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Removing a degree from a resume

Posted by Pattie Hunt Sinacole  January 24, 2011 12:54 PM

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Q. I have been unemployed (laid off) for just over a year now. I have had only a handful of interviews, and can't get past that point. I am a mid-career worker, with no specific profession. I feel that my master's degree in art is preventing me from getting more interviews, as it is not a requirement for any of the jobs I am interested in, and probably makes me appear "over qualified." What are the legal/ethical/moral implications of dropping it from my resume? Thanks!

A: You are smart to reach out and ask for help and advice. There are a couple of pieces of advice and comments that I would like to share.

First, when you share that you have “had only a handful of interviews,” this statement concerns me. More specifically, I question how you are presenting your work history in a resume. Take a critical look at your resume. Use the resources available online at Consider having a trusted friend and/or colleague critique your resume.

You mention that you are “a mid-career worker, with no specific profession.” Hmm… this piece of information is a yellow flag to me. If you can not determine your profession, it must be even a greater challenge for someone who is reviewing your resume!

Your resume should be reflective of your professional work history and education. Sometimes job hunters do omit certain less relevant pieces of information from their resume. For example, if a job seeker held a bartending job part-time, the job seeker should probably not include this information when they apply for a position at a tax consulting firm. Sometimes job seekers will even tailor a resume to a specific job and re-order past job responsibilities. For example, if a position requires international experience, a job seeker may tailor their summary.

Original summary: Highly accomplished finance and accounting manager with over 20 years of experience in public accounting.

Revised summary: Highly accomplished finance and accounting manager with over 20 years of experience in public accounting. Strong international experience, primarily with clients from Japan, UK and Europe.

Most job seekers should not include every experience in their work history but include only relevant work experiences. However, when you are completing an employment application, it is important to include a complete and accurate representation of your work history (including academic qualifications) to the best of your ability.

If you do remove your advanced degree from your resume, you should be willing to provide a reasonable explanation for omitting this information. This is particularly important since a hiring professional may compare a completed employment application to your resume. One plausible explanation to consider: "As you can see from my completed employment application, I earned a Master's of Arts in 2005. It does not relate to the account executive role that I am pursuing. My resume includes my work experience that is most relevant to the account executive role. Art is a passion of mine but not a career interest."

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
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Patricia Hunt Sinacole is president of First Beacon Group LLC, a human resources consulting firm in Hopkinton. She works with clients across many industries including technology, biotech and medical devices, financial services, and healthcare, and has over 20 years of human resources experience.

Elaine Varelas is managing partner at Keystone Partners, a career management firm in Boston and serves on the board of Career Partners International.

Cindy Atoji Keene is a freelance journalist with more than 25 years experience. E-mail her directly here.

Peter Post is the author of "The Etiquette Advantage in Business." Email questions about business etiquette to him directly here.

Stu Coleman, a partner and general manager at WinterWyman, manages the firm's Financial Contracting division, and provides strategic staffing services to Boston-area organizations needing Accounting and Finance workforce solutions and contract talent.

Tracy Cashman is Senior Vice President and Partner of the Information Technology search division at WinterWyman. She has 20 years of experience partnering with clients in the Boston area to conduct technology searches in a wide variety of industries and technology.

Paul Hellman is the founder of Express Potential, which specializes in executive communication skills. He consults and speaks internationally on how to capture attention & influence others. Email him directly here.