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Can I leave a job off my resume?

(MoneyWatch) Dear Evil HR Lady,

I relocated to attend school. I looked for a job for six months and finally landed one. After five months, I was released from the job (during my probationary period). Now I'm unemployed and looking for work. I have a few interviews lined up but I am hesitant to bring up my last job at the interview (it is not listed on my resume). I'm afraid if I don't disclose it, it will come out in the background check and that if I do disclose the job I will be denied employment. I'm not sure what to do. Help!

When you apply for a job that requires a security clearance, they scour your background and talk to your neighbors, which means it really matters if you left a job that turned out badly. But for almost every other job, no one cares that much. A company will check references based on the three names you gave them. Perhaps it might call some HR departments for companies you listed that you didn't provide a reference for, run your Social Security number through a database to make sure you didn't steal it and run a criminal background check.

In other words, no one has the time (or desire) to investigate if you ever had a job that you didn't list.

So the reality is a prospective employer is very unlikely to find out about a short-term job that isn't listed on your resume. After all, resumes are marketing documents, not historical records. Everything on your resume must be true, but you don't have to list everything that is true on your resume. My stint selling truck bumpers? Not on my resume. Neither do I mention that I got a "C" in Hebrew. (But now all my secrets are all over the Internet, so don't follow my example if you really care about people knowing your stuff.)

But is it at least theoretically possible that you could get "in trouble" by leaving a job off your resume? Yes, but not in the way that you think. Again, resumes are marketing documents. No problem leaving it off there. Where you run into a problem is if the company asks you to fill out an application and asks you to list every job you had over the past 10 years or so. If you leave it off there, they still won't likely find out about it. But if they find out about it five years down the road and somebody has a bee in their bonnet, you'll be fired for lying on the application.

A job application often requires you to sign a statement that everything on there is true. And it better be true, or you can find yourself in trouble.

The real problem with leaving a job off your resume is that you have to come up with something to say about the time period where you were working this missing job. Since you moved for school, you've got an easy out and they probably won't even ask -- obviously you were going to school. For other people, however, it's generally better to put short-term jobs on your resume so you don't have to explain missing time. Because while you don't have to mention it, you should be honest. Which means you'll probably end up spilling the beans anyway.

Good luck on your job hunt!

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