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Can You Leave a Really Bad Employer off Your Resume?

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At some point during your career, you may endure the stereotypical "job from hell" and feel totally justified in leaving it off your resume. However, your desire to avoid revisiting run-ins with dysfunctional bosses may create bigger problems -- such as a resume gap that you can't explain away. You're better off being honest about the situation, and devising an explanation that eases the hit to your reputation -- instead of letting a bad employer speak for you.

After Your Departure

You have three basic options for minimizing a potentially bad reference after you leave, says "U.S. News & World Report" career columnist Alison Green. First, ask your former employer to work out a mutual explanation for your departure that will satisfy a reference check. If the answer is no, see if previous bosses, clients or co-workers will speak on your behalf. Otherwise, plan on listing that particular employer and discussing the situation during a job interview.

Initial Job Search

Resumes are marketing devices, not historical documents, so you're not required to list everything. However, you shouldn't sully your personal brand by leaving off jobs without explanation. Such actions equal lying by omission for recruiters, who will ask what you're trying to hide, TheLadders website advises. That's why you should avoid resume formats that list past accomplishments and employers, but omit dates. Submitting such a resume may trigger a more extensive investigation that results in your disqualification once the omission is revealed.

Major Formatting Exceptions

Leave off jobs that lasted six months or less, advises Steve Burdan, a professional resume writer interviewed for TheLadders. However, you must disclose the job if it lasted six to 12 months, and you worked there during the last year or two. You can also omit experience that's irrelevant to the position that you're seeking. Using this reasoning, an applicant who wants to focus on being a sales representative could legitimately leave off a previous job that combined selling and management duties.

During Your Interview

If you're called for an interview, it's crucial to let a hiring manager know that he'll hear an unflattering reference. Although this task feels nerve-wracking, you can't miss the opportunity to talk up your selling points, Green says. A positive spin is the best defense against a bad reference. For example, if you're asked about a soured relationship with an employer, emphasize how much you respect him, in spite of your disagreements, and leave it at that. Don't dwell long on any negative issues.

Other Considerations

Lying by omission carries unintended consequences for applicants who are willing to take the risk. A Social Security number check or online search could reveal the job that you omitted, raising questions about what else you're covering up, "CNN Money" columnist Anne Fisher advises. However, even if that scenario doesn't pan out, you're not home free, either. Many companies place new employees on a 90-day probationary period, which means you can be fired if any negative information surfaces during that period.