is having “company president” on my resume hurting me?

A reader writes:

I’m having trouble getting interviewed and I feel my resume is to blame, but I think my unique situation may also share some of that trouble.

My husband and I own a small construction company. I’m actually majority owner, and we employ between five to 15 employees depending on our job load. My actual duties include everything from payroll to tax preparation to AR and AP, HR responsibilities, advertising, customer service, and public relations (which is what I hold my degree in.)

I am not happy and have decided to pursue another career. However, any job I have applied for, I have not gotten an interview. I think employers see “president” on my resume and immediately throw it away because they assume I will ask for a higher salary than they are prepared to pay. Or they think maybe I am overqualified, or will be too high maintenance or a big know-it-all in the office.

How can I get potential employers to see that I am a team player with a passion for public relations? (I have extensive experience in my community with non-profit public relations campaigns, so I feel I am qualified for at least entry work in this field.)

This may be overly simplistic, but have you thought about changing your title? As the owner of the company, you can give yourself any title you want, and “president” may not be serving you well in your job search. Why not give yourself a title that reflects the PR work you do and rewrite your resume to focus on that?

You shouldn’t be deceitful, so you should also include information about the rest of your role — it’s only fair that employers understand that you haven’t been devoted 100% to PR — but you can certainly highlight the PR stuff and keep the biggest focus on that.

Now, if the PR work you do for your company only accounts for 5% of your time, this isn’t a good approach — it’s not accurate and it’ll likely come out during the interview. But if it’s truly a significant chunk of your time, this isn’t a bad way to go. And combined with your volunteer PR work for nonprofits, you should be in pretty good shape.

Of course, all that said, you also want to ask yourself whether your trouble getting interviews might not be about this issue at all. It could be that your resume isn’t presenting you well, or that your cover letter is terrible, or simply that in this market people generally need to apply for a lot of jobs in order to get interviews. But if you’ve ruled those factors out, I’d play with your title, since you control it.

{ 8 comments… read them below }

  1. sarfauv*

    I would definately "demote" myself to a new title. I think it hurts in two ways. The first being that you are going to want a lot of money. A second school of thought is that you were just a figurehead to gain women and minority owned contracts and someone may look at it this way. Being from the construction industry and not knowing you, that's how I would look at it.

  2. Anonymous*

    Come up with a title and job description that indicates how you wore a lot of hats at a busy small company — no more, no less.

  3. Henning Makholm*

    Forgive me for stating the obvious here, but doesn't this sound like something that should be addressed head-on in a cover letter? That's the standard advice for strange-seeming lateral career moves. Going from general management to a more specialist position is, rightly or wrongly, going to be perceived as a downwards move, which is going to cause unease unless you spend a sentence or two sketching a motivation.

    With a motivation provided, though, it ought to be an asset for you to have successfully managed a business. It sounds wrong to try to hide that with misleading titles. But you might try to give yourself a title that is less likely to be misread as "figurehead" or "boss by default because I own the company, but other people do the work for me". Instead of "president", how about being a "general manager"?

  4. Anonymous*


    While I see your first point, I'm wondering where out of the clear blue sky you pulled the second point. That makes no sense and sounds downright sexist. The OP wrote: "My husband and I own a small construction company. I'm actually majority owner…" How does that make her a "figurehead to gain women and minority own contracts." I have no idea why you would read her resume and think that. You are definitely not giving her any credit for what she has done with her own company. Maybe she is a figurehead as Henning Makholm used the word, but I highly doubt it's for the reasons you stated.

  5. sarfauv*

    Anonymous #2 – You are obviously not from the construction industry. Many sub contracting companies, and GC's are women owned companies to grab the minority and women owned contracts. Many public contracts call out for a certain percentage of these types of companies. My mother-in-law was the President of her construction company, just for this reason. Was she a figurehead? No, she couldn't read a blueprint to save her life but that didn't stop her from running a fine company.

    I have run into many companies where you would never see the wife, who owned the company. I have also run into wives who have run dozers or pulled cable not too many but they are out there.

    I think the person who posted the question would agree that there are a lot of companies out there that are women owned for the purpose of gaining contracts. Some of these women run the show and others are in the background.

    May sound sexist but nobody ever said the industry wasn't.

  6. Rebecca*

    Anon @ 5:26 — One metric for governments and very large companies to show how "fair" they are is the number of women-owned or minority-owned businesses they hire for contract work. Many city and state governments are actually legally obligated to hire women-owned or minority-owned businesses as a certain percentage of the contractors they hire. Thus, companies can place themselves at an advantage for big contracts by having a female or nonwhite owner. If it's as easy as installing your wife or one of your buddies as the titular "owner," you can see how a bunch of businesses would end up with figurehead owners.

    All this is a big deal for construction companies, many of whom (in urban areas especially) live and die by government contracts. In almost any other industry, it'd be completely absurd to assume a female owner doesn't actually run her business, but sarfauv is pointing out what a lot of folks in the construction industry would indeed assume.

  7. "President"*

    I appreciate all the suggestions with my resume, and even though I feel I deserve the title "president", I will probably change my title to General Manager or an equivelent, and address this matter in my cover letter. I wouldn't lie about my involvement in the company, considering you could look up ownership on our state's Secretary of State website.

    I do find it fasinating that the conversation went straight to sexism in the construction industry, which is something I have been dealing with on a weekly basis for over five years.

    A lot of companies do have women owners for the sole purpose of trying to get goverment contracts, but I assure you, I am no figure head. While I don't actually do electrical work – our trade – I do everything else imaginable. It takes a lot of business sense and organization to operate a business profitably, and this is my primary responsibility. We have profited from being a certified WBE on government contracts, but sarfauv was right – there are tons of companies that have this status under false conditions.

    I found it was one of the best business decisions I ever made – getting certified as a WBE. If the government is going to single out ownership status, why not take advantage of this as a woman?

  8. Anonymous*

    Change your current title to fit the job you are applying for: Perhaps Business Manager, Operations Manager, or some concatenation with your multiple roles: COO/HR/PR Manager.

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