional and social networks. Everyone else is doing the same thing, so you have to be absolutely on the ball by gaining as much intelligence as you can about the open position, and find out what the real objectives of the hiring managers are so you can design your résumé to meet those expectations.

A good rule of thumb is to target your résumé to showcase only the history that is most relevant to the job for which you are applying. You might need to omit accomplishments made in other industries (otherwise known as ‘selective omission’) but this is where you have to undergo a healthy example of ‘letting go’… ask yourself… will this help or hurt me? This isn’t as much as you de-emphasizing those accomplishments, but rather not listing them because they are not pertinent nor important to your target job opening.

One Comment


One of the best article I've read on this topic, that both encapsulates and enlightens the bumpy road to get hired again. However, I believe the various search tools will immediately show your true credentials and therefore, I'd never hide former jobs or qualifications. Although, I like the idea of emphasizing my skills to meet the employers expectations. Hartmut Rast, London

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