ethics and your resume

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.)

{ 84 comments… read them below }

  1. fposte*

    He’s using the term “CV” rather than “resume”? That may be an indication of his mental view of the document right there. I still don’t agree, but now I’m wondering if he’s differentiating the two.

    1. Steve*

      I was just about to make the same observation. A CV should include the PhD. A resume is not required to do so. They serve different purposes in the US.

    2. ChristineH*

      A professor at my university always says “CV” when referring to a resume. I hold her in high regard, but it bugs me whenever she asks me to “send me your CV” even though I’m not seeking academic positions! (I might pursue a PhD in the future, but that’s besides the point).

      1. KayDay*

        I know of a lot of non-academic policy type folks who say CV when they really mean resume. I think they are trying to sound all fancy and erudite or something. Or they are from Europe. One of the two.

        1. juepucta*

          A good chunk of the world calls them CV. In spanish, for example, one usually calls it curriculum (as in curriculum vitae). The résumé thing is USian, mostly, although i’ve seen it in Canada as well.

    3. Anonymous*

      I think you’re on to something. I have always understood CV to be everything you have ever done – including all of your published works – in one document.

  2. JT*

    Beyond societal expectations, a similar question could be raised about fairness. Are companies willing to be open books about their hiring, how long every past employee served in a position etc.

    1. Steve*

      Fairness and ethics are not exactly the same thing, to me the issue is one of relevance. If the PhD could be relevant it should be included. If not it may be omitted along with any other extraneous information such as fluency in Polish, skill with the zither and the fact one performs in a Gilbert and Sullivan Light Opera Company. (I sing a mean Yum-Yum myself and I am a 55 yo man) You should not hide information that is relevant, but if it is not applicable you may omit it.

      1. fposte*

        A 55-year-old man singing “Three Little Maids” in Polish while accompanying himself on the zither is *always* applicable.

        1. Kelly O*

          I will very rarely turn down the opportunity to listen to a rousing chorus of “I am the very model of a modern major-general.” (And thank you for getting that stuck in my head – it’s way better than my previous Blue’s Clues song. The things that happen when you have a toddler…)

    2. Kimberlee*

      Actually, I do sort of have that expectation. I didn’t before, but the position I have now had really high turnover (including the guy I replaced leaving with no notice, just showed up one day to say goodbyes and left). But the hiring manager was really open about why each of the previous 10 or so people had left the job, and it really helped me understand whether or not I could be a good match. So now, I tend to think it’s reasonable for employers to be up-front about that, if asked. I guess just like it’s not unethical (to my mind) to omit a PhD from a resume, but if you’re asked point blank about your “level of education” or anything like that, you should be honest in the interview.

  3. JLH*

    It looks like Cohen is using CV and résumé interchangeablely. My understanding is a résumé doesn’t have to be all-inclusive, but a CV is generally supposed to be all-inclusive in the US–not always, but usually.

  4. Anonymous*

    Even if left off the resume, it still seems like an employee might have a problem if hired and the employer eventually finds out about the PhD.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Based on what? I mean, if you were the employer and wanted to confront the employee over this, what would you say to explain why it was a problem?

      1. Anonymous*

        As an employer, I would feel it is deceptive to not acknowledge the PhD. Beyond the application process, if the person gets the job, how will they handle it? When making small-talk in the office, will the person forever hide the PhD (including where they were for the years of study, the experience in the field, past jobs)? It seems that it will come out eventually, and there is little way for the employer not to have felt lied to – the employee can try citing job-hunting manuals and tell the employer that the resume was just a marketing document, but it seems in many cases, the working relationship will be damaged. It seems better to avoid such a situation by being upfront.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I’d encourage you to rethink that point of view. What about all the other things people don’t include on resumes, which you’d never think twice about? I think you’re being unreasonable here.

        2. ThomasT*

          While I agree with AAM in principle on the ethics, I think that in many cases it would be unwise, for some of the reasons you surface here. Most PhD programs are significant investments of time, and it would be hard to leave it off your resume in a way that won’t come out in a good interview. And if it does, then it’s going to look weird that you left it off. Better, I think, to soft pedal it, in a brief Education section with few details at the end, and lots of enticing detail about what you did do that qualifies you for the job.

