Dumb It Down?

Ride with me for a second.

I grew up in Memphis, TN; very poor city and racially divided, during a time when a black male was lucky to see his 18th birthday. If the gangs and street life didn’t get you then teenage parenthood, drugs or poor education did. I was an average student. I had to work very hard just to graduate high school. College was no guarantee but I made it in.

I survived in the cold winters of Iowa and coming from Memphis that was a difficult adjustment all by itself. After being on academic review for 3 semesters, I worked harder than all my classmates to catch up and graduate on time. I had to overcome being locked out of classes and the cafeteria by the business office because of payment issues. And I worked a part-time job!

Since the importance of education had been drilled into me by my elder family members who didn’t get the chance to finish high school and go to college; along with experiences I had in the workplace, statistics and the media pointing out the fact that a person with a college degree earns more in a lifetime than a person without. I saw first-hand how people would be passed over and disqualified for employment or promotions. I earned my Master’s from a BIG Ten university.

Here’s what’s got me bothered. I’ve been told and I’ve had clients to ask me about this notion of “dumbing down” your education on their resume to get a job. I’ve had people tell me I should remove my Master’s Degree from my resume and I’ve had clients tell me that they have been told to remove their formal education from the resumes too. I suppose it’s to become a better fit for a possible job opportunity.

With all the media coverage and discussion regarding the talent and skill gap in this country, I am shocked that someone (recruiter, hiring manager, HR personnel, whomever) would utter these words. It’s an insult.

You want me to do this for some “primitive cave dweller” who may be uncomfortable with my level education. Or is this the organizational culture to hire less talented people so they are no threat to advance and maybe replace someone else? Is it a matter of cost? Or just plain ole hate?

It’s personal to me.

You want me to dumb it down? I can’t do it. Sorry! Too much blood, sweat, tears and student loan payments. How bout you go find a short pier and take a long walk?


  1. Doug Shaw

    This resonates with me. I remember as a office junior being called into the big Boss’ office and being told ‘Shaw, you ask too many questions, just keep it to yourself and get on with your work.’ Needless to say I left very soon after. Smarten it up – don’t dumb it down!

    1. newresource (Post author)

      Doug, thank you for sharing. I don’t blame you…We are told to ask questions and when you do they ask you to pipe down. Totally crap.

  2. Neil

    Funny. I’ve just finished a live we chat for the Guardian newspaper here in the UK and I got asked this very question by someone looking for work, “should i tone down my experience on my CV?” My answer was that instead they should be absolutely upfront about what they would and wouldn’t be happy to do NOT lie about their experience.

    After all, only a dumb employer would pass over a well edcuated, experienced, hardworking employee with a strong work ethic. Right?

    1. newresource (Post author)

      Thank you for commenting. Unfortunately, this is happening too often. I agree must be something wrong with that employer, insecure or just plain dumb.

  3. Nasir

    I REFUSE absolutely REFUSE to take my hard work off my resumé. To me that makes no sense whatsoever and for people who want me to do so …well I guess I probably shouldn’t be working for them in the first place I think. I just can’t see this as being good advice but people are desperate for jobs and (if you just need a job) to that person who has been struggling to find one anything starts to make sense; however, I just wouldn’t do it.

    1. newresource (Post author)

      Thanks for the comment. You shouldn’t do it. If your story is like my story, you’ve worked to hard to throw it all away.

  4. John Hudson

    Wow. I would say, load it up! If you have to dumb down your resume for a certain job, you’re applying to the wrong job. Plus, when I run your background check and possibly find out you didn’t put all of your education on there, we have a whole other issue. Most importantly, how can you NOT show off that Big Ten education?? That’s a gimme for sure 🙂 Great post, again, Chris.

  5. Alicia

    Absolutely not!

    I am on defense for not yet completing my degree and I will be very proud of all my hard work once I have earned it. Plus, I see this as a lie just as much as saying you have a degree when you don’t. Education comes in many forms and that should be recognized. The hard work invested in earning a degree is something to be proud of.

    If they are not looking for your level of talent, then it might not have been a good fit for you anyway.

  6. Melissa

    Hi Chris,
    I couldn’t agree more. The time and effort put into education is too important to leave off a resume. Not sure if you saw this post by Penelope Trunk “When to leave grad school off your resume”:

    She has an interesting view point.

    Keep up the awesome work!

    1. newresource (Post author)

      Thanks for your comment Melissa. I read that article, and needless to say, I don’t agree.

  7. David Smooke (@DavidSmooke)

    “How bout you go find a short pier and take a long walk?” — Great Response to The Man saying, ‘You Should Sell Yourself Short.’

    I enjoy reading Cost of Work.

    Check Chris’s other Blog Today: “Looking for Work Ain’t for Suckers” http://www.smartrecruiters.com/static/blog/looking-for-work-aint-for-suckers/

  8. Carolyn

    Great post. Some employers have definitely dumbed down jobs during the recession in terms of title and pay.

    I’ve had recruiters suggest dumbing down to not appear “overqualified” or “too expensive”. Nah. When I see advanced or continuing education, it tells me that person probably has some other desirable qualifications – initiative, time management, capacity to learn, results bias, commitment to the profession. Who wouldn’t want those, whatever level the job is?

  9. Francois Guay

    Great post as always Chris. I say always hire people that are smarter and better educated than you are! I always want to keep learning. To those that dont…”how about you go find a short pier and take a long walk”. Could not have said it better Chris.

  10. Travis Sinquefield

    Great post Chris! I can’t believe anyone would want to dumb down their resume. I worked my ass off and paid a lot of money to pay for my bachelor’s and MBA – damn right I am going to put it on my resume!

    This advice seems to be contrary to every job posting I am seeing, which are all requiring that you have a bachelor’s or master’s degree. Doesn’t make much sense to me.

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