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On my resume I list my education under a section called "education". I do not mention the word "qualification" and I do not mention my grades.

I list them in the following format: Course - Institution - Year From / Year To

For Example:

  • BSc Engineering | University of x | 2000 to 2002
  • LPIC-2 Linux Engineer | Linux Professional Institute | 2010 - 2011

In the list I have included my time at Uni however, I dropped out after 2 years. Originally I put a description saying I had completed 2 years with top marks however I removed the descriptions to make space for my job experience.

In my mind this is perfectly fine. I am listing the time I have spent in education, not the qualifications and grades I have received.

In my last job they asked about the degree during the interview, and I didn't mind explaining why I had dropped out. My intention was never to be misleading.

Recently I changed jobs, and I think my employer has assumed I have a degree as he didn't ask me about my education during the interview.

My question here is: is my resume misleading, and could this be seen as a lie?

I am not asking what I should do about it.

11 Answers 11

88

People who make sloppy assumptions have only themselves to blame

Putting "dropped out" or "incomplete" beside your education would be like putting "terminated" beside past jobs where your contract was not renewed or you got fired. Nobody would advise doing that.

Employers would love to know if you have a criminal record, but nobody would advise putting "convicted felon" on one's resume because you are otherwise allowing your employer to assume you are not.

A resume is a marketing document that consists of factual information. It is not a factual assessment of your career. It is certainly not unbiased. It is instead the bullish case for you.

I don't see how clarifying beforehand is better than having to explain in an interview or after getting hired. In both cases, they are far more invested in you and the cost of removing you from consideration is higher. In both cases, they are forced to at least listen to your explanation. Many people would have a hard time admitting they misread and would instead find other reasons to justify your candidacy (a decent story there). At the resume state, they can just go "next please" in 10 seconds.

Leave it as is. It can only benefit you if people are sloppy in their thinking and assessment.

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    This viewpoint is understood by employers as well. It's just like if you are a new graduate with a bad GPA: you don't put it on your resume because it will make you look bad. If an employer is looking for the GPA, they'll assume it's bad because you didn't list it, but you don't want to proactively call attention to the fact that you had a low GPA. – dbeer Jan 23 at 19:09
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    One caveat: you should never omit information with the intent to deceive. For example, if the job strictly required a degree and you did this hoping the interviewer would just assume you had one, then many would consider it as bad as if you outright lied. If on the other hand a degree is not required, then it's not relevant to your qualifications and there's nothing wrong with leaving it off. – bta Jan 24 at 0:54
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    @bta Over here a lot of jobs 'require' degrees that the final applicants don't have. If they ask for a Uni degree, they'll often take a Bsc. If they ask for a Bsc, a drop-out with field experience will also get the job. So it's not as black&white as that. Assumptions are their problem. Just don't lie, and if asked whether you got the degree while you didn't, say you don't. That's it. – Mast Jan 24 at 9:26
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    @Mast I don't know where your "over here" is, but over here, a BSc is a university degree, most now requiring four years' study after finishing tertiary education (ie, from age 18). – Andrew Leach Jan 24 at 22:05
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    "Leave it as is. It can only benefit you if people are sloppy in their thinking and assessment." Except by the people who will look at it, see that it's two years - too short to complete it, and yet it's not annotated at so, which means it will be binned as dishonest, where otherwise it would probably not be a big deal at all. Lie by omission is a thing. – Tymoteusz Paul Jan 25 at 15:20
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This is somewhat location specific, but also depends on what you refer to as "Course". If you are referring to a class you took at an institute, like:

CS 101, University of Stack Exchange, 2019-2021

then no this would not be lying at all.

If you are referring to a degree program, such as:

Bachelor of Science, University of Stack Exchange, 2019-2021

Then yes, you would be intentionally misleading on your resume. The standard title of "Education" is referring to a degree, the Bachelor of Science, that being on your resume claims you earned this. If someone had two years on a resume and applied to a position under me, I would be more inclined to assume they graduated early with credits transferring from high school than assuming they put a degree on their resume that they did not earn.

I would be hard pressed to find someone claiming this latter example is not a problem and someone is being sloppy for assuming it means that you had a degree. The case in which it would be considered sloppy is if a company requires degrees and never asks the question on a form or does a background check.

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    I like the point you made about transfer credits. It's not rare at all for someone to transfer and get a degree from a university after two years. In fact, I'd guess that's much more common than listing unfinished degrees in the education section of a resume. – rurp Jan 24 at 21:13
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    Course - Institution - Year is ok. Degree - Institution - Year... IS NOT, +1 – Mazura Jan 25 at 2:05
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is my resume misleading?

Let me ask another question: Why are you not simply marking the education entry as "not completed"? That would remove all ambiguity. But unless you haven't thought of this option, maybe this ambiguity is strategic.

