Resume Angst: Should I Include Short-Term, Unrelated Positions?

Last Updated Aug 18, 2010 3:03 PM EDT

Dear Evil HR Lady,
I lost my job over a year ago. It paid very well and since then I have jumped around to about 4 different jobs trying to find a good fit and reasonable pay. Most of the jobs were beneath my skill level but I needed to earn more than unemployment so I took them. I finally landed an interview with a job that is comparable to my lost job in qualifications and pay, as well as skill level. Should I disclose all my past employers on the new application? Will any be found on a background check if they were less then a few months? In my past I had a very stable job history- worked at a company for over 10 years then the one that laid me off was 2 years. It was only the last year that I did not have stability. Can you offer me any advice as to how to handle this?
You are not alone in your plight. Lots of people got laid off and lots of people took jobs they wouldn't have otherwise taken. Heck, who cares if you went from being an executive to cleaning toilets? If it's paid work, it's paid work. I would list the short term jobs because they are your most recent jobs and they show you haven't been sitting around watching Oprah for the past year.

There are some negative aspects to listing them, though. Here are some points--both positive and negative:
  • Taking a job to pay the bills is honorable and not embarrassing.
  • Your stable job history will speak for itself. Any manager worth working for knows it's been a rough couple of years for a lot of people.
  • Unless the job requires a security clearance, it's doubtful any background check run will uncover jobs you've had that aren't listed on your resume
  • If you lie, know that even though the background probably won't come up with your short term jobs, the person you share a cube wall with will be Facebook friends with your college roommate and somehow it will come up that you were cleaning restroom toilets for the past year. Then people will want to know why you didn't mention it.
  • Your resume must be honest, but it doesn't have to be all inclusive.
  • Jobs at a lower skill level may demonstrate that you are willing to work for less money than you are "worth."
  • If you don't wish to list the jobs specifically (nothing wrong with that, I don't list my high school stint at Burger King either), then prepare an HONEST answer for what you've been doing. For instance, "I've been working short term jobs outside of my area of expertise. I didn't include them on my resume because I wanted to focus on my skills and experience that will benefit your company."
  • Since you've been working outside your primary area, make sure you make it very clear that that was a temporary fix and you don't want to change industries/professions
As I said, I would list them. I find that busy is better than bored and people respect people who are working, no matter the work (I would list unpaid volunteer work as well). Yes, I know that for many people the job search is a full time job, but if you were working there is no reason to hide it.

That said, when you get this job (I'm in an optimistic mood today) and 3 years from now are applying for another job, leaving this year's short term jobs off the resume wouldn't raise any flags for me.
Illustration by Ajda GregorÄ?iÄ?, Flickr cc 2.0

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