The Best Ways to Explain Away Short-Term Work Experience in an Interview

The Best Ways to Explain Away Short-Term Work Experience in an Interview

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Years ago, some job seekers believed they had to stick it out in jobs they didn’t like until they found new positions. 

At the beginning of her career, Great Resumes Fast’s president Jessica Hernandez recalls how she was “trained to pass over applicants with less than 18 months of job longevity.” 

But that isn’t the case anymore. In a recent survey of over 2,500 millennial and Gen Z employees, nearly three-fourths said they felt a sense of “surprise” about a job they had taken. Sometimes, this feeling was a good surprise; sometimes, it was a bad one. 

In turn, if they entered into a job they ended up disliking, many of them would quit as soon as possible, with only 24 percent saying they would keep a job they didn’t like for more than a year. 

So, if you lasted in your job for 18 months, you stuck it out longer than a lot of people would! That means you don’t have to view your short tenure as a failure or even as a setback that will make it impossible for you to land a job. 

Still, if you didn’t stay long in a role, it’s a good idea to consider explaining a short tenure to a potential employer. Here’s what you need to do. 


✅ On your resume, highlight what you achieved during your time in the position.

Eighteen months is long enough that you don’t have to worry about removing dates from your resume or reorganizing a chronological resume into a functional one (where you only focus on skills). 

Rather, include the months and years when you worked at the company, so the recruiter knows you are no longer employed there. Then, describe your greatest successes in the role, focusing in particular on instances that relate to the job posting at hand. 

Ideally, the accomplishments you include should be as quantifiable as possible. You’re not listing what you did in the role; you’re describing how you excelled in it. 


✅ If you didn’t make connections at your job, you could use references from an earlier role.

One of the biggest stressors for many short-tenure candidates applying for new roles is worrying about references. What if you didn’t make a strong enough connection with anyone at the organization? 

Many candidates choose references from earlier positions for many reasons. While current references are ideal, they are not required, explains employment-screening firm Barada Associates. 

“Current references are always the best – people you’re currently working with on a day-to-day basis, but it’s clear that it isn’t always possible to identify current coworkers or superiors who are willing to take on the responsibility of serving as a reference, particularly if there’s a company policy against saying anything about current or former employees!” they note. 

However, you don’t want to go too far back in your work history when it comes to references. You should choose references you worked with no longer than five to seven years ago. 


✅ In your cover letter and interview, talk about what you achieved in the position.

It doesn’t help to be embarrassed or uncomfortable about your short tenure or your unemployment status in either your application materials or your interview. Instead, focus on explaining what you learned and achieved in that role. Your primary objective is to talk about how the position furthered your skills in specific areas and would make you better qualified for the role at hand. 


⛔ Don’t bad-mouth the company; frame your decision to quit as a personal desire to advance your career or development.

If you feel like you want to spend more time explaining a short tenure in your cover letter and interview, there are a few best practices to keep in mind. 

First, never bad-mouth the organization you quit. Even if, in reality, they didn’t explain the job carefully before you were hired, frame the experience as a cultural mismatch of two reasonable ways of doing business. 

For instance, you could say, “I had the opportunity to manage two people for the first time when I worked at _____. I learned so much about my leadership style and how to support my team. However, I discovered that the laidback attitude at the company didn’t match my enthusiastic, driven style, so I ended up resigning so I could find a company where my way of operating would be a better fit. 


✅ Explain what you’ve done while you’ve been unemployed on your resume and cover letter.

If you’ve been unemployed after quitting the position, you should address what you’ve been doing in the meantime. On your resume, cover letter, or both, consider adding the following experience: 

  • Freelance or contract employment 
  • Significant volunteer work 
  • Professional development opportunities, conferences, or education 

“You can get creative (to a point) with your explanations, as long as what you’re describing has some value in the job market… For example, if while unemployed, you organized a function or event at your child’s school (whether virtually or in person), this could legitimately count as requiring project management and time management skills,” said Robin Madell for FlexJobs.


Explaining a Short Tenure to a Potential Employer

Eighteen months is a reasonable time to stick it out in a job that doesn’t fit. Gone are the days when you wanted to hide roles you didn’t stay in for at least two years; nowadays, short tenures are becoming more and more common. 

So, during the hiring process, be prepared to share the skills you developed during your time at the company. Perhaps you’re even better equipped to assess if the position is right for you since you weren’t happy at your last workplace! If a recruiter asks why you left a position so quickly, you can even segue into how you know the position you’re up for is a better fit. 

Still uncomfortable about explaining a short tenure to a hiring manager? One of Ivy Exec’s executive career coaches can give you ideas for what to write in your application materials and say in your interview.

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