          But the original question was whether or not this omission is ethical, not whether that same thing is ill-advised.

        3. Ariancita*

          But I disagree that once it’s left off the resume, then it has remain “hidden.” Because I don’t believe that leaving it off the resume is the same thing as hiding it, if I did that, I would feel free to talk about it amongst my co-workers or managers or even in job interviews. In the latter, I would point out, if asked, that it was irrelevant to the job and so I didn’t include it. And nobody reasonable thinks it’s weird to not include things that aren’t relevant. I have a second Masters I never mention just because it’s so irrelevant to anything I’m doing now. But I’m not hiding it either.

        4. Yup*

          “I would feel it is deceptive to not acknowledge the PhD.”

          What if the degree is in a field other than the job? If I work in Marketing but have a PhD in Divinity, why list it? People make career and field changes all the time, especially in this climate.

        5. Ren*

          I do think some employers have a problem with this. I leave my law degree off my resume because I realized it was 1) keeping me from getting interviews outside of the legal field, and 2) I was getting questions in the few job interviews I got that didn’t seem to have an acceptable answer. Most of the time, my degree never is found out whether during the interview, background checks or on the job.

          But there were two times in particular–1) On my resume, I list the school I attended because otherwise there would be a big time gap, but I don’t put what I studied. This usually works amazingly well, but one time I got asked about what I studied. I came clean, and I definitely felt it played a role in my not moving on in the interview process. It’s hard to explain, but I just knew I’d lost my chance at the position when it came up; 2) I got a job with the school on my resume and hadn’t been asked about it in the interview. When I found out one of the managers there had a law degree, I mentioned I did, too. I am not sure, but I believe he was upfront from the beginning with the people who hired him. Not too long after that, the other managers came up with a lame reason to fire me. I have always wondered if mentioning that law degree had something to do with it.

          So, now, I just make sure not to have the degree on my resume, nor mention it where I work, no matter what. To me, it’s worth the risk of an employer finding out and getting upset because those advanced degrees really do make employers assume you either want to be paid an arm and a leg or will leave eventually for more money/the field you got your degree in. This makes you nearly unemployable in a lot of cases. If there is a way to be upfront with you and still get the job, I’d love to know it. I have seen AAM’s take on it in other articles/posts, but those things have never worked for me.

          1. Ren*

            This is also without mentioning how sometimes you can be more educated than the people you work for/interview with, and if they find out it might bother some of them.

            1. Maria*

              Ren, I know this is a few months old but I graduated law school a year ago and I am having the same problem, being passed over for jobs outside the legal field. I’m struggling with how to omit law school, because I had several law clerk positions during and after it. Any advice you have about all of that would be so helpful…

        6. JT*

          Lied to? That’s a pretty strong phrase.

          If the previous few people in a position quit because of poor management practices, which have not changed, is an employer lying for not stating that up front to a potential applicant? Is that hiding information, or even lying?

            1. anonymouse*

              Wow, geeze, yeah. A little strong. What if somebody finds out during a casual lunch that I worked at Dominos in college? Extreme pizza knowledge-withholding. Or my husband finds out I wasn’t a virgin and has me executed (wait, that was Anne Boleyn, nevermind).

        7. Corporate Cliff*

          I get how someone lying and saying they had more education than they actually do (Looking at you, ex-Yahoo CEO) is a bad thing. I completely fail to see how having more education than you say you do is a bad thing.

          “Oh wow, you have a PhD and not just a Masters degree. I dunno if you will be able to do the job now.”

  5. Victoria (OP)*

    I’m the OP on this, and I meant to call out the distinction between a resume and a CV, which might be the crux of the disagreement here.

    But in the particular case that Randy Cohen is discussing, it seems likely the “resume” is the appropriate term, rather than “CV” (which is used almost exclusively in academic settings, as far as I know). The applicant has a PhD but, given that he’s concerned about appearing overqualified, doesn’t seem to be applying for faculty/academic positions.

