What are the ethics of leaving something off of your resume?
March 16, 2006 7:32 AM   Subscribe

Would it be considered fraud or providing false information if I were to leave my doctorate off of my resume?

I have a doctorate in psychology, but am currently unemployed and considering changing fields. I think I might do well with customer service and, eventually, supervising others in customer service. At this point, I'd flip burgers if I could have an income.

When people see the doctorate on my resume, they won't hire me: "Why would someone with a doctorate in psychology want to do this?" They don't think I'll stick with it, apparently.

Would it be ethical to leave the doctorate off of my resume, leaving me with a masters degree in psychology? I would then have to change my job title from "psychologist" to "therapist" for a number of jobs, but this would not be inaccurate.

My sense is that I would be on ethically shaky ground, and I'm not sure it would be consistent with my personal values either. But I really need to make a living, starting soon!

Any suggestions?
posted by lisaj32 to Work & Money (27 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
the clever joke i read once was when someone put their doctorate under "hobbies," but no, i don't think you'd have a problem. they're only denying you the job because they don't think you'd stick around, and if you mean to, you can't even be said to be taking advantage of them. you're just helping them make a good decision! this page says go for it.
posted by soma lkzx at 7:37 AM on March 16, 2006

If your question is whether it would be considered legal fraud, the answer is no. If the question is whether most employers would consider you to have lied to them, the answer is yes (even a lie by omission). Whether the employer would take action upon discovering the omission depends on the employer, how long between the time you applied and they discovered the omission, and how well you had actually performed the job in the meantime. If they discover the omission within a relatively short time after hiring you, I would think that most employers would consider discharging you. If it's been a relatively long period of time, and you've performed the job well, most would probably overlook the omission.

Another possible issue is how you're going to explain the gap in time (employers do check such things).
posted by pardonyou? at 7:50 AM on March 16, 2006

No ethical problem.
posted by cribcage at 7:56 AM on March 16, 2006

You would give out your résumé to McDonalds?? ;-)

IMHO, I don't think it's any business of a prospective employer to know you have a doctorate IF your education has no bearing on your ability to carry out your work (flipping burgers for instance).

The more dicey issue is if you fake credentials you don't have in order to obtain employment.
posted by Taken Outtacontext at 8:00 AM on March 16, 2006

Not mentioning a doctorate degree is very different from not mentioning a criminal record. I see no problem with omitting this information to get your foot in the door. And I've had a similar problem, so I empathize.
posted by meerkatty at 8:09 AM on March 16, 2006

The clue to the answer is in the question. A resume is a brief description or summary of your qualifications and experience.

If it's not relevant to the job that you are applying for then it's OK to leave it off.
posted by MarvinJ at 8:12 AM on March 16, 2006

It is not your employer's business what else you may have done professionally. A good employer will want to know, and will ask, about professional skills you have that don't relate to your job.

Leaving off qualifications that don't relate to the job you are applying for is common practice. The employer only has a beef when you say you are more qualified than you are. Not claiming a qualification that you have is not grounds for termination.
posted by ewkpates at 8:12 AM on March 16, 2006

I don't see the problem. Adding a credential you don't have = bad; leaving out one you do = so? You don't have to include every single job or educational experience you've ever had; if you don't think the doctorate is relevant for the job you're applying for, why would they need to know? (And why on earth would they fire you if they discovered you had one?) Don't most people these days produce different resumes for different potential employers? I certainly do; I include more medical editing when I'm applying for a medical-editing job, for instance. And you're supposed to prune it every few years to get rid of stuff that's no longer of much interest or importance.

The only downside I can see is the time gap. Look at a book or two on resumes to get ideas for dealing with that.
posted by languagehat at 8:13 AM on March 16, 2006

Good question, but in the end I don't see the ethical problem, either. There's nothing wrong with highlighting your strong points and keeping a resume to the qualifications most relevant to the job you're applying for. That's how the job search game is played. I do agree with pardonyou? that most interviewers, if asked, would probably say they'd rather know that the person in front of them had a doctorate, but I don't think that's an ethical problem for you.

But yeah, explaining the time gap in an interview might be tough to do without lying. Maybe avoid the phd on the resume but be prepared to mention it if asked, and then address the "you'll leave quickly" and "you're overqualified" arguments head on if you have to.
posted by mediareport at 8:13 AM on March 16, 2006

On non-preview, what ewkpates said.
posted by languagehat at 8:14 AM on March 16, 2006

You should always adapt your resume to the position that you're interested in. That might mean only putting certain previous employments, leaving off certain educational experiences, or adding things that you wouldn't normally add (like winning a 7th grade burger making contest when applying to work at NASA).
posted by blue_beetle at 8:14 AM on March 16, 2006 [1 favorite]

Now, I'm not saying they would be looking for a reason, but hypothetically if a company you have a contract with somehow wishes to weasel out of the contract, they could feasibly use your non-disclosure on your resume as a grounds.

It's not likely, especially in the burger-flipping world, but it could happen.
posted by Pollomacho at 8:15 AM on March 16, 2006

For what it's worth, I have to disagree with every other answer given so far (other than my own). Every company I've worked for would refuse to hire someone who was found to have intentionally withheld information about their background in order to influence the hiring decision.

