Perhaps you’re seeking a position with a $20 million company and you recently held a senior position with a $250 million company. Coming from a larger company is often considered a bonus by a potential employer, but if you think it will hurt you, simply don’t mention the size of your previous employers. Another option is to call your company “a multimillion dollar company” instead of a $250 million company. If you led a department or branch of 120 employees in your previous position and you’re likely to have only ten in the job you’re seeking, you might change it from “Managed department staff of 120” to “Managed a large department and had full responsibility for meeting production quotas.”
Job titles can also be intimidating. If you want to tone down your background, determine whether it might be appropriate to also tone down your job title. This works best in organizations that really don’t rely on job titles or where people have more than one title.
The primary way to tone down your resume is in the job description. The premise in resume writing is that everything you write must be true. It is your right, however, to withhold certain information. With that in mind you can simply choose to not mention some of your duties or not indicate your full level of responsibility. Rather than describing your strategic responsibilities, you might concentrate on the tactical side. If you had full P&L responsibility for a branch, you might simply exclude that piece of information. Mention the more mundane aspects of your job.
The real dilemma is what to do with your results. If you cut production costs 8%, saving $45 million and you want to join a firm with total sales of $45 million, you would just mention the 8% reduction. If you have a major result in an area that would unlikely be part of your responsibility, you might choose to not mention that result.
Another form of overqualification comes when you are seeking a position that is at least one level below your last experience. Perhaps you’re a project manager for a software development group and you’d rather step back to simply being a senior programmer without all the headaches of project management. Or perhaps you’re an engineer who has risen to management and you’ve determined that you prefer the hands-on work of a design engineer. Even in your management job description, you would emphasize whatever design work you did during that time.
Giving this advice is difficult for me because I believe so strongly in selling your results and your potential. Unfortunately sometimes you can overwhelm people with your background. They may assume you would quickly become bored with their little company or that you would quickly tire of having less responsibility than in the past. It is also possible to intimidate people and cause them to feel that you would quickly be seeking their position. Write your resume in such a way that a hiring manager will not feel intimidated by you nor feel you would quickly become bored. In the cover letter and later in an interview indicate why you find the job attractive. If the hiring manager truly believes you want the job, you will likely not receive the income you enjoyed in the past, but you may end up with a nice job that you really enjoy.