  6. Laurie*

    I agree that an applicant has full rights to leave off or include professional experience on a resume, but a PhD? That’s a significant time investment, and an employer might notice the missing years and ask. If the applicant then says that it’s because of a PhD, the employer might take Cohen’s view of it and decide that it somehow implies that the applicant was dishonest. I am not saying the employer will be correct in doing this, but that they might perceive it as deception.

    I’ll say again – I agree that the applicant can leave it off the resume. But my question is – is that the best way / only way to apply for a job that you are overqualified for?

    1. Rana*

      I’m sceptical about the “missing years” thing. I went to grad school straight out of college, and my career didn’t start until I graduated. I can see a gap in the middle of one’s work history — like if you worked after graduating, then went back to school — being noticeable, but at the very beginning? I mean, is an interviewer really going to ask, a decade or more after the fact, “I see you didn’t do anything for a few years after college, what’s up with that?”

  7. Elizabeth*

    I agree with AAM that Cohen seems to misunderstand what a resume is for and what employers have “a right to know.” A resume is designed to show you in the best light and highlight what you wish the employer to see about you. It is not “deceptive” to leave out information that is irrelevant or does not show your best qualities. It IS deceptive to add information that is not true. There are lots of things people do not tell you on a resume, which is why employers interview you to find out other things about how you would fit in the job and many have a separate application form which asks questions to get information you have not given elsewhere (for instance, reasons for leaving past jobs). Employees have a right to give whatever information they choose and employers have a right to ask for whatever information they choose (as long as it is not about certain protected classes and potentially discriminatory).

  8. yasmara*

    It does make me think of the recent Yahoo brouhaha. Leaving off a degree seems harmless to me if it’s a resume (not an academic CV, like others have pointed out), however, misrepresenting a degree is obviously a different story.

  9. ChristineH*

    The issue of whether or not to include all education on my resume has been bugging me for a few years ever since an employment counselor suggested I leave my Masters in Social Work degree off my resume. I think she was afraid employers might see me as too expensive (not 100% certain on my recall of the conversation…it’s been 2-3 years). I’m with Laurie on the investment – I worked hard to earn that degree! No, I’m not necessarily looking for social work positions, but I’m not necessarily looking for clerical positions either.

    Alison – I completely respect your opinions and love your blog. However, I’d feel dishonest if I didn’t include my MSW on my resume. I’m just not sure what’s appropriate to say/do if a prospective employer eventually finds out during any reference and background checks. On the other hand, my education section is towards the end of my resume, so maybe an employer won’t even notice (since the most relevant info goes first).

    Also, isn’t the actual job application a legal document? Thus, I’d have to include everything, including the degree, anyway. Which brings me back to my question in the above paragraph.

    As for the PhD comments: Why is a PhD-holder applying for jobs that he knows he’s overqualified for? Not using your Masters degree is one thing…it happens fairly often. But a PhD, to me, shows a firm commitment to your field of study or at least a very closely related field. Anything outside of that makes me wonder why you pursued the degree in the first place, unless the candidate is applying for temp positions until he finds a full-time academic position? If this comment sounds ignorant, I sincerely apologize.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      You shouldn’t do anything that would make you feel dishonest, but I can assure you that most employers wouldn’t see it as dishonest (because it’s not). For all the reasons that have already been mentioned here — your resume is a marketing document, not a comprehensive account of your life, etc.

      On the question of why a PhD holder is applying for jobs he’s overqualified for — I assume it’s because like so many PhD holders, he’s discovered that he can’t get work in the field he trained for. Of course, that doesn’t make him “overqualified” for the jobs he’s applying for; that term is often used in this case but isn’t accurate. If the degree has nothing to do with the work he’s applying for, it doesn’t enhance his qualifications at all. (Which is, of course, the problem — just a slightly different one.)

      1. Natalie*

        I suspect the PhD holder is using “overqualified” in the way a lot of hiring managers seem to – “very well qualified for something else, so probably going to quit in a few years”.

      2. Kathy*

        The reason I’m applying for anything that will bring in money is that there are bills to be paid and being single and unemployed for nearly 3 years, you go for whatever you might feel credible with using your previous experience and things that you did within your other jobs.

