resumeThis could absolutely be the shortest article I have ever written if I just answered that question.  It would be comprised of one sentence:

It is not in your best interest.

That would be it, end of article – hope it helped!

Although the reason is simple and easily explained, to understand why requires a little more explanation. I also do not think a seven-word article is very useful.

A Resume Is Not An Application

There are certain elements that are not expected to be listed on a resume that are expected on an application.  These items include address, phone number, supervisor’s name and – get ready for it – reason for leaving.

Your reason for leaving is not expected to be listed on your resume and if it is it would be probably be considered odd for being on there.

You Do Not Get To Pick And Choose

When I have a client that wants to list why they were let go from one position, it is just that one position they want to detail; not the rest of their jobs because they may be due to being fired or quitting.

If you only detail one job then you really send up a red flag.  The reader will notice it is the only explanation and want to know what happened to the rest of the jobs listed.  As you did not give an explanation for any other job, they will assume the worse.  Misconception due to lack of information.

The Explanation

The best time to explain a job departure, and when you will normally be asked, is during an interview.  I did say normally: there may be a requirement during the pre-interview process in which you need to detail each departure.  This is not the ideal case, but it is more manageable and to your favor than putting it on you resume.

Whether you have to write an explanation or answer in an interview, the answer should be the same and follow a few best practices:

  • Be positive, or at least do not be negative.
  • Take ownership and accountability.
  • Be honest and concise.
  • Put it in the best light.
  • End it looking forward.
  • Remember, you are human.

Blaming a former employer is never a good move.  If you are still angry, blaming or being a victim the prospective employer will see that as a red flag.  No one wants to hire a victim.

What was your role?  Did you make a mistake? Were you in over your head? Was there a miscommunication with the client?  Where did it start?

If you were lucky enough to be downsized due to budget cuts or the company that bought out your company kept only their management That is all you need to say.  It is understood.

However, if there is something there, they will find it so it is best to be honest – without going to confessional.

If you were hired for one position and given responsibilities that were over your head, be honest.  Then put the positive on it.  Although you were not equipped at the time you are grateful for the experience.  It made you stretch and realize where you could improve.  It is regrettable that you did not have enough time to master it while there; however, you have been doing xyz since and are not at abc point.

From there you can look forward.  Now that you have mastered this, gained more experience, been exposed to a broader range of skills you know that not only can you bring value to this company, but having the experience you are able to identify possible challenges before they become an issue.

Lastly, remember, you are human – everyone makes mistakes.  Every. Single. Person.  You are not unique in being the only person ever fired or let go from a job. Just as I told my son and many parents have done so as well, it is not the mistake but what you do after it that counts the most.

What did you learn, how can you apply it going forward.  Some of the best experience comes from the worst mistakes.

All of this information would not fit on your resume.  Leave it for the next step in the process.  Hopefully, that will be in an interview because that is the best case scenario.

Best Case Scenario

The interview is your friend for explaining a departure.  This is where you need to use all your senses: watch and listen while you are speaking.  Give your short, concise explanation and either wait if on the phone or watch while you are giving it.

If on a phone interview, listen for their reaction.  Not just what they say, but how they say it.  Listen to their tone and inflection of their voice.  Do they sound hesitant? Do they sound confident or dismissive?  It will tell you how much more detail you need to give or if they are going to move on to the next question.

If you are in a face to face interview, watch their body language as you are speaking.  If you start giving too much detail or going in an area that causes them discomfort or suspicion, their body will let you know. Shifting in the seat, raising of eyebrows, tilting of the head or pulling it back a bit, crossing arms etc.  If you get the vibe they are not digging it, they are not digging it and stop digging yourself a hole.

Please remember, this is not a confessional – you do not have to give every gruesome detail.  Just start with the basic facts and go from there.  If they want more information, they will ask.


The question is coming so be prepared.  You want to know what you are going to say but not recite a script.  If it sounds like you are giving them a memorized cliff-notes version, it will send up a red flag.  Know the major points only, not word for word memorization.

Practice, practice, practice.  Stand in front of a mirror and answer the question several times.  Let some of the minor words change, the most important thing is that it flows naturally, confidently.

Practice with a trusted friend and have them watch your body language.  Are you fidgeting, are you showing that you are uncomfortable or do you have any tells?  If you are not natural and comfortable no matter what comes out of your mouth, your body will betray you.

One last thing: you are explaining, not justifying or apologizing. Events happen in life, mistakes are made, the sun still rises and sets.  Focus on the positive that you bring to the position, do not dwell on the negative and you can set the tone so they focus on those positives, too.


I hope you enjoyed this article and it provided value for you. If so, please click on the follow button so I may continue to share valuable content with you or the share buttons to share with your network.

I help people identify and set a path to achieve their career goals by using the V Formula:

Your Value + Your Voice = Visibility

Visibility is the leverage to move in, move up or move on in your career; expand your book of business or territory, grow your company and strengthen your team.


Lisa K. McDonald, Owner and Principal of Career Polish, Inc. is a favorite speaker and seminar facilitator at companies, professional organizations and colleges speaking to leadership, sales, teams, transitioning/downsized employees and networking groups about career mobility, personal branding, networking, creating executive presence and achieving career movement success. To find out more, visit Career Polish, Inc.