A reader writes:
I saw this post from Randy Cohen (formerly the author of The New York Times’ Ethicist column) on Facebook this morning:
“A tougher one I received at the column: may a job hunter omit a Ph.D. [on his resume] lest a potential employer find him overqualified? No. Some things are not an employer’s business – your religion or erotic proclivities or Facebook password. But a CV is meant to be a full account of your education and work history.”
I commented, making the argument you make about a resume being a marketing document designed to present the potential employee in the best light. To which he responded:
“You may be selective, of course, or some resumes would be 50 pages long, but you may not be deceptive, deliberately concealing work or education history that a potential employer has a legitimate right to know.”
I commented again with some (made-up) practical examples: What if I have an MFA and am applying for a job in finance? What if I temped while I was unemployed? No response (as of now) from Mr. Cohen.
… so what do you think of this? Do you and he just disagree, or is it that you’re coming at the question from different angles (you as a manager, he as an ethicist)? Or maybe, in some cases, circumstances trump ethics (and in others, ethics trump circumstances)? Anyway, I was just interested in your thoughts on this.
First let me say that I really liked Randy Cohen’s Ethicist column and was disappointed when it ended! However, I think he got this one wrong.
An employer is no more entitled to a comprehensive accounting of your past than anyone else is. Your job as a candidate is to explain what in your past has prepared you to and demonstrates that you will do the job well — to say “here are the reasons I would excel at this job.” That’s what it means to apply for a job; you’re saying “here’s why I’d be the right fit.”
And everyone is basically agreed that this is the nature of a resume; it’s designed to show what you bring to the table. No one expects it to provide details of irrelevant coursework, or the project you worked on that almost ruined your company, or the fact that you were planning to go into the priesthood before you switched to medicine. (In fact, you’d be judged negatively for including those first two — you’d be seen as someone who couldn’t identify what is and isn’t appropriate information.)
And I’m not sure where Randy is coming from with this concept of an employer’s “legitimate right to know” everything in your past. Employers have a legitimate right to expect that you’re not lying (and an obligation to do their own due diligence on you, in the form of reference checks, etc.), but they don’t have any special right to receive every detail about your education and work history on a silver platter, unless you choose to base your candidacy on those.
Overall, I think his response reflects a slightly off-base understanding of what we, as a society, have agreed a resume is … and even what employers want/expect from a resume. (Which is a reason that I wish non-workplace advice columnists wouldn’t venture into workplace advice. It often results in weirdness.)