You can foresee that this, potentially, may give the false impression that you completed the education. This is, by definition, misleading. If it comes up at a later stage, the obvious defense is that "you were just stating the facts".

You have to answer for yourself if you think you get away with it, if you willing to take this risk, and if it is ethical.

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    my intention wasn't to be misleading, but I don't want to list "not complete" because to me that makes no sense. On the others I would then have to put "complete" to be consistent which takes up too much room. I thought calling it education rather than qualifications was the best solution. To me that is transparent and very clear, but I am now doubting if others have the same logic as myself. If I had called them qualifications, then I agree with mentioning it's not complete. – flexi Jan 23 at 15:49
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    @flexi On the others I would then have to put "complete" to be consistent Do you really believe that? It's only the incomplete education that's ambiguous and needs clarification. – ig-dev Jan 23 at 15:49
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    @flexi Up to you what you do, but my thought is, if I'd ask you why you didn't mention the incomplete education, and the response was that you thought the resume layout looked better without that information, I'd probably not buy that explanation – ig-dev Jan 23 at 16:03
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    My explanation would be, I listed my time in education and completed 2 years of it. But I think ultimately you are right, and I probably should include something to say the actual qualification was incomplete. – flexi Jan 23 at 16:09
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    @ig-dev Of course they don't. They know what they're doing and know what answer they want. Anything outside that may as well be white noise. – Studoku Jan 24 at 1:17
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Did I Lie on my resume?

Yes, No, Maybe.

The actual question you should be asking is: Was the information I provided in my CV is easily understood?

The answer is : No.

CV is not the place to create or leave room for confusion / misunderstanding / interpretation. You should be as precise and correct as possible.

I list them in the following format: Course - Institution - Year From / Year To

and

....It clearly shows I only studied there for 2 years, not enough to qualify for a degree.

If you're using something like "2012-2014" as "From" and "To" respectively, it may create confusion, as not everyone will know whether the course was supposed to be of 2-years duration or, you did not finish the course.

So, instead of putting two years as start and end, put the start year in "Year From", and under "Year to", mention "incomplete".

This way, you're communicating the fact that the education (degree) was incomplete.

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    Some people use the terms "resume" and "cv" interchangeably, but they do have differing definitions. It seems like your answer here is for a CV, and in that regard it's a good answer. But the OP did use the word "resume" a few times, so I'm assuming that's what they meant. – Cypher Jan 23 at 18:53
  • "2012-2014" implies a full 3 years Edit: forgot some countries start and end mid year – fjw Jan 24 at 4:29
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    @fjw Yes, in my country it's mid year, so habituated to see and write like that. – Sourav Ghosh Jan 24 at 4:31
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    @fjw My country starts and ends mid-year, and I wouldn't know whether this is 2 years or 3. And I definitely know people who have gotten a 4 year degree in 3. Hell, I'm one of them. – Michael W. Jan 25 at 0:25
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It clearly shows I only studied there for 2 years, not enough to qualify for a degree.

That sounds a lot like "not lying" to me.

Your resume is clearly slanted in your favor, but that's normal. A better question to ask is

"if your employer later discovers that you don't have a degree, will that be a problem?"

As long as you're clearly doing your job well and there aren't outside requirements1 for a degree, you'll be fine.


1 Some contracts between businesses may specify that all people working on a project hold a certain degree or certification. Since you didn't mention that in your question, I assume it doesn't apply to you.

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  • @DJClayworth Unless I misread the question, the OP is well past the recruiting stage and already has the job. – Dan Pichelman Jan 23 at 15:47
  • Sorry, yes, you are right. – DJClayworth Jan 23 at 16:03
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    yes, already have the job. I doubt the employer would actually mind. I was just wondering about it. – flexi Jan 23 at 16:05
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    It could also be read as being so good you only needed two years to complete a degree. – JMK Jan 26 at 13:26
  • how is the normal conclusion from a time to "oh he dropped out" instead of "oh he's excellent and was fast"? Given that OP displays the title the normal convention is that this means he got the title. – Frank Hopkins Jan 26 at 16:58
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You were at the very least misleading. At least once you've started to question yourself, you'd be at least borderline lying and after reading this answer intentionally misleading (with a possible way out).

If this came up in an interview I'd (likely) reject you for being dishonest or at the very least unprepared and unclear in your communication. At the least it would be a big negative point on the character assessment side. I don't need a colleague who is not aware of typical convention in important communication or even worse who intentionally tries to play the rules by strictly technically not breaking them. Then again, perhaps for some professions that's a plus point...

