This Resume is Just Right

Some days, job seekers must feel a bit like Goldilocks as they try to submit just the right resume to prospective employers. Show too much education and experience and you might be labeled overqualified. Fail to meet the basic hiring criteria, and you risk being cast aside as under qualified. The problem was highlighted recently when The Wall Street Journal spoke to three job seekers who admitted dumbing down their resumes to keep them out of the "overqualified" round file.

In the article, a Manpower technical recruiter perfectly describes the objection highly qualified job seekers face when applying for lower-level positions:

In the past eight months, Jamaica Eilbes, an information-technology recruiter for Milwaukee employment agency Manpower, has had to weed out more overqualified résumés than usual from the stacks that cross her desk each day. "I’d never feel comfortable putting a really high-level candidate into a lower level position," says Ms. Eilbes, who recruits for Manpower and other clients. "We don’t want to take you on if we think you are going to jump ship."

Job seekers often wonder why employers won’t jump at the chance to bring on a more highly qualified candidate. Their fear is that bored, under-employed techies will take a position, then leave as soon as the market heats up. Omitting a master’s degree might not be completely truthful: After all, if the resume heading reads "education." But add the word "relevant" to your education section and you’re being accurate and crafty. Certainly job seekers need to tailor their experience to fit a position, so reviewers don’t get lost in superfluous data. Here are some ways to solve the problem, as presented by the Journal.

(One job seeker) quickly realized her job experience was pricing her out of too many positions. Her solution: To try not to look as senior level as she really was. So she eliminated certain jobs and removed details about speaking engagements and board positions. In some cases, job seekers are being told by hiring agencies to tone down their résumés if they want to get hired.

When Bridget Lee, 29, moved to New York from Shanghai eight months ago and put her application in at three temporary agencies, she was told to play down her work experience before they would send her résumé to potential clients. The temp-agency version of her résumé changed titles like "manager" and "freelance trend researcher" to "staff" and "office support" and omitted entirely her title as partner of a small marketing agency. "It’s been a lesson for how I present myself," Ms. Lee says. Some résumé writers advise reworking a résumé into a functional one stressing transferable skills instead of past job titles and accomplishments. "Instead of focusing on the big achievements that might scare an employer away, you can spell out what you can bring to an employer in the next position," Ms. Kabell says.

— Leslie Stevens-Huffman