Sunday, July 04, 2010


As many public figures have learned in recent years, there is no ethical justification for embellishing your resume to claim degrees or experience you don't have. In a tight job market, however, what do you think about leaving out experience or degrees you may have in an attempt not to scare off potential employers who might find you overqualified? In a recent article in The Boston Globe, reporter Katie Johnston Chase looked at the trend of jobseekers omitting such experience from their resumes in an effort to "dumb down" their credentials and get a foot in the door.

Is it OK to omit relevant experience from your resume if you believe that the omission might help you secure a job? Or is it wrong to leave off advanced degrees and jobs that you actually have?

Post your thoughts here by clicking on "comments" or "post a comment" below. Please include your name, hometown, and state, province, or country. Readers' comments may appear in an upcoming column. Or e-mail your comments to me at

You can also respond to the poll with this question that will appear on the right-hand side of the blog until polling is closed.

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today's Business (Smith Kerr, 2006), is an associate professor at Emerson College in Boston, where he teaches writing and ethics. He is also the administrator of The Right Thing, a Web log focused on ethical issues.

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to or to "The Right Thing," New York Times Syndicate, 620 Eighth Ave., 5th floor, New York, N.Y. 10018.

c.2010 The New York Times Syndicate (Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate)


Bill Jacobson said...


No matter how much information you are able to cram into that one or two page resume, you will inevitably be leaving out some relevant information. The point of a resume is to put the best spin possible on the experience you do have in an attempt to land the job. As long as the information that is presented is accurate and the information that is left off wouldn't be damning, say a criminal record, for instance, yes it is completely ethical to leave off information so as to better position your chances of landing the job.

Bill Jacobson
Cypress, CA

Anonymous said...

Mr. Jacobsons' comments are totally accurate and good advice. I would only add that the question in this exercise about "is it OK to leave out enough information from your resume to get your foot in the door" seems to advocate being less than honest in a situation that always demands the utimate in honesty. It suggests a desperate attempt in these times of difficulty in securing a job, but wording the resume in a way that could only be taken as "slightly dishonest". It is always best to be completely forthcoming in a job application. In fact, by leaving out what you consider "enough" to get your foot in the door may later be treated by your boss as your having been dishonest to get the job.

Charlie Seng

Patricia Selk said...

When I was 18 years old, with one unhappy year of college, and no plans or returning, I was turned down for an entry level position at Playboy Magazine. I was told "You'll get bored and want to go back to school." Being a smart aleck kid, (and knowing that I was already not getting the job), I replied that if they kept me challenged, I'd be happy to grow with the job.

Nine years later, with a brand new BA degree, I was told that I was "overqualified" for a management position. This was in a small town, in a job market where people with masters degrees in library science were being hired as library clerks.

Being seriously overqualified for a job should not be a deterrent to applying for what's available. If an employer already has another candidate in mind, or if there's an "I'm better than you" attitude that goes along with your degree(s), it won't matter what is or isn't on your resume.

S. said...

I completely agree with Bill.

Phil Clutts said...

My first impulse was to think that there’s no need for “full disclosure” on a resume if some of the information would be irrelevant to the job. An employer doesn’t need to know that you won an archery tournament, have eight kids, or are a member of the LGBT community. I respect Charlie Seng as an honest man, but question whether a job-seeking effort demands “the ultimate in honesty.” For example, do you really need to tell about your ugly divorce or that unjust speeding ticket you got last year (unless you’re applying for a job as a marriage counselor or a driver)?
An employer doesn’t need to know everything about you, but has every right to expect that he will get a decent return on his investment in recruiting and training. If an applicant has every intention of dumping a job if a better one comes along just weeks later, he/she is being less than honest. A better approach might be for the applicant to say something in the interview like, “My resume doesn’t mention education and skills not relevant to this job, but I will agree in writing to stay on the job for at least (an agreed number of) months after being hired, or I will forfeit (an agreed amount of) pay if I leave before that. I will work hard to be a productive employee and to get a good reference from you if I leave sooner than we both expect in order to accept another job.”

Phil Clutts
Harrisburg, NC

msbuller said...

I agree with Bill and the general comments of the thread. I don't see any ethical reason to include every piece of information on a resume, as long as the omission doesn't create a false picture. For instance, if you leave out the three times that you switched careers because you got bored but somehow pieced the dates together to make it seem like you've been continuously following a single career path, then that would be misleading in my opinion.
But just as I don't put all the bullets of what I do under any one job, I don't see the need to put all the specific jobs or education under each section. But I often see the very specific section header: Related Experience or Relevant Experience. That works for me.

ECS said...

No employer hesitates to dump employees these days. If you think you are really right for a job you should sell yourself, but the resume is an easy way for hirers to eliminate people.

There is no easy answer to this one! Only a more society can solve these issues.

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