Why is that: In all environments I've worked so far, any degree listed on a CV under education is by convention a degree the candidate claims to hold. If that is not the case that needs to be marked. Since you wrote

  • BSc Engineering | University of x | 2000 to 2002
  • LPIC-2 Linux Engineer | Linux Professional Institute | 2010 - 2011

That refers to a degree, namely a BSc. The time is irrelevant, there are enough ways and places where one could get a Bsc in that time (and one can also easily read that as 3 years). If that seemed a short time, the natural assumption would be that you were excellent and finished really fast or perhaps that there was some special arrangement at play. (It would be different if you listed individual courses without an associated degree.)

Now, if the normal convention in your location area differs from what would be considered standard in my typical environment, you might be fine, but you should make sure that others in that environment really read this explicitly as "time spent towards" instead of "education with degree received".

If you don't know the normal convention, morally you can claim ignorance - which from now on you cannot having read this answer.

The general underlying issue:

The underlying issue is that this a 'special' case in a sea of 'normal' cases. You generally have two options: you try to hide the fact that it's unfinished or you point it out such that it is crystal clear. I'd personally always prefer an honest factual approach. If you try to hide it, maybe it's overlooked and people hire you assuming the wrong thing - perhaps it's overlooked forever or it creates bad blood later. If it comes up at the interview stage it's likely that it will have worse repercussions than if it was clear from the beginning (especially if you can show that you did good in the time you spent there).

You can still make it sound as good as possible: For instance, psychologically one might argue that "unfinished" has negative side-connotations, which is why I suggest a more factual approach, e.g. writing "(2 of X years)" next to it possibly combined with a "Studies towards" prefix or something similar. If you have good grades, point to them being attached if that is possible. This is all less of an issue as well if you can provide a cover letter in addition, where in one side note you can explain that while you did good, it wasn't your thing but that other interesting stuff got a hold of you. Topic covered, there are plenty of successful smart dropouts.

Again, in some places the convention might not be in place or not as strongly. I'd still argue that clarity is always beneficial as negative surprises in or after the interview process are most of the time not worth it, but the less the convention is common, the less it's a moral lying issue and more an issue of (wilful) unclarity or (if the convention is strictly time spent) adhering to the convention and not providing more information than necessary.

The more actual job experience you have the less important a degree anyway, but feeling misled or being lied to might be a showstopper.

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  • If all I did was remove the "Bsc", do you think that would be enough, or still misleading? – flexi Jan 26 at 17:19
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    @flexi it would stand out more, but it'd still be an oddball that can get you in the situation that an interviewer with good enough reason assumes you got some university degree and then finds out you didn't at some stage in the interview process or after. (Btw. I guess you did finish that LPIC-2 certification? Which would mean different things are lumped together and thus more likely to create a misreading.). "Studies towards a BSc Engineering" would be the most brushing it up attempt that I'd find acceptable. You could also go with (2 of X years) or ~ percent etc. – Frank Hopkins Jan 26 at 17:26
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    @flexi The main point is, you have two options: you try to hide the fact that it's unfinished or you point it out such that it is crystal clear. I'd personally always prefer an honest factual approach. If you try to hide it, maybe it's overlooked and people hire you assuming the wrong thing - perhaps it's overlooked forever or it creates bad blood later. If it comes up at the interview stage it's likely that it will have worse repercussions than if it was clear from the beginning (especially if you can show that you did good in the time you spent there). – Frank Hopkins Jan 26 at 17:30
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    @flexi You can still make it sound as good as possible: For instance, psychologically one might argue that "unfinished" has negative side-connotations, which is why I suggest the more factual 2 years of X way to make it clear. Or if you have good grades, point to them being attached if that is possible. This is all less of an issue as well if you can provide a cover letter as well, where in one side note you can explain that while you did good, it wasn't your thing but that other interesting stuff got a hold of you. Topic covered, there are plenty of successfull smart dropouts. – Frank Hopkins Jan 26 at 17:33
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    I want to make it clear but also don't want to draw focus on it. I like the 2 of x years approach. That works really well. I am also considering removing my education section completely as I have over 12 years working in the industry which I think has far more value than my time at university. – flexi Jan 26 at 17:40
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My question here is: is my resume misleading, and would this be seen as a lie?

It is currently up to interpretation. It is better that you clarify on your resume, so that there is no room for anyone to guess. If you are applying for a company that requires a degree then you will likely be asked for a transcript or other proof at some point in the hiring process. It is better for the company to know up front that you have no degree than for you having to explain later in the process ( or even after being hired ) why you do not have a degree.

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I have a similar situation with my resume.

I put both of my times in college on my resume. I unfortunately didn't finish my degree the first time I went and several years later I got a lesser degree at a smaller college. I don't put on my resume that I didn't finish the first degree, I simply state when I attended the university.

