Ask HR: Is 'dumbing down' your résumé a good idea? Is asking for Social Security # legal?

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Johnny C. Taylor Jr. is president and CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management, the world's largest HR professional society.
The questions submitted by readers and Taylor's answers below have been edited for length and clarity. Anonymously ask your HR questions here.
Question: I am unemployed and trying to find a new job in the pharmaceutical industry. I find myself stuck in the gray area of being overqualified for low- to mid-level positions and not having enough experience for senior level positions. When I apply for higher level positions, I’m rejected because I don’t have experience at large name-brand pharmaceutical companies. When I apply to lower-level positions to acquire experience, they tell me I am overqualified. Should I remove my high-level degrees to dumb down my résumé when applying to the lower-level positions? — Glen P.
Taylor: I think the term “overqualified” is overused. A person is either qualified or unqualified for a position, meaning he either meets the minimum requirements for the job or he doesn’t.
But I also know when some hiring managers see extensive years of experience and an advanced degree on a résumé, they might think the person will require a large salary. Or they might assume that she would accept the job and then leave out of boredom or as soon as she finds a higher-paying job. Or that she might not take direction well and be difficult to manage. So, you see some preconceived notions come into play. 
Because recruiting, hiring and training a new employee can be costly and time-consuming, a manager might decide to pass over a résumé that indicates more experience or education than the position requires.
A résumé is not meant to list every detail about your work experience or education. As you hunt for a new position, your job is to tailor a résumé strategically to address the qualifications and duties for the specific position you are after. You should use it as a tool to get an interview — not impress the hiring manager.
Don’t consider it as “dumbing down” your résumé. You should simply highlight the skills and education that meet the employer’s specific needs. You can always share more details when you meet the hiring manager in person.
Question: Is it legal to ask job applicants for their Social Security number when they interview for positions? — Anonymous 
Taylor:Yes, in most states, it is legal for a potential employer to request an applicant’s Social Security number. The number is needed for background checks, credit checks and education and employment verification.  
Like most of us, you’re probably worried about keeping those nine digits secure because they’re the key to so much of our personal and financial information. You have every right to be careful.  
Keep in mind the employer is responsible for the security of all candidate information, whether an individual is hired or not. The employer also is responsible for the safe disposal of all candidate records.
An important question: When in the application process does the employer need to collect your Social Security number? 
Many federal and state agencies tend to collect this information when candidates apply. But most employers don’t need the number until the candidate has advanced in the hiring process or received a contingent job offer.
As an example, at the Society for Human Resource Management, we don’t collect a person’s Social Security number until the first day on the job when the employee completes new-hire paperwork.

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