        If you look at my resume/CV (whatever you want to call it), it shows progression and promotions, but also when I get a job, I stay 10-12 years…..

    2. Ariancita*

      As someone who is not pursuing a career in my PhD, I can tell you there are a lot of reasons one would get the degree but not go into academia. You really don’t have a clear picture of what it means to have a career in academia until you’re getting the advanced degree. Academic career tracks are not for everyone, and it’s not a waste of time/commitment on your degree if you don’t pursue academia or a career in the same area (if it’s available). I love my degree. I don’t regret it. But I don’t want to spend a huge amount of time moving from one one-year stint who-knows-where to another in search of the barely available tenure track job (tenured jobs are a dying breed). Not a lot of people have the ability to live in flux for a number of years (moving from one end of the country to another in order to pursue one-year opportunities…sometimes even out of the country, as often happens in the social sciences and humanities). Physicists are often faced with this as well; there aren’t a lot of academic jobs in the discipline, but those who pursue it often do so for the love of it (and end up in the financial sector in the end). I’ve thought about leaving my PhD off of my resume, but like Alison says, it doesn’t make me over-qualified (indeed, sometimes people assume the opposite: that one has no real world job skills), and as others have pointed out, it would create a strange large gap on my resume. Plus, I’m happy with my graduate school experience and it informs a lot of ways that I think about things, so I don’t want to hide that.

    3. fposte*

      Qualifications aren’t always linear, though–it’s not necessarily that having a PhD makes you overqualified, it’s that it points you to a different direction than the job you’re applying for. That can be because you’re applying outside of your field of doctoral study (including outside of academics–lots of PhDs don’t work in academics) or because it’s a field that tends to view the doctoral level as focusing people toward the abstract and the job sought is more practical. And a PhD is a serious study, but it’s not a life contract any more than an industry job is; you can stay in the field, you can plan it for a different purpose, or you can find that life is pointing you in a different way.

      A job application is somewhat different from a resume or a CV, and leaving the PhD off of that can be a slightly different calculation. On an ethics side, if the application specifically requests all the degrees you’ve achieved, I’d say the PhD should be included. (But on the pragmatic side, it’s not likely to have any more effect than the resume, because the company could already fire you for not mentioning your PhD if they chose.)

    4. Rana*

      ChristineH, the questions you ask in your last paragraph and the related assumptions about what a PhD says about a candidate are precisely why I leave my doctorate off my resume when it’s reasonable to do so.

      If it’s on the resume, then the interview becomes about my former career, about the bad academic job market, about my burning out… and that’s even if I get an interview (because everyone “knows” that PhDs are arrogant, unable to function in the real world, and couldn’t possibly do work that’s “beneath” them except under duress and then only temporarily).

      I’d much rather talk about how this job opportunity excites me, why I want to work for this company, what skills I can offer, etc.

      Unless I’m applying for a position that expects a doctorate or similar credentials, it’s an albatross. Why should I handicap my chances that way by listing a credential that’s irrelevant for the job at hand?

      1. Rana*

        Here’s a real-life example. My doctorate is in the humanities, and the job market for my particular field is incredibly saturated. For the last decade I’ve been lucky if I can manage to be hired for part-time teaching work without benefits, and this last year I finally accepted that I can’t continue doing that. It’s a dead end and it’s exhausting and I’m tired of the poverty.

        Unfortunately, the result of having chased this wild goose for so damn long (curse my persistence and optimism) is that I don’t have much experience outside of academia to draw on. I know this; I accept it. Out in the so-called “real world” I have about as much in-field experience as a new graduate. It’s not to say that I don’t have skills; it’s rather that they were acquired in a context that’s different from what’s expected in mid-level jobs.

        So I’m starting not quite from scratch, but I’m also well aware that I lack certain basic skills that you only get through direct in-field experience. For example, I’m looking at retail work. There’s this one company that I really admire, that sells products that I know to be high quality and which has a company philosophy that’s right in line with my own, and it’s been posting entry-level retail sales jobs that look like they’d be a lot of fun and an interesting challenge. Other than one stint in high school, I’ve never done such work, so I know that I’m going to have to start on the bottom rung of the ladder if I want to work for this company. I may know how to write a scholarly paper and analyze a primary source, but I don’t know how to do ten-key entry and I’ve not had a lot of experience with customer service (some of what I did with students translates, but a lot doesn’t). Outside of my field of expertise and certain related fields, I am an entry-level employee.

