My client Charles faced a dilemma that’s fairly common: how to list a job that lasted a very short time on his resume. Charles worked in the financial services industry and, after just three months in a new position with a bank, he chose to leave because he realized the job wasn’t what he thought it would be. Fortunately for Charles, his former boss convinced him to return, and even gave him a promotion.
Fast forward four years. We’re now updating Charles’ resume. He wants to be honest when he presents his employment history, but is unsure about listing his brief stint at the bank he left for his present employer.
He doesn’t want to omit the job from his resume because he’s concerned that a background check would reveal that he was not completely honest about his work history. He told me, “If I don’t list it, I’ll look deceitful. I’ll look like I was fired, or that I’m flaky and impetuous, or that I didn’t want the company contacted for some reason.”
To clarify Charles’ predicament, let’s look at what exactly a background check is.
Different Kinds of Research
Employers and HR people conduct background checks for a number of good reasons.
Sometimes it’s required by the government or the company’s policies. Often the company wants to protect itself from future liability as a result of problems that arose because a job applicant misrepresented himself.
Mostly, a company just wants to be certain the job seeker is being truthful when describing his work history and qualifications. HR professionals are always looking for red flags on job candidates’ resumes.
If you are a job candidate, expect HR managers to study things like your salary history, your credit score, your professional licenses or accreditations, and your professional and personal references.
There’s no central repository for all this information. Employers will check your resume against what facts they collect from the names and numbers you list—past employers, schools, references. They’ll verify your position, salary, job description, and employment dates.
They’ll have to go to a credit agency if they want to see your credit history. Not all companies bother to do this.
A second kind of background check is a criminal history, and for that, there is a central repository in the judicial system. Companies will run this kind of check to uncover evidence of past criminal activity or signs of substance abuse.
Finally, a third kind of background check is a deeper investigation into your past. It’s conducted by an independent detective agency. Depending on the nature of the job for which you’re applying and the company’s requirements, this check might include more details such as Charles’ brief history at a second bank. A detective agency might search Facebook records, Google accounts, scholastic records, and financial history. But most companies are not willing to pay for this kind of research.
What Are the Rules?
There are no hard and fast regulations regarding work histories. In Charles’ case, we decided to omit listing the quick-turnaround job. I based this decision on general guidelines for resume writing and design, as well as my client’s preferences.
For jobs you held less than six months, we can consider leaving them off your resume entirely, if the benefits of leaving them off outweigh the disadvantages of having a gap in your career timeline. For jobs that fall into the category of six months to a year, we should list them if they were recent positions. If short-term jobs are ancient history—15 to 20 years ago—we can leave them off.
Together, Charles and I decided not to list his stint at the bank. Since his chronology didn’t show a habit of job-hopping, he doesn’t look like a flight risk. And since he wasn’t fired, he could explain the circumstances during an interview if the question arose.
About Those Interviews
If you have held a job that you don’t list on your resume, be prepared to explain the reason. There is always the chance that a routine background check will show it. It’s smart to scroll back through your Facebook posts as well as look for an old LinkedIn profile you might have forgotten about, and delete what would confuse a company choosing to research your past.
In case an unlisted job does come up in an interview, it’s best to be able to frame the job in the best possible way, one that makes you look like a good hire.
Can you explain that you took the job to help financially while you continued to look for a post that used your skills better? Or that you understood it was a temporary role because the company needed to fill a vacancy quickly or complete a project? Or that the work was done on a contract basis? Get your ducks in a row.
Unlike job application forms, resumes are not legal documents. They are meant to showcase your qualifications and accomplishments, not provide a detailed, all-inclusive work history.
You’re not a liar for leaving certain jobs off a resume. You’re actually making it easy for a hiring professional to make an educated, realistic decision. I assume that everything else on your resume is the truth. I never encourage clients to fabricate facts.
In the end, Charles feels confident with his new resume, knowing he’s protected by law and forthcoming about the facts that matter.
For anyone serious about his or her career—whether actively job seeking or not—having a current resume is a must. When you work with me, I’ll create the resume that positions you for your next move up the ladder. Book your time to call me here so we can get started!