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Sunday, October 18, 2009

should I include a job I was fired from on my resume?

A reader writes:

I was just terminated from my job. I was five days before being off probation and two days away from my first big job event (I plan and run conferences). Without any prior notice, meeting, or confrontation, I was ushered into my department head’s office and told that in order to make a strong team, she needed to let me go immediately. I asked if there was any particular cause or option for a re-negotiation, but was told that since I was still in my probationary period, they were within their rights to terminate me at any time. At that point security came in and ushered me to my office to collect my things and leave the building. It was all quite dramatic.

Of course, I understand the rules. I am, however, at a bit of a loss on how to move on from here. I had been out of work for five months prior to this position and worked there for 2.5 months before being terminated. In those weeks I did not rack up any accomplishments I would typically list in a resume -- summer is a downtime for conferences. And, until I receive a copy of my file with my termination letter from HR, I do not want anyone contacting them. I also cannot speak to what happened or how I plan to improve whatever it was they found lacking in my performance until I have a better explanation, if I ever am to get one.

So, my question is, do I leave this job off my resume, which shows that I have been out of work since March? Or, do I include it? I don’t know if I ever will find out the "real reason" I was fired, and I know that a short stint in this job looks suspicious. I would be suspicious of me. Or, does being out of work, even in such an economy, look worse?

Leave the job off your resume.

It was only two and a half months, which means that it's not useful in showing any real accomplishments or advancement. And in addition to not doing you any good because of that, it will actually do harm -- by raising questions about what you were fired or left so soon. Those are questions that can be addressed if it's absolutely unavoidable, but it's better to never raise the questions at all if you can.

In general, I'd suggest leaving any short stints like this off a resume, unless there's a way to paint them in a flattering light (and to do so honestly). For instance, short-term consulting is fine. But leaving after two months because of fickleness or dismissal aren't things that strengthen your candidacy.

Your resume is not required to be a comprehensive accounting of how you spent each month of your professional life. It's understood that the whole point is to present yourself in the strongest light.

Now, of course you may get questions about how you spent a period of time that your resume left unaccounted for. In your case, you had already been unemployed for five months before. You didn't say why, but let's assume for the sake of illustration that you were laid off. When asked about the period of time since your last job, you would simply say that you, like so many others right now, were laid off and have spent the time since job-searching and doing ____. (Fill in the blank with freelancing, caring for family members, taking a class, or whatever happens to be true in your case.)

Regarding your question about whether being out of work looks bad: Show me a hiring manager who hasn't been spending her days talking to strong candidates who are out of work because of the economy, and I will show you a hiring manager who just started her job this morning. Great candidates who are unemployed have become normal right now, unfortunately. Any hiring manager who would discard a candidate for being out of work right now isn't living in reality (and is a jerk you don't want to work for anyway).

So leave that job off your resume, and good luck.


Sam Diener said...

Very good information! Thank you for sharing!

SquarePieGirl said...

Thank you for this great advice.

Anonymous said...

From an HR professional...

The one thing I would hazard is that if the employer asks on the application for every job you have held in the last 5 years (or however long)... leaving it off can look suspicious. A lot of employers use the work number to verify employment. When I verify employment via the work number I can see every job that the candidate has ever held where their previous employer uses the work number. The work number is an online database for employment verifications. If there is something that was left off of the application or something that makes it appear that the candidate was dishonest, I take it to the hiring manager for consideration. Just FYI.

Anonymous said...

I don't list every job on my resume. It's a marketing document. That's different from an employment application, which is different.

I even grouped a couple of jobs together, mainly because they were short stints and the companies no longer exist.

Richard said...

I'm going to echo here and say don't include short stints unless they show something beneficial: For example, I don't include the month I worked testing modems for warranty, because it turns out I was ushered in to cover someone's maternity leave, and was never told - It turned out that they weren't an employer with particularly high moral standards, and I avoid the agency who got me that position like the plague now.

However I did some temporary work as an IT technician in a secondary school, and it only lasted a month. I include that on my CV, because during that time I worked on an Active Directory server in a production environment, and it's been my only job (other than my current one) that involved it. It's a useful skill to have in many basic IT jobs out there, and shows that I was able to learn and administer the server in a short period of time. I also did a fair amount of work there in that short period, and had an excellent letter of recommendation from them as a result.

All jobs should be considered for relevancy and recency on a CV. I still include a 3 month stint working in a bar, because I ended up becoming a stand-in supervisor in that period, and because it usually leads to people asking why I did that stint inbetween IT jobs, and asking about my experiences there. I always tell them that at the time, my contract had ended with my previous job, and as an entry level IT tech, I was having trouble finding relevant work. I disliked sitting on my hands for that time, and so I decided to take on some part time work to keep me busy during my job search. I like to think that it shows that I don't enjoy sitting on my hands, and I've only ever had positive interview experiences as a result. That said, it will probably be the next job to disappear from my CV when it comes to my next update, in order to keep it at 2 pages.


Ask a Manager said...

Richard, that is a brilliant explanation of exactly how this should work! Thank you!

Richard said...

Thanks! Perhaps I should start a blog! ;)

I've always found that the art of writing a good CV is to maintain relevancy and portray yourself as someone who not only has a relevant skillset, but also as someone who has the traits that make you an asset in a demanding working environment.

Demonstrating the ability to develop and gear yourself towards the position and tasks that you may be assigned is just as important as the skills that you already possess. In my case, it was the ability to assimilate new technologies quickly, being given additional responsibilities including delegation of tasks to other people within a short time period, and showing that I possess the drive to keep continue finding new avenues of development despite less than perfect conditions. If you have held a short-term position that shows this (assuming that you didn't leave the position under a cloud), I would definitely consider including it on your CV, even if you only give it a short mention.

I'd write more, but it's late in my part of the world, and I've got a conference call tomorrow for my project that I'd like to be awake for :)

Anonymous said...

I could have written this email. I didn't but something similar happened to me. I left my last job in March, found a new one in early June. I was there less than a month when they fired me. Said I messed something up. I doubt that but I'll never know the truth. I don't put it on my resume. It was a small company so I doubt they'll report it to the Work Number. Even so I've seen my report from there and they list a company I never worked for so it's clearly not accurate. Further, you're entitled to one free copy of your Work Number report per year, so you can check that if you want to.

Anonymous said...

I am extremely grateful for all of this advice, as it applies to me right now. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

I'm also in the same boat. After being laid off in January, I took what I thought would be a stop-gap job in March. Lasted until early July when I was fired. Sometimes I list it on my resume and sometimes I don't. I definitely leave it on my resume when I apply for federal jobs as I want my government background check to be accurate.

Louise Fletcher said...

Great advice! I totally agree.

I once left a job after 4 months because it just wasn't for me. I never included it on my resume just because it ruined the story (all my other jobs were in creative industries and this was with a company selling water meters!)The resume was so much more effective as a result.

I tell my clients that a resume is a brochure, not a product catalog. You just don't have to give every tiny detail.

Good luck to the person who wrote the letter!

Adrian LaRoque said...

Very good information thank for sharing.

Rachelle said...

So how does one respond on the applicaton when that question arises have you ever been laid off or asked to resign? Do you say no when in fact you were asked to resign? You don't want to lie. I am in the same position.

Elizabeth West said...

I had a job for a couple of months shortly before I found the job I'm in now. I leave it off my resume because it was so short, and my leaving was a mutual decision. I did put the temp agency I worked for during that year-and-a-half period of unemployment, because not only did I work for their clients, I regularly filled in for their receptionist.

Also, what the heck is work number?