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I have a Ph.D. and recruiters have told me that employers will view me as overqualified for certain positions and will therefore not consider my job applications. I'm considering omitting my Ph.D. from my resume, as follows:

  • Indicate that I received a M.A. degree. (This is true.)
  • For the years between my M.A. and my Ph.D., indicate that I was a research fellow at the university. (This, too, technically is true, though that wasn't my title. I did have a fellowship and it was for doing research.)

Some questions:

  • Is this ethical? (A previous answer on this site implies that it is, but what if the application asks specifically to list all post-secondary education?)
  • Might it work? (Some sub-questions: Will it be seen right through? If not, will anyone who views me as overqualified with a Ph.D. view me as overqualified with the above resume also? And if he will, then is there another way to rewrite my resume so that's not the case?)
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    Put your Ph.D. on job applications that would benefit from it, otherwise leave it off. There's no harm in telling a recruiter you have one, but leave it off the resume for jobs where it won't matter to the employer. I have a friend with a doctorate whose role is basically high-powered Database Administrator. In such circumstances, no one cares. – Meredith Poor Apr 20 '14 at 7:52
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    I second @MeredithPoor Nothing unethical about omitting the PhD. There was nothing unethical about getting a PhD in the first place but you have to play that game because somebody got pointy headed about PhD's – Vietnhi Phuvan Apr 20 '14 at 11:38
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Is this ethical?

Yes.

You are under no obligation to include all of your degrees on your resume or application. Since it's usually best to tailor your resume to the desired job anyway, when you apply for a position where you feel a degree would be a negative, simply omit mentioning it.

Might it work?

If you are correct in your assessment that a doctorate is viewed as a negative for a particular position, then it certainly could work.

In general, I don't believe employers think that degrees themselves ever make people overqualified. Instead, an employer worries that a candidate expects that their advanced degrees entitle them to more than others receive. That might mean more salary, quicker advancement, or high-level positions.

For some positions, an advanced degree may indeed be beneficial or even required. But for other positions, such degrees hold little or no benefit. A potential employer might simply worry that the degree holder can't distinguish between the two situations. Once you have some work experience, and a track record of employment, that worry usually goes away.

  • I feel that by hiding it to have access to simpler jobs, as a way to amplify your opportunities, you are deceiving your future employer. He is worried about your getting bored in a couple months since you are doing a simpler job, not of your degree. If you want to hide the degree, I urge you to show it and explain why you are still a good option as a candidate on your cover letter on somewhere else. – Spidey Apr 20 '14 at 19:06
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    @Spidey You seem to be talking about PhDs like one would talk about past criminal history :| 'By this logic, it's unethical to omit a qualification in, let's say, nail varnishing techniques, when applying for a role in accounting. That doesn't make sense to me. You show your relevant facets, depending on the job you're applying for, NOT everything about you. – yochannah Apr 20 '14 at 16:56' – BCLC Aug 12 '15 at 19:09
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It depends whether the job and your doctorate are in the same area of expertise, which I don't think you mentioned.

The answer you're pointing to speaks about omitting a certain piece of information from a CV, because the person applying to a new job does not want to work in his previous area of expertise and doesn't even want to be connected to it. That seems perfectly ethical to me.

But when you're applying for a job in the area of expertise that is the same as your doctorate, then not telling this to your possible future employer is – in my opinion – a typical example of hiding important information. Pretty much the same as problem discussed here.

From this point of view, whether you're hiding information about one of your previous positions of employment or hiding one of your university degrees, it sounds in both cases as a specific form of lie. That's not ethical at all in my opinion. Saying that I did three stages of education, not four, is pretty much the same as saying that I have work experience in seven, not eight, companies. I'm "silently" forgetting about one of them in both cases, right?

Consider what you're going to say if your interviewer finds out (by any means – piece of cake in our Facebook-like world) that you're actually a Ph.D., not merely an M.A. holder. He'll straightly ask you: "Tell me, why did you lie in your resume?"

If you're looking for a job in a completely different area of expertise, then answering such a question is pretty simple. "That's not a lie. I found this information completely not relevant to current interview process, as I don't see any connection between metallurgy, in which I have my Ph.D., and IT, in which I would like to work."

But, when you're applying to a company in the same area of expertise, then answering such questions could possibly be embarrassing and that's why the whole situation sounds pretty much unethical to me.

Finally, consider that in certain countries (like my homeland Poland) not mentioning your real education level is considered illegal according to local laws and regulations, as it is a lie in fact.

  • Can you provide evidence that "it is a lie in fact" to omit specific degrees that you have taken? – March Ho May 10 '16 at 4:29
  • I don't know, what kind of evidence you expect. This is purely speculation and personal point of view. For me, saying "I'm not a doctor, I'm M.A." or saying just "I'm M.A." is the same kind of lie as saying "I'm not 45, I'm 33". Or just saying "I'm 33". All statements are true to some (I am M.A., because I have this degree even though I have higher one and I'm 33, because I have this age (and a little bit more)). But, I of course understand that for many this kind of thinking may be incorrect or some may disagree with me. – trejder May 10 '16 at 5:41
  • Plus -- of course (the most important argument) -- the question is not, what I am thinking or what you're thinking, but what a recruiter is going to think, when he finds out, that one of his applicants "forgot" to mention something in resume. This seems to be the most important thing and it seems most people are forgetting about this. If recruiter shares applicant's point of view, then fine. If he/she take this as a lie, then applicant is in kind of serious problems and nothing, we said here will help him (I said that I'm not Ph.D. because Workplace.se community told me to do so?). Right? – trejder May 10 '16 at 5:44
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    The point is that omitting specifics in a document that did not require that you provide any and all qualifications does not even constitute a lie of omission. The analogy would be closer to saying "I like to read books" when asked about your hobbies, and omitting that you also like to cook. – March Ho May 10 '16 at 5:48
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Is this ethical?

No.

This is the Sin of Omission. Regardless of whether you're religious or not, it's a falsehood.

If you want to downplay it, don't title your CV as "Doctor John Lennon Ph.D" - simply use your name without any prefixes or suffixes.

Place your education towards the bottom, if you have to. But don't leave it off.

Might it work?

Unlikely. At some point, your employer or co-workers will probably find out. How do you think they will feel about your deception? You lied to get the job, and you hid a significant part of yourself from them.

Ultimately, you wouldn't ask this question if you didn't think it was ethically sketchy.

Any decent employer will not reject you because of your qualifications. And, do you want to work for someone who feels threatened by your education?

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    By this logic, it's unethical to omit a qualification in, let's say, nail varnishing techniques, when applying for a role in accounting. That doesn't make sense to me. You show your relevant facets, depending on the job you're applying for, NOT everything about you. – yochannah Apr 20 '14 at 16:56
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    There might be a miscommunication here. I believe what @terence tried to say is that if OP titles him/herself as a Dr. [OP]. Then the subsequent doctorate must be present in his/her resume. – Frank FYC Aug 12 '15 at 21:30
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    This is just wrong. There is no standard that a resume must include every detail of your history (it's not a CV) - you're allowed to include whatever true items you feel are relevant. – Andrew Medico Aug 14 '15 at 3:14
  • "Any decent employer will not reject you because of your qualifications. And, do you want to work for someone who feels threatened by your education?" An employer, even a decent one, is not going to hire a Ph D. for a low wage job (unless that doctorate is in Art History, or something equally unmarketable). It doesn't matter if you're truly sincere about wanting that job. Employers want continuity in their employees. And an employer who believes you will leave after a couple of months, because you have many more options than other candidates, is probably somewhat right in his assessment. – Stephan Branczyk Jun 12 '16 at 20:20

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