Be Honest On The Resume

I was reading last week an article that was providing results from a survey of Canadian employers, and what they looked for on a resume, the formatting choice, the desired length etc. One of the key results was employers overwhelming desire that applicants be honest on their resume and indicate why they left employment positions.

That information struck me in two ways. On the one hand, I could definitely see why an employer would want to know the circumstances under which an applicant for a job they were posting left other employers. There could be patterns of quitting or being fired, or a string of contract jobs, or things beyond the applicants control.

Yet, for the applicant themselves, they may have extenuating circumstances that preceded their decisions to move on. If indeed they were fired from a job, their last job; they might be better off gaining the interview by leaving this out on a resume, and hoping to win the employer over in a face-to-face interview. The resume after all is only designed to get you in the interview chair, but it does become the center attraction in the interview and the point of reference both parties should be referring to.

A long time ago, I can remember the days where each job did have a, “reason for leaving” line by each job. When you left one job for another, as in the case of a promotion, or to re-enter work in your field of academic education, it was never a sore point with applicants. But for the person who was fired or terminated with cause, it was like putting a rope around your own neck and simply asking the interview to please kick out the chair you were offered in the interview upon which to sit.

To be clear here, you could hardly give reasons for leaving some jobs and not others. That would only look like you were covering something up (which you were), or you had terrible attention to detail and were inconsistent. No, the advice you’d likely get would be to leave all the reasons for leaving off your resume.

There’s another kind of applicant that could benefit possibly from giving reasons for departing employers on their resume, or even in the cover letter. This is the applicant who has had numerous jobs, often referred to as the job-hopper. While on the negative side it might look like a person is in front of you who can’t hold a job for very long, it could also be that their plan up to now has been to accumulate varied experiences, and they’ve settled on a long-term career and plan on making just such a commitment to you if hired.

Now is leaving out reasons for leaving any job dishonest? I for one don’t see it that way. In my own cover letter, and those I help others write, I almost always make a statement about WHY I want to work for an employer, and why I’d be a good fit. That, ‘good fit’ usually draws on my past experience, and that experience is specific to me and makes me unique.

Up for discussion are the reasons behind the past decisions I’ve made to leave employment; and it could be that some of those departures were for reasons beyond my control; lay-offs, closures, re-locations, changing requirements of employers etc. So knowing that I haven’t included such information on a resume should have me ready to answer such questions in an interview.

Surprisingly, I often sit down when working 1:1 with a job seeker, and when I ask them why they no longer stayed employed with various employers, and it’s telling to either hear them give a short and confident answer, or look uncomfortable and stumble along in the answer. Can you tell from that observation which jobs they left on good terms and which they left on poor terms? Sure you could; and if you were an employer you could then too.

So right off the bat, make sure you have a good solid answer to the question, “Why did you leave your last job”? heading into an interview. If you left on poor terms, (you were fired), you would really benefit from sitting down with an Employment Counsellor and telling them the complete truth – no omissions. Then together, construct an answer that is truthful, but concludes with a positive; what you learned from the experience, how it was a bad fit right from the start outside your traditional field of work etc.

I once had for example a guy I was working with to prepare for employment. “Why did you leave your last job?”, I asked. “Went to jail.” That was his entire answer. In that instance, we looked at what he’d done, why he’d done it, the circumstances surrounding the situation he was in, and the likelihood of repeat offending. Then we ended up with an answer that was truthful, but instead of a 3 word blunt statement with nothing positive, he gave an answer that was honest but ended on a positive and repaired damage from the initial statement. He was also given multiple options for answering the question; it being his decision on how to answer based on the interviewer.

Sure, be honest on your resume; especially if you have, ‘honest’ as one of your strengths on it! But understand that you have control over what you share and don’t on the resume, and what you leave out doesn’t make you dishonest.


One thought on “Be Honest On The Resume

  1. I agree with you. I have been told for years by employment counselors to leave out reasons for leaving employment on my resume. A lot employers have applications forms requiring this information and you can put it there or deal with it in the interview. You must have a good answer for those time when you were not laid off and the business closed.I left my last employer (a call center) because of a new policy that reduced our allowed call handling time. The economy went belly up and the employer wanted to keep only the reps with the fastest call handling time. They set a goal for me of taking 3 minutes off my call handling time in 4 weeks and I only managed to take off 2 minutes. I knew I was going to be let go along with many others who also did not meet their goals, so I saved the manager the trouble of letting me go and resigned. I have the highest regard for my former employer, they were excellent to work for, but they made a business decision and I was unable to meet the goal they set for me.


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