I'm Over-Qualified. Should I Dumb-Down My Resume?

Keesha really needs a job. Her dream job is at the executive level. In this job market, that might not pan out so she needs to be ready to find one at a lower level. The problem: She's worried she looks over-qualified on a resume for those lower-level jobs.

Here's my advice on how to handle Keesha's resume problem.

I Look Over-Qualified on my Resume. Should I Dumb It Down?

I have been an executive assistant for over 25 years with exceptional support skills. I am also a very intuitive person, critical thinker, and constant learner.

I've gained experience in administrative staff management for two offices and HR administration. All of these functions, if listed in a resume, may look "way over-qualified" for the employer looking for just an admin assistant.

I realize I could "dumb-down" my resume, but then I'd be applying for something that would most likely not be a fulfilling. What should I do?
- Keesha (not her real name)

By the way, Keesha also wrote in with this question: I Got a Work Demotion. What Should I Put on a Resume?

Two Resumes to the Rescue

Hello Keesha,
I see the tug of war you're having between what you really want and the job you may have to settle for. That's a tough one!

I suggest you create two resumes.

  • A power resume for management jobs (such as Office Manager).
  • A "dumbed-down" resume for non-management support jobs (such as Administrative Assistant).

Your power resume should include your staff and office management achievements. Your dumbed-down resume should not have those high-level achievements. Just leave them off and talk about only the things that will be useful for jobs that involve little or no management.

For job boards where you post only one resume, post the power resume. Those big job boards have a low rate of success, so if it's going to bring a job to your doorstep, it might as well be a high-powered job you'll be happy with.

Best of luck in your climb to the top!

11 thoughts on “I'm Over-Qualified. Should I Dumb-Down My Resume?

  1. This is very interesting advice. So it is true that employers will shy away from over-qualified applicants? I recently received my doctorate and I’m applying for an entry-level administrative position at a local community college, primarily as a way for me to get into the world of community college with the hopes of teaching full-time eventually.

    Do employers really turn away from over-qualified applicants?

    • Muriel: I’ve been teaching college English for 16 years and can assure you that many community colleges will welcome you as an adjunct while you look for full-time, tenure-track work. Don’t assume that you have to go for an admin position to get your foot in the door, because the community colleges where I’ve taught have been desperate for instructors with terminal degrees. (Many CC instructors have Masters degrees.) If your local CC isn’t hiring faculty right now, no worries–ask around a larger area.

      On topic: I’m glad to see this article. I have one Masters degree (English) and am looking to leave teaching for corporate training, instructional design, and/or information design…which is where my second/upcoming degree is focused. I too have wondered about looking overqualified, and it’s nice to find out the strategy of tailoring simple vs. detailed resumes depending on the position.

  2. If employers think you’re overqualified they’re also likely to think you aren’t going to stay long and will get bored and frustrated very easily.

    • Beverly,

      I can see your point. At the same time, I also wonder: since so many entry-level jobs are so poorly paid, how can they ever expect to really keep talented workers there? It’s like a catch-22. Poor pay, bad benefits, and they want steady workers? I know, it’s the reality of an insane system.

    • I agree with you, Beverly. Employers are less likely to invest in a new employee (training, setting up HR files, the whole bit) if they think the employee might not stick around. Not all employers view it that way, but most do.

      So, if you’re over-qualified, try not to look over-qualified on your resume. Once you get in for an interview, you can sell yourself in person.

      • Thanks for all the advice, everyone.

        Currently, the job I’m applying for lists it as a 12-month contract position. I wonder if being over-qualified will play a role in not being as attractive since there is a contract for 12 months.

        • Muriel,
          There’s really no way to tell before sending in your resume. I would perhaps tone it down some so you look close to the part. Play with your resume, then set it aside for a few hours, then read it and see what you think. A little distance will help, I think.

  3. Why are the resumes posted on your website with current positions include past tense? So writing my resume for the current job: I should be using ed.

    Here is the following example:
    •Assisted the MBA Course Distribution Office with filing, photocopying, packing course materials in bags, and providing customer service to students at the window.

    • AH,
      It’s a personal choice. Some job seekers write their current achievements in present tense. Others write in past tense because they want all their verb tenses to be consistent throughout their resumes. This is also true if, within a current job, there are some achievements that really are past — perhaps projects that are completed and require past tense verbs. When mixed with ongoing activities (in other statements under the same job title) it feels inconsistent so they prefer to use past tense for all their statements.

      The rational behind using past tense is that “yesterday and before I did such-and-such.” So in that sense it’s past tense.

      But you are also correct to use present tense if you prefer. I like to use present tense when I can because it makes the experience sound fresh.

      Thanks for your question.

  4. Hi
    I have 35 years in teh hotel industrty both as a General Manager and as a Sales Manger. I also have teaching and training background. If I offer2 resumes as suggested, wouldn’t that process show “gaps” in my work history and would employers look favorably or unfavorably at “gaps”

    • Hello Bill,
      Sounds like you want make two resumes, a resume for hotel management and one for teaching. Here’s the thing: You need to have work histories on both resumes that do not have work gaps.

      So, on your hotel resume, you may need to list your teaching jobs to have a complete work history. That’s fine. Just don’t put any statements under those jobs. Or, if you do list statements, make sure those statements are relevant to hotel management (they might be about communication or management) so they support the objective for that resume.

      Likewise, on your teaching resume you’ll need to list your hotel jobs. No need for statements under them unless you can come up with statements that support your career in education.

      Hope this helps!

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