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How do you explain a job that went bad?

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Question: “My current job, which I’ve had for nine months, is going sour fast and I don’t think I can go on. Here’s the real problem: If I leave, I don’t trust anyone here to give me a good recommendation, and I wouldn’t know how to explain to an interviewer that I have no references from my most recent position. But if I don’t list this job at all on my résumé, it creates a mysterious recent gap in my work experience. Is there any way out of a dilemma like this?” – Nate, Contract Administrator

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Cynthia April 3, 2013 at 8:32 am

When I was very young and got into situations like this, I used a temp agency. Being registered and taking a few short term assignments makes for a better solution to a bad situation. You can still list the employer without using them as a reference.


Gina April 2, 2013 at 4:17 pm

I work in HR, we call references only if we are offering the job. If they ask about the current job in an interview (I’d leave it on cause it will look funny with a gap) just tell them it wasn’t what you expected and didn’t work out, be honest. Yes most places only ask for professional references which can be someone one you worked with years ago not a current job. I know the boss that hired me here asked if it was ok to contact current jobs (I think most places understand that you can’t afford to lose your job and that’s why you might say no please don’t contact). Now my husband just had an interview and I told him to take his resume (cause it looks good and they might ask for it with references). He didn’t and had what he thought was a good interview. Will found out in about 13 days. Good Luck!


Sheila April 2, 2013 at 1:46 pm

You could say that the job was just temporary. Use your professional network and reach out for opportunities and build reputation references at the same time.
But I also agree with what Jenny stated above that: Just tell the interviewer that your current company doesn’t know that you’re looking and prefer it that way.


Lisa April 1, 2013 at 10:54 am

You don’t have to use a reference from your current company. Just tell the interviewer that your current company doesn’t know that you’re looking and prefer it that way. As for references, I’m sure that you have references from previous jobs, you can use those. If the interviewer asks why you are leaving you can always say that you feel that they might be downsizing and you don’t want to be stuck without a job if that happens.


J March 29, 2013 at 4:42 pm

I’m in the same boat. I have found a supervisor who has said she would act as my supervisor, so I don’t have to use my boss, so I use her. As of now, though, I check the “do not contact” option when applying, because I’m trying to keep my search a secret from my boss. I think if I were to tell him I was looking, he’d replace me as soon as possible, and I can’t affford that!

I also have some other contacts at my company–outside of my group–who have agreed to act as references.

Good luck!


Patti March 29, 2013 at 2:05 pm

Legally, I thought an employer could only confirm your employment and answer the question, would you rehire him/her. Many companies have a policy not to provide references. Co-workers could find themselves in hot water if they provided a recommendation/reference for you. I would include the position on your resume, and when asked, simply state that the position/company was not a good fit, and then stop. If the interviewer pushes, then find a tactful way to restate “wasn’t a good fit.”


Jen M. March 29, 2013 at 4:40 pm

Nope. That is not true. It’s just that many companies OPT NOT TO out of fear of being sued.


Mark March 28, 2013 at 5:18 pm

I agree on the honesty aspect; you wouldn’t want to leave it blank and mention that due to the economy that you were out of work. If they ever found out about the job, it would be grounds for immediate dismissal. Even if it is not a supervisor, are there any one or two people in which you can use as a reference? When hiring here, I’ve accepted co-workers as references, especially if there was an issue between the applicant and their supervisor. But even if you strike out regarding finding someone you can use, when asked why you left, just be fully honest regarding why you felt that job was not a good fit.


Jenny March 28, 2013 at 4:27 pm

I am in the same position, except I have been at my job for two years. I can’t leave it off my resume, but I have no idea what they would say to anyone that calls. I put down three references of people who know who I really am and how I work and hope the interviewing company believes them over my current employer.


Treva Singleton March 28, 2013 at 4:24 pm

Wow, I found myself in this same situation many years ago, but just opted not to include my current employer when it came down to providing references. These days, most companies just ask for three professional references which does not have to include your current employer. Even on most applications they have an area to check if you want your last (your current) employer contacted, so you check no. References are very important, so I only make sure that I put down credible people who I know will give me a glowing referral. You are not obligated to put anyone down from your current employer as a reference, but I would suggest you do not leave them off because yes, that would leave a gap in time and opens the door for more questions. However, if they must have a reference from your current employer, you could let the interviewer know that since you have not been there a long time, you do not feel there is anyone there who could give you a fair and thorough assessment of your knowledge, skills and abilities because of the short time you were there. Good Luck!!!


Michelle March 28, 2013 at 4:17 pm

I’ve always found honesty to be the best policy. If things are brought up at an interview you say as diplomatically as you can the reasons your current work place isn’t a good fit for you and why you believe this new location would be a better fit. This is much easier than back pedaling if you leave a gap on your resume. Some employers may appreciate your honesty. If you have any individual co-workers that may give you a good reference only use them. If not, just put down references from previous employers or stock up on personal references. Good luck!


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