ASK SUZANNE: How do I explain a short tenure on my resume?

(3 min read) If you’ve ever left a job (or are thinking about leaving a job) because you weren’t happy, talking about your reasons for leaving can be dangerous territory, particularly when your frustration shines through. Today’s post covers the best-practice approach for talking about a difficult job change in an interview.

The Challenge

Mairi has been in her job for 10 months, and it hasn’t turned out to be at all what she thought it would be. While she has single-handedly built a product and prepared for launch, two other members of the executive team are now delaying launch, and suggesting a new approach to market (and thus, new product specs). In pondering her next move, Mairi wonders how she can possibly explain her choice to leave the company after being there just under a year.

Similarly, Shaun took a job several years ago and within 1 week, the company pivoted strategy. As a growth driver and builder, he was hired into the company to help them grow and take things to the next level. The change in strategy meant that he would be an excellent figurehead and lend credibility to the management team, but it wouldn’t allow him to gain value, grow, or add the massive value that he had planned to bring to the company. Within 8 months, he found another job and left.

Both Mairi and Shaun are facing the similar challenge of how to explain away a short tenure without sounding…annoyed, dismissive, or worst of all, throwing the CEO under the bus by highlighting his failure to lead.

With his short tenure a few years back, Shaun even found himself wondering if he even needs to include it on his resume.

The Best Policy

If you’ve been reading my work for awhile, you already know that I’m a firm believer that honesty is the best policy, and this situation is no different.

Bad employment situations can wreak havoc on our self-confidence, and it can sometimes feel as if a huge cloud of doubt is overshadowing any career change we try to make. In particular, people most often come to me asking:

  • Is it too soon to leave? Don’t I need to wait 1 year (or sometimes 2 or 3) before I make a move?
  • Can I leave it off my resume so I don’t look bad?
  • How can I honestly share my reasons for leaving, without making my boss sound like a jerk (and making me seem bitter and angry?)

You don’t need to hide your short tenure. You need to learn how to talk about it.

How to Talk About It

The key is to reconnect with the FULL truth and focus on the parts that reinforce the value you will bring to your next organization. What exactly do I mean? Both Shaun and Mairi described their counterparts and/or CEO as “jerks”. But that’s not the full reason why they’re leaving.  In fact, it’s not the reason at all.

Both admit they’ve worked in some pretty tough cultural environments before, but they felt rewarded by their work, and that made it worth their while to stay.  Mairi had previously worked in an environment full of perfectly nice people, but the work wasn’t challenging, so she opted to leave.

9 times out of 10, when clients come to me wondering how to talk about their short tenure, we uncover quite quickly that there are sound, business reasons that drove their choice to leave.

You may be frustrated that you were sold a bill of goods walking in the door, you may have uncovered a lack of alignment on ethics once you started, or it may turn out that your boss is just a plain and simple jerk, and it makes every day miserable.  In each of these cases, without even knowing the details of your personal situation, there are several clear and sound career/business reasons to make a quick move. 

Instead of avoiding the conversation, leaving the job off your resume, or winging it come interview time, a little thought and preparation can help you increase your comfort level with your choice to leave, and improve your confidence in explaining it without feeling as though you’re hiding the truth.

For 3 business-minded solutions to address your short tenure, click here to download my cheatsheet.