With apologies to Ralph W. Emerson, one of my favorites of his quotes is, “that which we attempt to conceal becomes conspicuous by its absence.” Or something to that effect.
It’s the same with resumes.
Sure, there are things in our professional backgrounds which may not paint us in the most flattering light and which we therefore might either try to spin to our advantage or leave off of our resumes entirely: experienced lawyers might choose to omit dates of graduation for fear they’ll constructively identify themselves as too senior; a lawyer who was out of work for some period of time may elect not to list a contract (temp) position on his resume for fear that it will crowd the space or make him appear the job-jumpy; or a lawyer who graduated outside of the top 25% of his class may choose not to list his GPA. Since there’s no official mandate that your resume contain each and every last detail of your work history, these are all reasonable and easily understood positions.
However, as Emerson reminds us, people who choose to go this route should be aware that the things they attempt to conceal will become conspicuous by virtue of their absence. Any good recruiter will immediately note a missing graduation date, and the first question will be “why was it left off?” Any good recruiter will also pick up on gaps in employment, and the first question will be “why is this here and what did the lawyer do during this time?” Any good recruiter will likewise note the omission of a GPA, and the first question will be “why was it left off, and did this lawyer barely graduate from law school?”
Harkening back to one of the basic rules of resume writing, a resume should answer questions, not raise them. Since most resume readers will judge a resume in the first 10 seconds, the fewer questions you can raise, the better. If your intended audience – let’s say, a gate-keeper at a law firm you recently applied to – looks at your resume and immediately thinks “Why…?” Why…?”, and “Why…?”, chances are you’re not going to make it past a first review, and your resume will end up in the ‘thanks-for-your-interest’ bin.
My advice as a recruiter is to put it in there and let the chips fall where they may. Does this mean that you should necessarily list your 2.2 GPA, or the fact that you graduated 124th in a class of 125? No, because the impacts of different omissions vary in degree. You can leave some things off and not raise too many eyebrows, but the more things you leave off and the more questions your resume raises, the less likely it is that you’ll be invited in for an interview. A helpful exercise is to take a cold, hard look at your resume and see how many unanswered questions it raises. Ask a friend or trusted colleague to give it a critical, objective once-over for you, and if the resume raises three or more questions which are of substance and are significant in evaluating your professional fitness, reconsider whether it’s really in your benefit to leave those things out. Fact is, if the gate-keeper were reading the same resume then he or she would likely have thrown it out by then. Sometimes it’s better to present ourselves to the world – warts and all – than to hide of our flaws under smoke, mirrors and makeup, especially when, as Emerson said, it’s generally pretty apparent why the smoke, mirrors, and makeup are there in the first place. Your target audience will appreciate it, and you might be surprised to discover that the things you’re attempting to conceal are actually less of a hindrance than are your efforts to hide them.