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What to Put on a Job Application As a Reason for Leaving

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Job hunting is a job in itself, albeit an unpaid and confusing one. There are pitfalls everywhere. How can you schedule interviews when you're trying to keep your job search secret from your current employer? How can you make your previous responsibilities sound impressive without misrepresenting anything? And what the heck are you supposed to say about why you're looking for a new job, especially if leaving your old job wasn't your choice? It's a challenge you'll have to deal with early on if an application asks for your reason for leaving your last job. Honesty is the best policy... but you don't have to share the whole, unvarnished truth.

What Is a Good Reason for Leaving a Job?

There are plenty of understandable reasons for leaving a job. You wanted to move to a new city; your partner got a job in a new city; you were ready for a change; the responsibilities or the salary was too low for your current needs; the organization was evolving, so that your role either changed or was made redundant – essentially, any reason that doesn't stem from poor performance or irresponsible behavior.

However, your past is your past. If you were fired from a job, or you simply got up and quit after two months, or you have a long history of job hopping, it's better to tell the truth about those instances, than to try to hide the truth and hope it doesn't surface later. If you get hired after lying about having been terminated from another job, your new employer could fire you, too, if anyone ever finds out that you lied about your job history.

What Do I Put as a for Reason for Leaving in a Job Application?

There's really no "right" list of reasons for leaving a job. It depends on the situation. If there's a spot asking for your reason for leaving a job on an application form, and the real reason doesn't reflect badly on your work performance, you can be pretty transparent. "I moved away from the [old city] to be closer to family" or "My office moved to a new location that makes my commute too long to manage." If you were just getting tired of the work after having been in the same job for years, something like "I was ready for a new challenge" or "I want to use more of my [x] skills" is appropriate.

If you were laid off because the company was struggling financially or restructuring made your role redundant, write something like "My former company eliminated my position" or "I was laid off because of downsizing." If you were fired, think about a neutral way to phrase the reason behind the termination, like "The job wasn't the right fit" or "Sales turned out not to be my strong suit."

And if you've left a job because of a difficult boss or unpleasant work environment, well, it's best to split the difference between the truth and a lie. Alison Green, a management consultant and author of the blog, "Ask a Manager," acknowledges that she and other people who hire understand that bad bosses and toxic workplaces are common, and often drive employees to quit. But disclosing too much about that situation will make those who hire want answers to a lot of other questions that you might not want to answer – such as, if you cite a difficult relationship with your boss, the employer will wonder how much of the conflict was your fault.

Should You Say You Were Fired on a Job Application?

Yes – if the application form specifically asks. Many employers include a yes-or-no question about prior terminations, and provide a space to explain if you have to answer yes. Tell the truth and choose yes, then provide an honest but neutral explanation. If relevant, share the lesson that you've learned from being fired. For example, if you were terminated for repeated tardiness, you might write something like "Regrettably, I didn't have reliable transportation at the time and was late one too many times. I have resolved the issue and now make a point to be early."

Don't volunteer the information that you've previously been fired unless the application specifically asks about it. It's likely that the firing will come up at some point in the interview process, but ideally it will be when you're having an in-person interview and have already impressed the interviewer enough that the prior termination won't ruin your chances of being hired. Rolling out that information too early, before the employer knows anything about you, gives the HR representative or hiring manager an easy reason to reject your application.

Should I Include a Job I Was Fired From on My Resume?

A resume isn't like a legal or financial document that must be 100 percent accurate and complete. It doesn't have to list each and every job that you've ever had in your life and your reasons for leaving them. (In fact, your resume really shouldn't include anything about why you left various jobs – its purpose is to demonstrate your experience and skills.)

If you were fired from a job after working in it for only a short period of time – say, a few months or less – it may make sense to just leave the job off your resume altogether. A stint of only a few months will catch the attention of the HR person or hiring manager, and if you're interviewed, there's a good chance that you'll be asked about that job and why it ended so quickly.

