Resume Redux – Can I hide the fact that I’m overqualified for a job?

Q. Right now I can’t find an employer who needs an MBA, so for the jobs I’m seeking I’m overqualified. Can I omit my MBA from my resume?

A. The short answer to your question is that your MBA is no different from any other aspect of your background you might want to hide. A job applicant should emphasize the most attractive elements of his or her background in a truthful manner, at the same time indicating any substantive obstacles to exemplary job performance. [See: Can I Embellish My Resume?“] You are not required to disclose your entire life history, and it is only natural that you want to keep some aspects of your background private. The employer has no “right” to know about your degree.

However, in order to give a more complete answer we have to consider why employers are often reluctant to hire “overqualified” individuals. There are basically three main reasons:

  1. Commitment: Overqualified employees tends to view their positions as merely way stations to something better; they generally lack the commitment of someone who has hopes of holding on to the position for a long time.
  2. Morale: an overqualified employee is more likely to be frustrated or resentful, harming work performance.
  3. Workplace relations: an overqualified employee may find it difficult to establish effective teamwork with others who are much less qualified. Such a worker may find it difficult to take orders from a supervisor whose credentials he or she doesn’t esteem.

Because these concerns are particularly relevant to your situation, you need to be particularly careful not to give a false impression of your likely performance in these areas.

The employer probably doesn’t explicitly demand a long-term commitment from applicants. But if you see that the position is just not relevant for someone who is not interested in commitment, you should not apply unless you are willing to forget your MBA and lower your sights to the job opportunity at hand.

A more common situation is where a job can be done effectively without a long-term commitment; the employer just prefers someone who is looking for a longer-term relationship. In this more usual situation, you do not have to reveal that you personally are looking at this job as a “way station”, but you must be careful not to deliberately mislead the employer into thinking that you want to build a career in this job.

The same applies to morale and teamwork. If you know you are going to be frustrated in this job, or that you will have trouble relating to workplace colleagues, then for your own peace of mind you should think twice about taking this position. But if you decide you have no choice, then you must be certain that your frustration and alienation won’t keep you from doing an adequate job, and that you don’t deliberately mislead the employer into thinking that this is your dream job.

A job applicant is not required to tell the employer his life’s story, and if an advanced degree will hurt your employment prospects there is no reason for you to put it on your resume. However, we have to remember the underlying reasons your qualifications are a problem, and make sure these reasons don’t create an ethical pitfall. If your level of commitment, job satisfaction, or teamwork will keep you from doing a good job, you shouldn’t apply for the position. And even if you decide you can overcome these obstacles, you need to be careful not to give the employer misleading expectations.