CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Faced with the cruelest job market in years, some unemployed professionals are lowering their standards for the jobs they're seeking — and even toning down their resumes to avoid seeming overqualified. • To try to land interviews, they're mum about master's degrees they've earned and omitting lofty-sounding executive titles. Still others have left out everything from salary histories to the years they graduated to appear more attractive to employers.
Experts say it's a sign of growing desperation in a tough economy where the national unemployment rate for January was 7.6 percent. Job openings are scarce, and some employers turn away overqualified candidates, worrying they can't afford them, or that the new hires will be dissatisfied and move on quickly.
Using euphemisms for prestigious titles
Gerry Kirkland of Global Recruiters Network in Fort Mill, S.C., said he has talked to two job seekers in the past month who have listed lower-level titles. One worked as general manager at a steel manufacturer; his resume now says "plant manager" or "manufacturing manager," Kirkland said.
Another woman has had two recruiters present her former title as "director" of marketing, rather than "vice president," thinking the latter would make her seem overqualified, she said.
"Anybody who's been out of work for a long period of time begins looking for, 'What can I do to survive?' " said Doug Forrest, a researcher at recruiting firm CEO Inc. "They're doing what they have to do in order to become employed."
It's hard to say whether leaving information off a resume is unethical. Generally, recruiters say it's smart to tailor your resume to different positions and play up the strengths that would be a good match. Omitting details is not considered as serious as inventing qualifications you don't have.
Barry Wohl of Carolina Custom Resumes often discusses with clients the best way to phrase titles and qualifications, he said.
"We don't want them to look like they're in that rarefied atmosphere where it looks like there's very little demand," he said.
Wohl frequently omits college graduation dates, for instance, so hiring managers can't immediately tell how long an applicant has been in the work force. He has worked with at least one client who left out his master's degree.
"The feeling would be that they just did not want to appear too educated or like they would require a higher salary," he said.
Some workers still hold out for a job that fits, like Lysa Schmidt, 50, who lost her job at Citigroup in December after 19 years.
"I'm not going to take anything off my resume," she said. "I'm not going to settle."
But for others, settling has become the only option.
Good reasons not to omit qualifications
Richard Smith, who moved to Charlotte from Michigan last year, has used 25 to 50 versions of his resume in the past few years, playing up or down qualifications based on the opportunity.
Smith's last job was as a project manager in the automotive industry. When he moved to Charlotte, he was looking for jobs with similar pay. Now, he has lowered those expectations and is checking out teaching and coaching positions at schools.
Employers have mixed opinions on toned-down resumes. Sandy Cranford, director of hiring for the amusement park Carowinds, which is filling more than 2,100 seasonal jobs this year, said she has seen candidates with MBAs apply.
"For those that are overqualified, it's just less training we have to do," she said.
Cranford said she wouldn't be bothered if someone chose not to disclose certain qualifications, but that those things are nice to know and can sometimes result in a better position, if one becomes available.
Betsey Walker, human resources manager for Charlotte's Carilion Labs, a hospital lab company, said it's best for applicants to play up certain skills or accomplishments, but they should rarely leave anything out.
"Probably in this market, it's not unwise to be appealing to different employers, but you don't want to try to be everything to everybody," she said.
Walker has seen candidates leave information off because they feel it's irrelevant to the job. She considers that a misrepresentation: "I find myself wondering, what else did they leave out?"
Tough job market or not, most recruiters and resume experts don't advise clients to tone down their resumes.
"You should never apologize for your experience and skills," said Bill Reading of King Career Consultants. "Our advice is to be somewhat patient."
After all, while toning down a resume isn't as bad as pumping it up with false credentials, it's still dishonest, some say. It's also tough to fool hiring managers, who can expose inconsistencies with a quick reference check.
"As a general rule, I don't recommend that folks accept jobs where the job requirement is much below where they've been," said Kirkland, the Fort Mill recruiter. "It was a long, hard fight to get to that level, and it's going to be a long, hard fight to get it back."