First things first: You are under zero obligation to list every position you’ve ever held. The resume is a marketing document, not a legal one. Its purpose is to make you look like an absolute rock star, and if omitting a role helps accomplish that, you should certainly consider it.
But there’s an important caveat.
Your credibility as a candidate is all-important. And if your choice undercuts that credibility, you are now dealing with a far larger problem than a job that simply didn’t end well–because a hiring manager that doesn’t trust you will never tap you for the role.
Here are my recommendations on how to handle the most common situations:
Do leave a job off if:
1. IT WON’T CAUSE A LARGE GAP IN YOUR WORK HISTORY
If the job lasted six months or less, then you should be able to easily remove it from the resume without negative repercussions. Be sure to convert all of the dates listed for jobs to year only (ex. 2012-2014). This is a simple and highly effective way to cover up short-term gaps like this.
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2. IT MAKES YOU COME ACROSS AS A JOB HOPPER
Personally, I love coming across people with diverse backgrounds–they usually have the best stories to tell! Having said that, totally random positions that don’t in any way support your current aspirations can make employers question your level of commitment. In these types of situations, it’s best to leave it off.
3. IT’S IN THE DISTANT PAST
Employers place the most emphasis on the last five to 10 years of your work history. If the job in question falls outside of that period, don’t give deleting it a second thought.
4. THE COMPANY HAS A TOXIC REPUTATION
Let’s say a previous employer makes headlines for all the wrong reasons: cheating investors, running afoul of the government, a high-profile bankruptcy. Assuming your stint there was a short one, I would seriously consider leaving this role off. Why? Brand association. Like it or not, we all have a strong tendency to transfer our perception of a company onto the shoulders of the person who worked there. If that perception has become a burden, cast it off.
Don’t leave a job off if:
1. YOU SPENT A YEAR OR LONGER THERE
It’s very difficult to hide a gap in your career that’s longer than a year in length. If you’re in this situation, then a better approach would be to (briefly) include it within the resume, and have an interview story ready to go about how this was a crucial learning experience. Remember: Sharing details about a hard situation that you successfully navigated can be a powerful way to impress employers.
2. IT’S THE ONLY WAY TO SHOW EXPERIENCE IN A CERTAIN AREA
It’s vitally important to be able to credibly back up any skills you list within your resume. So if for example having CRM implementation experience is very important to the role you’re after, and the ONLY position where you gained this was in the role that ended badly, then you should include it within the resume.
3. YOU RACKED UP SOLID ACCOMPLISHMENTS THERE
Leaving a job on bad terms does not necessarily outweigh the work you did there. Concrete, powerful accomplishments are the true currency of resumes. If you’ve accrued several of them at the role, including it may be the best option.
4. YOU’RE APPLYING FOR A JOB WITH A SECURITY CLEARANCE
In this case, being meticulous about listing every position is a must.
Remember: Your resume is an opportunity to tell the story of your career on your terms. Don’t be afraid to cut out the fluff . . . just make sure you’re not throwing out valuable details in the process!