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I was fired: Do I have to mention it on my resume?

(MoneyWatch) Dear Evil HR Lady,

I am a fairly recent graduate school graduate seeking a higher position in the library field. At the beginning of my school career I was very eager to gain any experience and took a very low paying position at a public library shelving books that lasted only 3-4 weeks. There seemed to be a mass hiring, as I started the position with about a dozen other people. At first things went quite well, but shortly afterwards several people were singled out (including myself) for incorrectly shelved books. The dynamics changed for those of us who were performing poorly and the environment became uncomfortable. At this point in my life I had several years (of) experience working higher paying jobs, was in a career change, and determined to make this work. Unfortunately, things only got worse. I was fairly certain that I was going to get fired because the person that entered the office before me did. When I went in they started to reprimand me and I responded that I did not feel the position was a good fit for me I would not be returning, but the manager continued talking and stated that my employment would end today and she was certain that I didn't care, etc. I was so taken aback by this experience, I have and still do consider myself an exemplary employee and had never performed at such a level that I had to be reprimanded.

Was I fired?

Since then I have secured a professional position, but when I applied for the position that I now hold I was terrified that this skeleton in my closet would surface. I admittedly left this position off my resume and application. I felt somewhat secure doing this because I only had to go through a criminal background check and didn't have to fill out an application until I was offered the position. I recently interviewed for another position at a university and am worried that if I am offered this job that this could possibly surface in a background check. I am uncertain how to handle this situation. I don't want a position that I held for 3-4 weeks, 3 years ago to hurt my chances of furthering my career, but I don't want to lie and have it ruin my chances of employment. Should I say was fired? Should I go into detail and explain that I am not certain if I was fired? Should I continue to pretend like this nightmare never happened and leave it off my application? Please help me with this recurring dilemma.

First of all, a resume is a marketing document, not a detailed history of your past. You never need to list anything that isn't flattering on your resume. Now, sometimes it make sense to leave a bad job off (and in your case, it absolutely does), but if you were there for 3 years, you'd probably want to list it, because otherwise you'll have to explain what you were doing during that time.

But, the application is another question. Some just ask for information about your previous positions. You're not under any obligation at all to list every position you've ever had. I don't (and haven't for many years) mentioned my stint as a cashier at Burger King. (Even though I was a fine cashier and was even awarded a plaque for being "employee of the month.") This would magically reappear on my resume should I ever want to work for Burger King HR, though.

The only time you'll run into trouble is if it asks you to list all positions had over the past 5/10/whatever years. Then you're stuck with either putting it on and having them grill you about why you had a job for only 4 weeks (or worse, not interviewing you at all because of it), or leaving it off and running the risk of them finding out and firing you for lying on your application.

Now, the reality is this: Unless you are applying for something that requires security clearance, it's doubtful that anyone would go out searching to find out if you worked for a company that you haven't listed. But, if you're still in the library business, you probably already know that people know each other. The question is, would you run into somebody that knows you worked there? And would that person then go and pull your application and set out to get you fired for not mentioning it? Not likely.

Since you've since had other jobs, people are not likely to care much about a short stint. But, you do want to be honest and if the application specifically asks that you list all jobs, then by all means, list all jobs. The way to have this not affect you, though, is to get your resume to a hiring manager before you have to fill out an application. You have to do this through networking, because many jobs that you apply for online will require you to fill out the application just to submit your resume. If you can skip that part, then HR will ask you to fill out an application when they are getting ready to hire you. And no one will care about that 4 week job.

If you are asked about it, I would say, "I was hired in a group of 12. By the end of the first month, they'd fired half of us. I guess rather than make decisions at the hiring stage, they decided to hire everybody and test us out." It makes them sound weird as all get out. (Which they are.) But, don't worry too much about this. If it was your last job, it would matter, but it's not, so very few people are likely to care at all.

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