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Ask Alexis | Can I Leave a Job Off My Resume?

Alexis Perrotta

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Dear Ask Alexis,

My last job was as a temp for two months. My boss at the job was traveling a lot so he had me report to somebody in HR. From the first day until I was told my services were no longer needed, my life was hell! This person I reported to picked on me constantly. For the first time in my life, I felt I was being bullied.

So here is my question: should I include this employer on my resume? I am just so afraid that they'll call the HR assistant as a reference, and she's going to talk very negatively about me. Everyone else—even the four directors who I supported—were very nice. What are your thoughts?

Sincerely,

Tense Temp

***

Hi Tense Temp,

Let me begin by saying, I've been there! In fact, I think many of us have.

A while back, I accepted a brand new, full-time position only to make the tough decision to leave less than five months later. It just didn't work out (some things don't). First, I'll tell you what I did; then I'll explain why I think you should consider doing the same.

Include the job on your resume (for now)

At least, that's what I did. As a mid-career professional, it's not that I was in desperate need of experience in order to fill out my resume. But I decided to include the short stint anyway. Here's why:

  • An astute hiring manager is likely to notice the gap, so leaving the experience off your resume is bound to lead to questions. Even if you feel comfortable addressing a gap on your resume in an interview situation, there's more benefit to accounting for that two months (in the eyes of a hiring manager) than there is to omitting the position entirely.
  • Including the position on your resume may be viewed by a hiring manager as a transparent and honest move. An omission, however, may be considered just a little sneaky.

So I left the experience on my resume when I went looking for a new job, and made sure I was fully prepared to answer questions about why I was looking to leave my current role after only four months. A couple years later, I removed the position entirely and continued to respond honestly when questions about the gap inevitably came up in interviews.

How to address a reference request

Don't forget that you have a good deal of control over what contacts you provide to a hiring manager as a professional reference. If you make it far enough in the interview process where you're being asked for references, it's up to what names you include. But keep in mind that if you have a long list of direct supervisors who you don't feel comfortable offering up as professional references, that will likely be a red flag; if it's just this one, it should be okay.

However, if a hiring manager is strictly interested in contacting direct supervisors, you'll need to make a choice (you don't want them thinking you don't read instructions carefully). You can either:

  1. List their name and contact information and hope for the best outcome; or
  2. Offer the name and contact information of somebody else with whom you worked closely, who sits at the same (or higher) level in the organizational hierarchy as your former supervisor.

If you go with option two, you'll want to include an asterisk explaining why you didn't adhere to the instructions. Something along the lines of:

"*While this individual was not my direct supervisor, I feel that as a leader in the organization with whom I worked closely, they would have better insight into my performance in this role."

This may not fly, in which case you may be pressed to share the name and contact information for the person with whom you didn't have the best working relationship. Even if this reference doesn't have the best things to say about you, you may still move forward in the hiring process. Remember that hiring managers are people too, and are fully aware that not every working relationship is a stellar one. As long as your other references have good things to say about you and your work, you shouldn't worry too much about one bad apple.

Pro Tip: Don't forget to give your references a heads up before giving their name and information to a hiring manager so that they're ready for the call.

***

Send your questions and comments to me at AskAlexis@idealist.org, and if we plan to publish your question, I’ll be sure to give you a heads up (and I'll also be sure to keep your info anonymous, of course).

Looking forward to reading your stories and answering your questions!

Alexis Perrotta

As the Senior Editor at Idealist and a lifelong nonprofit professional, Alexis offers job seekers, game changers, and do gooders actionable tips, career resources, and social-impact advice.

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