What usually happens is that I get a few questions about it during the interview. This is when questions are supposed to come up. I answer truthfully about not finishing and that's generally the end of things. Most of my interviews end up with a positive success for me.

I'm not lying, even though I put down 4 years for that first entry. The fact that I was only able to take 1 semester, instead of 2, for most of those years is completely irrelevant, and the few questions that come up about my education clear up any ambiguity that my resume has for the interviewer.

Unless asked, your GPA, grades, individual courses, and all of that is irrelevant. If you are beyond the first 2-3 years after college, they won't really matter. Since you already have had another job, your new employer assumes that you did the job reasonably well and you didn't fail all of your classes. The employer likely verified your previous job and that you went to school when you said you did. If they did their job correctly, they should also have verified whether you have a degree when they verified your time at the school.

In my experience, there's always ambiguity in resumes. Many people list things they only did for a few months while other items they did for years are left out. This is the nature of selling yourself for the job you want. Yes, education can be a bit tricky this way, but you still have the experience of going to college and the education of the courses you took. Degrading that by putting "Did not finish" on your resume is like putting a "Please ignore me" stamp on it instead. Recruiters and hiring managers are looking for any obvious sign on your resume to pitch it, and that's one of them. You'd have to have massive experience in exactly what they need before they would reconsider tossing a resume with that kind of mark on it.

A resume/CV is your calling card, your advertisement of yourself. Car manufacturers don't put recall warnings in their TV ads. Pet food companies don't list all the allergenic complications a pet can have with their food. Computer manufacturers don't tell you how many times their hardware dies in their ads. Phone companies don't tell you how often the battery explodes in their devices. The only people required to list this type of thing in their advertisements are medically related items, like medicines and implants, due to the extreme nature of the reactions that can happen. You aren't required to tell people why you shouldn't be hired. If people were, there'd be a lot more positions available.

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Did you lie? No. Were you misleading? Somewhat. Is what you did going to be a problem? Probably not, but it depends entirely on the employer and industry you're in. There's not a definitive answer, it's all about your circumstances.

In my industry (software) you'd be fine. You have previous experience and the hired you on that. No one cares where you went to school once you're hired and no one is ever likely to check anyway. The only way this could ever be a concern is if they have you slotted into a pay grade based on (perceived) completed education; some places do operate that way. If so I'd never bring this up - if they never check into it, congratulations on your (slightly) improved salary; if they do, remind them that the resume never mentioned a degree and no one ever asked. If they then try to cut or freeze your salary, improve your resume (perhaps err on the side of honesty this time) and move on.

Bottom line, in at least my industry, employers are all about two things: can you get the work done and do you cause trouble. If the former is yes and you don't make trouble for someone by mentioning your lack of a degree, you're fine. If the degree matters (for salary, for example) you'll only make someone else look bad by bringing up the fact that they didn't ask the right questions. Don't do that. No one wins.

But in some professions, education is a very big deal. If you're going for a teaching position in the USA and they even think you mislead them about your qualifications, you'll likely be unemployed in short order. The fact that someone didn't do due diligence on your resume won't matter.

On balance, you didn't lie in a technical sense but if a misunderstanding happened it would likely be seen as your fault, you sly dog. But if your work is good, it shouldn't matter. If you're happy and they're happy, leave it alone.

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You might, but it is part of the double standard surrounding educational experience vs other experience. Leave it be.

Would you put when you cost your company $250,000 because of a mistake on your resume? No. Even if it caused them to think that everything went perfectly at your job? Still no.

Would you put that you have a criminal record on your resume? No. Even if it caused your boss to think that you are record free? Still no.

Would you put that you cheated on exams to get your degree? No. Even if your employer wanted to know that? No. And most people cheat in university.

Would you put that you were fired on your resume? No. Even though your employer would definitely want to know what? Still no.

Would you put that you had a low GPA on your resume? No. Even if you had a pile of academic awards in a few courses which might mislead them? Still no.

I cannot think of a case where someone would actively point out a negative on their resume.

The majority of answerers here would not advise people to reveal any of these things on a resume and to let people overlook it because they will assume things which are not stated.

Let that work in your favor. Everyone lets that happen with everything else.

Why is everyone in a huff about it? Because they have degrees (as do I) and view education as this pure thing to be protected from any taint even if it screws certain lessers over.

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It depends on how your CV is going to be read, and bear in mind that it can be read many years from now.

In Colombia some politicians had in their CVs information about education that was only misleading (as yours). They didn't actually claimed to be a doctor, but they reported in their education dates and institutions for doctorate studies. Notable cases, among many others, are Bogota's former mayor and even the actual president.

So not being clear about your academic achievements may not be, strictly speaking, lying; but that ambiguity may come later in life to haunt you.

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