        I know this. It doesn’t bother me. I’m happy to start at the bottom and work my way up; I like that sort of challenge, and I know I have a lot to learn. If I get the job, I expect – and would want – to be treated just like any other entry-level employee.

        But if I put that doctorate on there? Suddenly I’m high-maintenance, I’m slumming, I’m going to be a pain to manage, I don’t know anything practical, I know “too much,” I’m arrogant and snobby and elitist, I’m too ambitious, etc. and out my application goes, right into the delete file, before I’ve even had a chance to convey how excited I am about the possibility of working for this company and doing that specific entry-level job that supposedly my doctorate makes me “over-qualified” for.

        Unfortunately, the application asks for “highest degree obtained” so I’m stuck. I’ve been racking my brains as to how to write a cover letter that gets me over that hurdle, because I really, really want this job, but I’m not at all confident that my application’s not going to be tossed out as soon as they see the PhD.

        And that’s why someone might want to leave it off.

        1. HDL*

          I agree. I have a science PhD, but I would leave it off of my resume in a heartbeat if I thought that would help me get an interview (in a non-science field, of course). However, I have found that my graduate work provided me with experience in many things not directly related to science. Writing, editing, literature searching, some management and administration…if you did any of these things in grad school, and they’re relevant for the job you’re seeking, you probably want to keep them on your resume.

  10. Seal*

    When I first started working full time, I also worked part-time as a paid high school sports coach, something completely unrelated to the career I was pursuing. I coached for 10 years until I burned out on it; by that time I was far enough along on my career path that I didn’t need a second job. While I was coaching I listed it on my resume, but have never listed it since I got out. Plenty of people, including the various employers I’ve had over the years, know of my former coaching career but no one has ever asked why I don’t include it on my CV. If anyone ever does, I’ll tell them it’s not relevant to my current position and leave it at that.

    For that matter, I took several years of post-graduate acting and improv classes from a nationally renowned theater and would never consider listing that on my CV, either. Again, it’s not something I’ve kept secret, just something I don’t consider relevant to my current position or career path.

  11. Malissa*

    I think this really depends on the industry. As an accountant it would make me question the person’s ethics when they are not being totally upfront about their education. I would think that obtaining a PhD would be a big chunk of a person’s life. If they hide this what else would they be inclined to hide if it didn’t paint the picture they wanted to present?
    If it were sales or marketing and the goal is to paint the best picture to match the circumstances, I’d have no problem with leaving a higher degree off the resume.

    1. Mike C.*

      Why does it make you question their ethics when the reason for wanting to omit such information is to avoid being stereotyped and immediately dismissed from further consideration?

  12. Ellie H.*

    I couldn’t agree more (with AAM). I do really like Randy Cohen and very much miss his column – I don’t have enough words for how much I hate Ariel Kaminer’s version of it.

    The only interesting (and totally implausible, just a thought exercise) twist I can think of is if the company offers tuition reimbursement for advanced degrees. They might be upset to pay for classes if it turned out the person already has a Ph.D. in that same subject or even something else. But they would probably find out about it in the course of that process anyway.

    1. Victoria (OP)*

      Agreed – I much preferred Randy Cohen’s Ethicist to Ariel Kaminer’s. But she’s done, too – I hope they’re not jettisoning the column!

  13. EngineerGirl*

    I can see two sides to it. A resume is a marketing document – not everything will be included. Including the PhD may prevent you from getting an interview/job because the employer my assume that you will want to jump ship once something better comes along. But if the PhD is in a subject irrelevant to the job, I might leave it off.
    There is a HUGE difference between the resume and the job application. The individual absolutely should include the education in the application or it would be lying.