However, including a job on your resume from which you were fired is often necessary. If it was a job you held for more than a few months, you probably had accomplishments and gained experience that will bolster your candidacy. Leaving a longer job off your resume also leaves a big gap in your work history, which interviewers may ask about anyway. So if the job was short and didn't yield any results that would make you seem like a more attractive candidate, in spite of being fired, leave it off. If it was a significant part of your work history, leave it on and prepare to talk about it. (The exception is if the job was from more than 10 years ago, in which case leaving it off your resume is fine either way.)

What Other Information Should I Give on my Resume?

As you're preparing your resume to start job hunting, make sure that you're only listing relevant information. People who do hiring typically receive a lot of resumes for an open position, and the reviewer may scan your resume quickly before deciding whether or not to advance you to the next round of the interviewing process. Make sure that everything listed there will help your candidacy, not hurt it.

Eliminate any "objectives" or "summary" sections, if your resume includes them; these sections are a waste of space and not very useful. Don't worry about including a "position desired" section or anything like that. Your resume should primarily be a record of your accomplishments and skills and not include a lot of subjective information. For most people, the bulk of a resume should center around job experience, with added sections for education background and any special, marketable skills that you can't demonstrate through your work experience section. (For example, if you're a pro at a complex computer program but haven't used it in any of your previous jobs, include it as a special skill.)

List the title, company, location and time period for each of your most recent jobs, with several bullets beneath each one that use action language to describe what you did and any positive results that your efforts yielded. For example, a former administrative assistant might include bullets like "Answered and transferred 100+ phone calls per day" and "Revamped the company organizational system, to rave reviews from fellow assistants and the CEO." Don't include things like "good communication skills" or "works well in a team and individually." They're generic, impossible for you to prove and don't carry much weight when you say them about yourself.

What Reason Should Be Given for Job Change in an Interview?

The interview is your chance to give some context for your most recent job change. Think of yourself as your own personal PR person: it's your job to spin negative and neutral facts into positives. So before a phone interview or in-person interview, practice what you'll say when pressed about the reasons that you left your last job or are looking to leave your current one. Just a few sentences is usually adequate.

Start with the truth and spin it into a positive. For example, say the interviewer asks why you're planning to leave your current job. Maybe the real reason is that you clash with your supervisor and are bored with the work. You might say something like, "I've enjoyed working on [x] and [y] projects, but I'm itching to do more of [z] and my current role doesn't include much of it. That's one of the reasons I was so interested in the role here."

One other thing to think about carefully is what to say if you left a job after only a short period of time. Interviewers may be wary because they don't want to hire job hoppers who will leave quickly. So give an explanation that reassures the interviewer that it won't happen again. For example, "I took the job because I was told the work would be [x] and the hours would be full-time, but it turned out that I was expected to do primarily admin work and I would only get 30 hours a week. I'm even more committed now to finding a role that I can stay in for a long time."

What Reason Should Be Given in an Interview for a Termination?

If you were laid off, you might say something like, "Unfortunately, my department was eliminated as part of restructuring, but I really enjoyed doing [x] and [y] as part of that role and I'm excited about the idea of using those skills in a new position. When I saw the posting for this job, I was immediately excited, because it sounds like the person in this role will get to do a lot of [x], which I particularly enjoy doing."

And if you were fired, this is, of course, a little trickier. Again, start with the truth, and spin it to be positive. If you were fired for misconduct, say something such as: "To be frank, I made some inappropriate comments toward a coworker that I thought were harmless but that I see now that they were really hurtful. I regret that conduct immensely, but I'm proud to say that I've done a lot of soul searching, and am committed to being more thoughtful and respectful in the future. It was a really hard lesson to learn, but I will not make the same mistake twice."

If you were fired for performance issues, share your plan to make sure that your performance is strong going forward. For example, "Working with spreadsheets turned out to be a much bigger part of the job than I was told when I was hired, and it turned out not to be my strong suit. I'm practicing with Excel every night on my own time to get stronger, but that's also why I'm now looking for roles that are a little lighter with spreadsheet work." Interviewers are human, too, and understand that people make mistakes. Showing that you can learn from those mistakes is a point in your favor.

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About the Author

Kathryn has several years of experience writing about career topics, especially those affecting working parents. Her work has appeared on WorkingMother.com and Indeed.com.