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I made a mistake and was let go from a job I held for 10 years.

How should I handle this on my resume? Do I omit my last 10 years of employment or list them when I think they will give me a bad reference?

  • 7
    Hi Cathy, I've edited your post to try and flesh it out and make the question clearer, as it was attracting close votes. Please revert my edit if you don't agree with how I've rephrased your question. – Player One Jul 21 at 22:28
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    What country are you located in? – John Eisbrener Jul 22 at 1:57
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    I dare say that while looking for a job, anything is better than a 10 year gap. – Eric Duminil Jul 22 at 8:49
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    What are "make a mistake" and "let go" euphemisms for? If you were made redundant for poor performance, that is one thing. If the "mistake" was "physically assaulting another employee and getting caught doing it", that is a different situation! The question is unanswerable unless we have all the relevant facts. – alephzero Jul 22 at 9:38
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    There is not enough information to attempt an answer. You need to elaborate the nature of the mistake. – copper.hat Jul 23 at 12:37
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It would be better to list the job.

You'll face questions in any interview about what you've been doing for the last ten years. If you've left it off, your options will be to lie (which is bad - never lie in interviews), or tell the truth that you left the job off your resume (which is also bad - it will likely give the correct impression that you lied by omission on your resume to get into the interview room).

Additionally, if the new job requires a background check you'll need to list your old job for that (or lie again, still bad, and fatal to your application when the background check uncovers it anyway).

Depending on your area (this site has taught me that some locales expect a reference to be from "the company", but wherever I've worked it's been from individual people), it would be better to get a former manager there to supply a reference. Someone you reported to at some point in the last ten years, preferably who has left the company so has no stake in the politics of why you were dismissed.

  • 33
    It's notable that the reference you actually get from "the company" is heavily dependent on region and size of the company. In the US, for example, there's a lot on slander - if a large-ish company is either hiring or firing, there'll likely be no questions of actual reference. If there's a call at all, it'll be to confirm start/end dates (did Cathy work at your company, did she start XYZ date and end ZXY date? Thanks, bye), since saying much more can quickly get legally wishy-washy here, and companies that have an HR department know this and avoid that issue as much as possible. – Delioth Jul 22 at 19:43
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    @Delioth, thanks for that. There is a lot of fear around job references, but for most people its just not an issue. The old employer will very often not give any information other than the fact that you did work there. – JPhi1618 Jul 23 at 16:01
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In the 10 years that you worked there do you not have a single person who could provide a good reference for you?

I'd mention the job on my resume and just use a current or former employee that I trust would say good things about me as a reference.

If you're asked why you're leaving or why you left you could just say something like "I'm ready for a change of pace" or something.

  • 1
    The CV and current employment status will confirm OP´s not leaving, but already "left". I think Ian W`s comment above is therefore better suited ("violation of company policy") as an explanation if asked. A reference by a former colleague is a great idea though, though at least here in Germany I´ve never heard anyone doing such a thing. – Jessica Jul 22 at 6:38
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    This seems dangerous to me. If you were fired for cause, I do think you need to acknowledge that - at least you should not outright lie and say you left voluntarily. A reference check will probably uncover it, and it will look like you lied on your CV. Of course, if the company let you "resign voluntarily", things may be different. – sleske Jul 22 at 7:10
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    @sleske Its a little risky, but its unlikely a reference check will find it. Only a fraction of companies do reference checks on incoming employees. A very small fraction of companies will return reference check requests- usually due to CYA legal policies. Someone being let go makes them even less likely to do so- its the situation that has the maximum chance of being litigious. Its a risk, but a calculated one. – Gabe Sechan Jul 22 at 22:25
  • @Jessica In Germany, the thing that is called a reference in the US is very unusual or does just not exist. Of course it can be used/done anyway, but it's not a standard procedure. – Volker Siegel Jul 23 at 9:47
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Even if you were fired for cause, 10 years in the same company is a good indicator. You were good enough for them to keep you that long, please acknowledge that. By omitting the experience, you seem to say that it's a shame your job there was so long. It's not, it proves you were faithful to the company and are not a butterfly who changes jobs too often.

Besides, honesty is always you best card. List the experience on your résumé and be honest about why you had to leave when asked in the job interview. As others have said, you can surely find people who will say nice things about you if asked for reference.

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    I interviewed a guy, and when we asked for his employment history, he voluntarily identified the fact that he was fired for cause (after 4-5 years) but only discussed his own issues—he didn't negatively comment on the company! This impressed me greatly. Unfortunately for him, we hired someone more qualified & experienced. Later I asked a personal friend about the situation and discovered the company fired him over a non-work related issue and weakly covered it by minor complaints. If I was in his situation, that's exactly how I would want to handle the situation—respectfully and up-front. – Nathan Goings Jul 22 at 21:55
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It is very difficult to spin this without more information.

If you were let go for something that was your fault (and even worse it was very recent) then you're not going to want to highlight that at all.

On the other hand people can be let go for things that are not their fault.

10 years is too big a gap to leave it blank on your resume. It is one of the worst kinds of red flags you can have. You're applications will get passed over every time by someone who doesn't have a gap.

Best bet is to put the job down and hope for the best. as suggested you could put a colleague or someone you trust as a reference. You could ask your old boss to see if you can gauge what kind of reference you might get but its hard to say without knowing what the cause was or what his/her temperament is like.

  • It could be his fault and very recent, when his fault is in reality an excuse to get rid of him for some internal reason. That may be more or less transparent - he may not even know himself. – Volker Siegel Jul 23 at 9:57
  • IN any case it is a huge red flag and a risk. If he's applying for a job where there's two equal candidates he'll always be passed over. Unfortunate fact of life. – solarflare Jul 23 at 22:49
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You can't hide something that was going on for 10 years by simply omitting it in the CV. Even with a gap of two years the first question you will get will be "what have you been doing recently?"

List the job on your CV, and prepare answers to questions about your career there (and your termination), should they arise. Answers where you admit your mistakes and which sound like you learned your lesson tend to work better than answers where you try to shift the blame.

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    Very much the right answer. I'll add on to "Prepare answers" that your answers should be one to two concise sentences where you admit to being let go, admit your own mistake, and what you've done to educate yourself to prevent that mistake occurring again. Don't bad-mouth the company or shift blame. – 9Deuce Jul 23 at 13:25
1

You must explain those ten years. If the HR department has to guess, they'll either make a worst-case assumption (like "10 years in prison, maybe?") or they will not bother to guess and discard the application.

Depending on your family situation, you might be able to imply family time without any outright lies, but even then a gap is probably worse than being let go.

1

I feel like you're conflating two different issues here.

First is employment history. This will likely be a call to an HR department, and it consists more-or-less of three quick questions:

  • Did Cathy work for you?
  • She said her employment dates were June 2009 to June 2019. Is this correct?
  • Is Cathy eligible for rehire?

That's it.

The other is professional reference. There's no rule that says this needs to be your old manager. Talk to your other coworkers and get their permission to use them as a reference.

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