    1. Blinx*

      Shoot, EngineerGirl, you type faster that I do! Didn’t mean to repeat what you just said in your post…

  14. Blinx*

    A resume is a marketing tool, and as such, one can say anything on it, to get your foot in the door. This may or may not be wise. But if you succeed in getting an interview and offer, what you say on your job application DOES matter. The one I recently filled out had a few paragraphs of legalese, starting with:

    “I certify that the information given by me in this application is true and complete. I understand and agree that any false information, misrepresentation or concealment of fact is sufficient for either my immediate discharge without recourse or refusal of employment by Company…”

    Since I’m currently unemployed, I can understand the urge to conceal information because you want/need that job, even if you’ll under-employed. But I can also see this as being near-sighted. What if another job in the company becomes available that requires a PhD, and you apply? All of a sudden, you have this huge degree that wasn’t on previous applications. Might raise some red flags.

    1. Elizabeth West*

      That’s what I was thinking. Not to mention the fact that the company could look on it as lying, and wonder what else you concealed. This, in some companies, can be grounds for firing. Although I’m not sure I’d fire someone about hiding an advanced degree, vs. lying about one they never had in the first place. But we all know how persnickety some corporations can be.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        It’s extremely unlikely that someone would be fired for not mentioning a PhD on their resume. Sure, it could happen in some bizarre incident, just like there are other random bizarre occurrences in the workplace that you can’t plan your life around.

  15. Cheryl*

    I confess I haven’t read ALL of the comments carefully, but I don’t think anyone has mentioned this. (If so, apologies!) I think one way to address this, if one felt ethically they should include the PhD., but thought it might make them seem “overqualified” (although, as Alison points out, that often isn’t the case), is to address it in the cover letter. I wouldn’t belabor the point, but maybe address how anything learned in getting that degree might prepare them for the job in question, or discuss the research done for the dissertation and how that might be relevant, or even explain that despite the PhD, he has been unable to find work in that field (due to the economy, or whatever) and has returned to his “first love” the field in question. . . You get the point.

  16. photodiplo*

    I have a degree in photography that I absolutely do not include on my CV when applying to jobs in international relations. It’s not relevant, and might even hurt. Nobody has ever questioned me on it or felt lied to about it. It’s not like the topic of degrees comes up every day anyway. It usually comes up when I’m taking photos for work or rocking a little photoshop, in which case people see it as a hidden asset they had no idea about but glad to have around.

  17. Joey*

    What if the phd is related? Is it okay to leave it off if you’re applying to a lower level position. I know I’d feel deceived. I’d be counting the days.

  18. Jess*

    I’m chiming in as a PhD-holder who works in a field kind of, but not directly, related to my PhD. I’ve seen this question debated time and again elsewhere. If I were applying for something way off base from what my PhD was in, I would probably be inclined to include it (and make mention to why I am changing fields in my cover letter)–but mostly because I personally would not have another way to account for the 5 years during which I was a full-time PhD student.

    I agree 100% that a resume is a marketing document and is not a CV, but I think that if I did decide to leave my degree off my resume I would be worried that my employer would find out about it and care. *If* they should care is another matter whatsoever, but as we’ve seen in this comment thread, some employers would.

    I also think a lot of PhD-holders need to learn how to angle their experience and market the transferrable project management, analysis, etc skills they learned as a PhD student….but that is another topic entirely!

  19. The Other Dawn*

    I’d be more worried about the person who lies and says they have a degree or experience they really don’t have. Leaving a PHD off a resume? I wouldn’t care about that.

  20. AnonMouse*

    Reminds me of Dan Savage’s advice for whether or not to disclose various things to potential romantic partners — “it’s a relationship, not a deposition”. ;) It might be in your best interest, or logical, or good of you, to disclose XYZ, but you don’t necessarily HAVE to/aren’t OBLIGATED to in 100% of occasions.

    1. A Bug!*

      I can picture the OkCupid message now…

      “Well, yes, as you can see from my photographs, I normally date much more attractive and successful men than you, but in the interest of a healthier life balance I’m looking for someone a little lower-maintenance and I think you just might be the right fit.”

  21. Charles*

    In my opinion, it comes down to a matter of expectations and intentions.

