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When There’s a Stain on Your Resume

Updated: Jul 29, 2022

Have you ever been embarrassed by something on your resume? Maybe it’s a job that you didn’t have very long or were even fired from. Maybe it’s a job that was a step back or even a misstep in your career path, or perhaps it’s a company that you’re embarrassed to admit you worked for. However it happened, you now have a stain on your resume, something you wish you could scrub off, but will always be part of your work history.

So what do you do now?

What NOT to Do

When you find yourself with a resume stain, you may be tempted to remove that portion of your work history from the document altogether and pretend it didn’t happen. Simply removing that part of your resume may work for a position you weren’t in for very long, but if you worked in a job or for a company for more than a few months, leaving it off your resume simply removing that part will leave you with a resume gap, which is another issue.

You might be tempted to lie on your resume by misrepresenting your dates of employment, title, or even the name of the company you worked for. Lying on your resume is never a good idea because even if you get the job, you’ll be left with the fear that your lie will be uncovered. You may even end up with another resume stain to deal with.

What You Should Do

Having a resume stain can act as a barrier to your career progression if you let it. But the good news is, you don’t have to let it hurt your job prospects. If you know how to tell your story, a resume stain can be a very powerful asset. It all comes down to how you tell your story.

So how do you tell your story?

Don’t Apologize

Many people reflexively say “I’m sorry” when they have to say something unpleasant. But you should never apologize for your background. You don’t need to say anything like, “I haven’t earned my bachelor’s degree, sorry,” or “I’m sorry, I wasn’t there long enough to go through an audit.” Apologizing for something in your background makes it look like you’re somehow at fault, and worse, it can make you look weak. So be honest, but don’t be too hard on yourself, especially in an interview.

Focus on the future

You can’t ignore the elephant in the room, but you can make it work for you. Use your resume stain to show how you’ve moved past whatever happened and how it’s made you a better potential employee. “I took a job in marketing and realized that it wasn’t for me, so now I’m looking to move back into accounting.” Or “I’ve always obeyed Federal Regulations but watching our company’s owner get indicted has made it very clear that there’s no wiggle room when it comes to the law.”

Where to tell your story

Your resume is an inventory of your skills and experience. It’s meant to get you a chance to talk about how you’re a good fit for the position. The interview is your best chance to tell your story, but it’s not your only chance. You should use your cover letter to mention how the resume stain has made you stronger. After the interview, you can write a thank-you note and use it to re-state your case about how you’d be successful at the job. Talk to your references about how they can also convey that message.

Your resume is your job history. It tells where you worked when you worked there, and what you did. But it doesn’t say anything about how you work. That’s up to you.


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