Should You Include a Short-Term Job on Your Resume?

Here's an answer to this common resume question.

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If you left a job after just a few months, should you include it on your resume?

It depends on why it was short-term. Was it short-term by design, or did you leave under less than ideal circumstances?

If the job wasn’t intended to be short-term but ended up that way because you were fired or left after finding you hated the work or the people, you’re generally better off leaving it off your resume.

[See 9 Tips to Make Your Resume Stand Out.]

Remember, your resume isn’t required to be a comprehensive accounting of how you spent each month of your professional life. It’s a marketing document intended to present you, your skills, and your experience in the strongest light.

A few months on a job won’t be useful in showing any real accomplishments or advancement, and including it can actually do harm, raising questions about why you left so soon.

When a hiring manager sees a two-month stint on a resume, here’s what goes through her mind: “Is this ... two months? Was she fired? Did she quit before even giving it a chance? Why is this even on her resume?”

If the rest of the application is good, this might not prevent you from getting an interview, but it will likely be a question you’re asked early on. And so then you’ll be talking about being fired or seeming fickle, which isn’t insurmountable, but why take the hit when you could have avoided the whole conversation and the concerns it raises? It’s like deliberately putting a typo on your resume; nothing good will come of it.

[See Don't Underestimate the Power of Your Cover Letter.]

Now, on the other hand, if the job was short-term because it was designed that way, like contract work or, say, working on a political campaign, absolutely include it on your resume. That’s not going to raise the sorts of problems above, because you have an explanation that doesn’t reflect poorly on you.

However, if it’s not going to be obvious to a reader–including readers outside your industry–that it was short-term by design, include a note to make that clear. For instance, you might present it this way:

Communications Director …………. March 2010 – November 2010 (campaign)

or

Database Analyst …………. October 2010 – March 2011 (six-month contract)

On a related note, if you’ve been doing temp work for a variety of clients, you might wonder how to present that on your resume. You have a few options, depending on the length of your assignments.

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If you’ve had some relatively long-term assignments (more than a couple of weeks in one place), list those assignments like this:

Acme Architecture (via Temps Inc.) …………. August – October 2010

(Note that this makes it clear that the work was through a temp agency; you do not want to leave that out, or you’ll be incorrectly implying that you were an employee of a company that didn’t actually employ you.)

If your assignments have been more short-term, list the temp company itself as your employer, followed by a list of bullet points of the types of responsibilities you’ve had at various companies you’ve worked at through them.

Alison Green writes the popular Ask a Manager blog where she dispenses advice on career, job search, and management issues. She's also the author of Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Leader's Guide to Getting Results and former chief of staff of a successful nonprofit organization, where she oversaw day-to-day staff management, hiring, firing, and employee development. She now teaches other managers how to manage for results.

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