    It is standard practice for most folks in the U.S. to include their highest level of education on resume. Isn’t that what most hiring managers assume is on the resume? Certainly, a comprehensive work history is not expected; but the highest level of education is expected, no?

    Leaving the education off because it is not relevate might be okay. (e.g. a retired Ph.D. holder applying for a job as a Walmart greeter) But that is not what the original question was – the original issue was to “dumb-down” one’s education in hopes of being more appealing to an employer. This is deception.

    What makes this deception especially unethical is that the original OP (the one writing to Mr. Cohen) and others are intentially deceiving someone else (the hiring manager) for personal gain. (trying to get a job for which one is not qualified – and it is not the job seeker’s final decision to decide what makes one qualified, that privilege lies with the hiring manager).

    As others have said here (and said much better than I have) if you think that the higher education is hurting your chances of landing a job then you need to “market” that education from a better angle – not be deceptive about it.

    1. jmkenrick*

      I think some people are looking at this differently than you. If you get a PhD in Widget Making, and then leave it off to get a job as an entry-level Widget Maker, I could certainly see the argument for deception.

      But if you got your PhD in Basket-Weaving, and then decided it wasn’t the career path for you, (or you got it for love the game, which some people do) I don’t think it’s deliberatly deceptive to leave it off when apply to Widget Making Inc.

    2. jmkenrick*

      Just re-read your reponse and see that you say leaving off irrelevant education is ok. In that case, I definitely see your point. Must have missed that in the first reading – focused in on the bold words.

    3. J*

      I disagree. Everything is for “personal gain” when it comes to hiring someone: potential employee wants a job/money, hiring manager’s company wants to make money off potential employee. Hiring manager wants to look good, fill spots, get promoted–everything works for personal gain in business.

      The resume is used to market yourself and list information that can help a hiring manager figure out if you’re qualified for the position. The interview is for figuring out if the potential employee will stick around a while, can do the job well, etc. But what most hiring managers want to do is assume that because one has a Phd listed on the resume, one won’t stick around, when they should really be figuring that out during the interview process by speaking with the potential employee.

    4. Mike C.*

      “What makes this deception especially unethical is that the original OP (the one writing to Mr. Cohen) and others are intentially deceiving someone else (the hiring manager) for personal gain. (trying to get a job for which one is not qualified – and it is not the job seeker’s final decision to decide what makes one qualified, that privilege lies with the hiring manager).”

      Lets unpack this bit right here. You say that a person engaging in this activity is being deceitful because they are trying to make themselves appear qualified for a position when they are not, because they possess advanced degrees. That is, a person with less education is more qualified than someone who has more.

      How does it work that having more knowledge/skills/certifications makes one less qualified for a given position? Does this mean that an employee could become worse at their jobs for reading too many books or clicking the wrong links on Wikipedia? Should this employer fire employees who have library cards?

      Also telling folks to market their education better isn’t going to help them when faced with someone who has bought into the stereotypes about advanced degree holders.

  22. J*

    I know that leaving things off my resume has worked for me. Granted, I do not have a Phd or Masters, but I did graduate at the top of my university class and received lots of honors. At first I thought it would be great to include this information, because it would show my work ethic, responsibility, etc. But I wasn’t getting any response. So I “dumbed down” my resume and took off everything about honors and awards and suddenly started getting asked to interviews. *shrug*

  23. Elizabeth West*

    I have left my music studies off, mostly because they date me (I went right out of high school, in the 1980s). They’re a dead giveaway to age. Anyway, I didn’t graduate, so I don’t have a degree in music. The only time I put it down is for government applications where they check EVERYTHING. In 2005, I earned a B.S. in English and an A.S. in criminology, and those are both on my resume because they were earned concurrently. I’ve wondered if this could be considered deceptive. Since I don’t have a degree, and I left school so long ago, would anyone even really care?

    If asked, I’ll mention the music but it’s not relevant at all to anything I’m doing now, except cutting music for fellow figure skaters at our rink. I did put it on my flyer. :)

  24. Mike C.*

    It’s really easy for some to call advanced degree holders deceitful or unethical – they themselves aren’t in the position of not knowing where their next paycheck will come from. Not only that, but possessing more education than originally advertised is always a boon to the employer, even if they are too short-sighted or intimidated to see it.