I should also say that I assume you'd be asked to fill out an application that would ask you to list your educational experience. Would you be omitting the PhD on the application, too? Even if I could buy some of the arguments about the resume being a "summary" of "relevant" background, applications generally ask specific questions for which omitting the information would be a misrepresentation.
posted by pardonyou? at 8:17 AM on March 16, 2006

they could feasibly use your non-disclosure on your resume as a grounds.

I don't get it. Could they also use your nondisclosure of winning a 7th-grade burger-making contest? How are you supposed to know what you have to disclose? If in your opinion the doctorate, or burger trophy, isn't relevant to the job, why on earth should you list it? I'm seriously puzzled here.
posted by languagehat at 8:17 AM on March 16, 2006

Every company I've worked for would refuse to hire someone who was found to have intentionally withheld information about their background in order to influence the hiring decision.

You can't possibly mean that. Your grades in high school are part of your background. Every address you have ever lived at is part of your background. Summer jobs as a teenager, down to mowing the neighbor's grass (nudge nudge) every now and again, are part of your background and employment history. It's normal to "intentionally withhold" this sort of information about your background unless it's specifically asked for, because it's usually irrelevant.

If they ask for the information specifically -- not "DO YOU HAVE A DOCTORATE Y/N???" but "List all degrees earned...") ya gotta give it up or resign yourself to lying. But if the application doesn't ask for degrees earned, then it doesn't.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:41 AM on March 16, 2006

Think about it logically, if our petitioner here gets a job supervising customer service personnel, which is going to be more relevant, a Ph.D. in psych or a jr. high burger flipping award? Your educational background is usually a direct question in job applications, 7th grade contests are not typically discussed.

You should disclose, or at least be aware that you are not disclosing, anything that is asked. If they don't ask you about your education then you don't have to disclose it, but how many jobs have you applied for where they did not ask about education?
posted by Pollomacho at 8:44 AM on March 16, 2006

Simple: "Educational Background (Selected):"

You can always say you were entirely truthful on the resume, if challenged.
posted by fourcheesemac at 9:05 AM on March 16, 2006

But if your resume says: "Education:" and you don't list it, or if the application says: "Please list all colleges attended," and you don't, I think most employers would view that as an intentional misrepresentation.

Another way to look at this is that lisa would be leaving this off specifically because she thinks it would harm her chances at getting the job. In other words, she's leaving something off that she believes the employer would find relevant. Whether the employer is right or wrong to consider it relevant is not really the issue. The question (I think) is whether she's exposing herself to risk of not getting the job if the omission is subsequently discovered. There, I think the answer is yes.
posted by pardonyou? at 9:20 AM on March 16, 2006

(by the way, my response was not directed at fourcheesemac's post above. In fact, I think fourcheesemac's solution is probably a good one).
posted by pardonyou? at 9:20 AM on March 16, 2006

I can't see an ethical problem. Practically, however, how would you explain the gap in time spent doing your Ph.D.? Might that not create more (potentially awkward) problems?
posted by Elpoca at 9:21 AM on March 16, 2006 [1 favorite]

I don't see any problem with leaving it out (aside from the possibility that it might raise questions about the gap). If you do include it, mention that you're no longer interested in the field in your Cover Letter.
posted by drezdn at 9:37 AM on March 16, 2006

I also think explaining the gap in your resume is a problem, consider putting down something like 'Researcher' or maybe research assistant/research student for the time you were studying, this also enables you to use references and such while defusing the intellectual threat problem.
posted by biffa at 9:50 AM on March 16, 2006 [1 favorite]

Not mentioning a doctorate degree is different from not mentioning a criminal record.

Let's not split hairs here.
But seriously, I don't see any ethical problem. I know someone who has left his (jobly irrelevant) math PhD off his resume for decades.
posted by Aknaton at 10:14 AM on March 16, 2006

I don't see why it is unethical to leave your PhD off your resume. We pull what is the most relevant when hunting for a job and root out irrelevant experience. I remember before I got my current job, they asked me what my highest education is. In such a case you don't wanna lie, but you can explain to them. However, if you change your previous job titles from "psychologist" to "therapist", that won't be ethical, just my personal opinion.
posted by dy at 10:27 AM on March 16, 2006

Response by poster: Wow, thanks for all the comments! They have been extremely helpful. I think the way to go is as fourcheesemac and pardonyou? have suggested: to list education on my resume as (selected), but be sure to list the doctorate on any application asking for a list of all schools attended or highest degree achieved.

I wonder if I should even consider stating, under "Employment Objective" on my resume, something like "Use communication and people skills to change careers from psychology to customer service."

In the past I have temped when I wanted non-psychology employment, but in the past I was in the Chicago area, not rural Ohio. The opportunities are far more limited here.

I was employed throughout most of my graduate school years, so accounting for the time would probably not be problematic.

I won't lie. In addition to asking for trouble, that would go against my values.

I consider everyone's input to have been helpful to me in exploring this issue, so thanks!
posted by lisaj32 at 10:32 AM on March 16, 2006

"I wonder if I should even consider stating, under "Employment Objective" on my resume, something like "Use communication and people skills to change careers from psychology to customer service.""

i think that's a great idea--one of the best uses of the "objective" portion of the resume possible.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 10:59 AM on March 16, 2006

O/T and just curious -- hope you don't mind -- but will you elaborate at least a little bit about why the switch? I'm sure the PhD was hard-earned...perhaps give us some insight about the reason/s for your decision...?
posted by davidmsc at 7:16 PM on March 16, 2006

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