Monday, May 4, 2015

Ask CJ: Should you hide your PhD? Recruiters say "yes", CJ sez no.

From the inbox, a question that's been asked around here a number of times:
I've actually been told to take the PhD off of my resume by one recruiter. How do I do this? How do I account for the work that I've been doing for the last 8 years after my bachelors? It seems like any company with half a brain in HR would type my name into Google and find out that I'm lying about my background. Not a good way to start when most of these job posting stress that they need someone who will provide reliable data. An addendum to this is the fact that I've applied at a couple of places that are minimum wage jobs (or close to it) and both of the interviews that I got, they knew I had a PhD even when I left it off of the applications.
Seems to me that this is a bad idea, and Derek Lowe agrees and tells a story about this (back in 2014):
I've seen a variant of this situation, one that I most certainly do not recommend. At a company I know of, a person was hired into a Master's level position, and did fine. They eventually revealed, though, that they had had a PhD all along, and applied for a vacant position at that level. This strategy got them fired, though, for having lied on their original application (the company's position, which I can understand, was that if they didn't fire someone for this, how could they fire the next person who lied about something else?) In the end, people found this person a job at another smaller company in the area, so the exit wasn't as hard as it could have been, but it was still a mess.
Personally, I think this is a terrible idea, but I have little experience looking for work while hiding my Ph.D. Readers? 

24 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  2. (1) A representative from a recruiting agency, e.g. Kelly, Aerotech or whatever, has in fact very recently recommended that I place all indications of having a doctorate at the end of my resume.

    (2) However, if an advert stipulates that the candidate should have a MSc, but you actually have completed both a MSc and a doctorate, it would only amount to a white lie to leave off your doctorate from the resume. On the other hand, we have all seen the adverts which explicitly state "no PhDs will be considered".....

    (3) CJ, is it possible that your recommendation on this issue is prejudiced by the fact that you appear to have a stable job?

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    1. The Aqueous LayerMay 5, 2015 at 8:24 AM

      Most companies will ask you when you fill out a formal application to list your highest attained degree.

      A white lie is a lie nonetheless and will eventually get you fired . Anyone with SciFinder will find your PhD thesis, especially new colleagues who are curious about their new colleague. I've done this with every new hire we've had over the years, just to see what they've done.

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  3. I'm familiar with the phenomenon of a recruiter deciding an applicant is "over-qualified" for a job, but I always had the impression that this occurred when there was a rather large difference between the qualifications required for the job and those possessed by the applicant. Would a company really think a PhD chemist is "over-qualified" for a Master's level position? Or is this person applying for jobs that just require a bachelors or aren't chemistry-related?

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    1. I am in this boat of being told I am "over-qualified." The thing is, when I apply for a position, I make sure that I actually possess most of the qualifications that are posted. I don't want to waste my time randomly pressing *submit* on the Kelly website, and they don't want to waste their time deleting my resume for everything. However, about once a week, I receive a direct call from a recruiter claiming that they found my resume online and that I have "all of the qualifications and experience" that their client is seeking. A few days later, after calling the recruiter back, I am told that I am over-qualified.

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    2. "Overqualified" is a nicer way to say "over credentialed". It means your education is worthless, but you have a piece of paper and can click boxes on applications which state otherwise. You are probably not as qualified as the MS people they are trying to recruit.

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  4. An excellent chemistry colleague of mine, when he is sending out his resume, he hides his long and distinguished career with a major company because he tries to pass himself for a younger guy (he does look few years younger...) He worries that from his complete employment history the prospective employers could arrive at his approximate age and disqualify him.

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  5. Problem is, in an unstable job market, employers don't need good reason not to choose you. Giving them one probably won't help. Also, lying on your application will leave a time bomb waiting to be found. It's not like anyone needs the extra stress. Of course, this is mitigated by the fact that the job isn't likely going to be around for a long time anyway.

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  6. I've heard stories of people with no degree, but a white-collar employment history, checking the box for a bachelor's degree just to avoid getting their application kicked out of an automated system, then revealing the truth once called in for an interview. I could see someone doing the same to get an interview for a lower-level job with a PhD, say someone who really wants to live in their rural hometown, or someone with small children who doesn't want a high-powered job.

    I seriously considered leaving my MS off my resume after I mastered out of grad school and sent a lot of resumes down black holes. I think the MS hampered my job search by making it hard for the HR drones to put my resume into a neat category - overqualified for the entry-level BS chemist job, but not qualified for the jobs where they want experience.