    I’m really disappointed that a professional ethicist missed out on this however. Even if such a thing was actually bad I wouldn’t blame someone for doing it if it meant their family could eat or have a roof over their heads.

  25. RandNotAyn*

    A resume is not a marketing document (a brochure).

    A resume is an ‘objectifying document’ where the premise is representing positions, degrees (because they were denoted by third-parties, previous employers and accredited education – objective) and optionally, but of course, subjective claims about skillsets based on objective achievements.

    And it’s always “all” because any reasonable employer expects a resume to pretty much match up with the employment application which is going to require listing all degrees earned from accrediting institutions.

    So the ‘things people don’t include on resumes, which you’d never think twice about’ never is an issue because they are all subjective and wouldn’t make it to the employment applications.

    1. Vicki*

      In over 25 years of employment, I don’t recall ever being asked to fill out an “employment application which is going to require listing all degrees earned from accrediting institutions.”

      It is also not a “requirement” to list every position ever held.

      1. Xay*

        The only applications that I have seen like that are for the government positions and generally those applications are for positions that require background checks.

        I think that people are confusing “don’t lie on your resume” with “tell your employer everything.” I’ve seen applications for entry and mid-level positions with PhDs listed get tossed because of the assumptions about people with PhDs. The only thing that is objective about your resume is that is should be objectively shaped for the position you are applying for.

  26. j*

    I like how some people believe hiring managers are these perfect judicial beings who have no bias or stereotypes. It’s a wonder job hunters have experienced otherwise.

  27. Alex Beamish*

    I agree with your comment that a resume is a marketing document. If you want to leave things out that aren’t relevant to the job you’re applying for, that should be fine. I was laid off from a job in the mid-80’s after three months; thankfully, I’ve been able to exclude that job for some time now.

  28. Vicki*

    I am currently reading Paul Ekman’s book, “Telling Lies”. Paul Eckman is an expert in emotions research and nonverbal communication. He defines lying early on in the book as a deliberate intent to misinform the victim.

    So, are you leaving out the PhD with a deliberate intention of misleading the person reading the resume? If he finds out you have that PhD will he be justified in feeling mislead?

    Obviously, you do not list every course you ever took in College and graduate school. You do not list every elective. You’re likely not listing every job you had in high school.

    I agree with several other commenters that (for some people at least) a “CV” is meant to be comprehensive. But, once Mr Cohen allowed for “selectivity”, I think his statement that “you may not be deceptive, deliberately concealing work or education history that a potential employer has a legitimate right to know.” needs to be viewed in the light of the last phrase. What, exactly, does a potential employer have a Legitimate Right To Know?

  29. Anonymous*

    I routinely leave two degrees off my CV because they aren’t really relevant and I’m not even certain that one of them still exists. It’s certainly something I don’t want potential employers worrying their little heads about.

  30. Tim Suddeth*

    I see some confusion here with résumés and applications. The résumés is a marketing tool, but truthful, not fiction. Your application will have more info on it and is a legal document. I can see leaving the PHD off the résumés but I would suggest putting it on the app. A PHD is not something you can hide, it will come out someshere in the next 5 years of employment, and I would hate to live under that cloud. By leaving it off the résumés you are not drawing attention to it, but you are also not hiding it.

    1. Jamie*

      I agree with this. Most applications ask about your highest level of education – and then you sign attesting that everything therein was true.

      Leaving off the resume is fine – but I wouldn’t lie on the application.

  31. LNSu*

    Okay I usually forgo commenting but I will. So it seems to me a majority of posters think I should write on my resume the one job I had for a month? I took a job found out I couldn’t do it (I couldn’t handle the work envorinment it was in an elderly care facility and broke my heart) so I politely turned in my 2 weeks. It has no relevency or reflection of my character for a potential position. Should I include that at 17 I worked as a model? Really who cares? I’m not lying about anything my potential employer soesn’t want to know that I homeschooled my son for 3 years either and I could argue that JOB has relevence to many positions.

    Just my 2 cents worth

Comments are closed.