As always, when it comes to most job search-related issues, the answer is: it depends. And the answer to some situations is easier and more clear cut than others. Let’s look at a couple of scenarios:
• The job was 10+ years ago. The answer in this situation is generally “no.” Most employers—both private sector and federal—want to know what you have done recently—not what you did 10, 20, or even 30 years ago. Your most recent experience is likely more relevant and at a higher level than your earlier experience. In addition, for those of you targeting federal jobs, if the experience was at a lower level and does not fit with the “one year of specialized experience” requirement, it likely won’t count at all. If you do believe that your earlier experience is important, you can create a category on your resume called: Earlier Professional Experience and Achievements” or something similar where you list the job title, employer, city and state, along with some specific achievements (no dates). If you don’t have achievements from that period, it’s probably not worth including.
• The position was meant to be short-term. Depending on how short-term the position was, you may want to consider including it on your resume. Make sure to describe it as such: “Hired for temporary, three-month role during maternity leave of key staffer” or “Contract-to-hire position ended prematurely due to termination of company relationship with client.”
• You held multiple short-term positions. Consider grouping them into a single description. For example, if you had a program manager role with company ABC for 8 months but left for a better opportunity with company XYZ — but only worked there for a year — consider listing the positions jointly as “Program Manager, ABC/XYZ” with the inclusive dates. This only works, however, if the titles and work responsibilities are very similar.
• The role was short term (6 months or less, give-or-take) and doesn’t fit with your career goals. Sometimes you take a job because you think it will open doors or lead you to a new path, and it doesn’t end up that way. If including the job on the resume will raise more questions than it will answer, consider not mentioning it on the resume. Especially if omitting it wouldn’t cause a significant time gap on your resume.
For example, Tonya left the military after a career in naval intelligence and took a job at a startup software company, working in their security department. After being on the job for a few weeks, she decided that the laid-back company culture wasn’t suited to her personality and she left the role. Instead, she went to work for a defense contractor, and has been there for 2 years and has now decided to look for a new job. Tonya may choose to omit the position at the startup from her resume.
Remember, your resume is not an obituary that lists every single job you’ve ever held. Instead, it’s a marketing document whose content should support the job target you’re seeking. That being said, you should not leave a job off your resume just because you were fired (even for performance) because you don’t want to talk about it. Instead, be prepared to address the reason for your departure (including taking responsibility for shortcomings in your performance) and being able to describe how you took corrective action to ensure the situation doesn’t happen again.
One final note: If you are asked to complete a job application that requires you to list all positions you’ve held (read the application directions carefully!), you should include each and every role — no matter how short — particularly if you’re required to sign the application (and, therefore, attest to the truthfulness of the information included).
But on the resume, you can decide which positions to include and exclude, and even how they are arranged.