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  7. These posts say it all. Clearly, when you have to do all these shannigans to get a job, including hiding a MS or a PhD, there is a systemic problem: too much supply of able chemistry workers, not enough demand . This is the main reason why I favor limits on immigartion, H-1B and otherwise.

    If you have a PhD, IMO you need to be honest about it.

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  8. If an employer considers your doctorate and the associated experience a liability, do you really want to work for them in the medium- to long-term? If there's a local employer that you think would be a good fit, aside from the issue of an extra advanced degree, network your way into a conversation with the hiring manager and get their take. If they agree that you would be a superior candidate for the position, they are in a far better position to get HR to make an exception to policy than you are.

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  9. Don't lie or hide information, especially if you are applying to work in a GMP environment. The lie alone will disqualify you for the position.

    The overqualified situation happens to me with regularity. I think its because the individual responsible for screening applicants is not doing a thorough job. I once had the opposite happen to me, where I met a screen-er, followed up with a phone interview, and then landed an onsite interview for a position I was no where near qualified for. I was told I was going in for a typical moderate experienced bench chemist position, only to find out they wanted someone to run a newly formed group in a research area I had no experience in.

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  10. Sounds like a bad idea. You would think a PhD would be detected during a background check, too, right? Plus, the lie puts your character/integrity into question in general -- you can't blame your employer to wonder about other things you are capable of lying about, no?

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  11. And don't forget about reference checks. If it's your first job be damn sure they're going to contact your advisor.

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  12. I agree with the comment that this is a timebomb waiting to go off. And as the OP correctly asks, it would probably look weird to have a 5-7 year vacuum on your resume.

    I recently spoke with someone at a large well-known recruiting firm who had contacted me about an open position. I was overqualified for it so I let him know I'd be interested in positions he had that were more appropriate for my degree level. Unfazed, he told me he had recently placed a Ph.D graduate into a BS level position because they didn't have any industrial experience so they agreed that would help the candidate to get some. I was appalled that he would admit such a horrible tactic to me, so I politely ended the conversation and then lost his contact info. BUT, if you're wondering how to get a BS level position with your Ph.D that doesn't require deception, I can tell you that there is at least one recruiting firm that will help you with that.

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    1. Hi Bender,
      Would you please give me his contact number or email?

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  13. this reminds me: The HR boss who fired me from Scripps Florida got fired himself in returm few months later for making an asinine mess of it (he botched one more firing right after - in both cases complete hatchet jobs on behest of the management). Anyhow, now he is a head HR with a large company in DC and he does not mention his brief but eventful stint at Scripps FL in his professional resumes - neither on the company web pages nor in his LinkedIn profile. So I wonder if I should reach out to his employers and give them heads up - that he accused me of angrily chasing security guards after midnight, and of making bomb threats(!) against Scripps FL...

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    1. Please inform the employer in DC. I want to see blood.

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    2. me too. what goes around SHOULD come around!

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  14. Similar to KT, I hid my masters when i left grad school and took a job at a local coffee shop (i eventually went back). When i told them about it a year or two later they were pretty "meh" about it all.

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  15. I have seen this advice, to leave off advanced degrees, plenty of times, but only when applying for more entry level jobs in other fields where your degree is irrelevant. The thinking is that it will make the other company think you're just looking for a paycheck while waiting for a real job in the field with your degree.

    A resume is not required to list everything you've ever done, it is meant to list your qualifications and experience that make you a suitable candidate for the job in question. If you're a PhD chemist who's decided to leave chemistry, then leaving off the degree isn't really dishonest since it's then not relevant to the position you're applying for. Whether it's a good idea, I'm not sure (the advice I've seen has mostly been geared to people who got bored with their current job, thought a masters in medieval literature or whatever would make them more distinguished, and then found that to not be the case.)

    But leaving off an advanced degree that's relevant to the field of the job you're applying for is dishonest and a totally different situation.

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  16. So the company's position was that now that they have a vetted employee already in-house and with a fine track record who reveals having the appropriate qualifications for a promotion, that the employee lied by omission? That clearly the employee is in the same league and has committed the same offense as people who don't have the qualifications they claim? What a bunch of morons.

    I'd say there is a far greater danger from people who claim to have something that they don't - and that is far more commonplace. Besides, it's really f*cking irksome to think that a certain schmoe is pulling down six figures in part because he lies about having a college degree (I mean, couldn't even hack freshman year - indicative of additional problems beyond a mere lack of formal education).

    No wonder I'm unemployed, I left that temp job I had for two weeks back in 1992 off my CV.

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  17. I shortened my cv to a one-page resume and left off my Ph.D. I have since been invited to two interviews, though no job offers. It did get me in the door. Sad, but true.

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