How To Put a Reason For Leaving on Your Resume (And When Not To)

Should you put a reason for leaving a previous job on your resume? And what is a good reason for leaving a job? We answer those questions and more.

2 years ago   •   8 min read

By Rohan Mahtani
Table of contents

Hiring managers will always be curious about why you left your previous job. So it stands to reason that you should put that information on your resume, right?

Actually, no. Generally speaking, you shouldn’t put a reason for leaving on your resume.

Like any resume “rule,” there are exceptions. We’ll cover the major ones below, as well as the reasons you should leave it off, how to know when an exception applies to you, and what to say on your resume if you were fired.

Should you put a reason for leaving on your resume?

Most of the time, you shouldn’t include a reason for leaving on your resume. Why not?

  • It’s not necessary. Recruiters don’t expect to see it, which means they won’t notice if it’s not there, but may wonder what’s up if you include it anyway.
  • It redirects the conversation. Instead of highlighting your accomplishments from previous positions, it puts the focus on why you left.
  • If you left for a bad reason — like if you were fired, or you walked off the job without notice — you probably want to keep that to yourself for as long as possible.
  • Your resume is a marketing tool, not a full legal document. It should only include information that makes you a more appealing candidate, and reasons for leaving generally don’t fall under this heading.

However, with the rise in recent years of remote work opportunities and a shift in employee focus towards a positive work-life balance, these trends have not only reshaped how we work but also why we choose to leave or change jobs. It's far more common for employees to voluntarily leave positions to focus on professional growth and positive change, and employers are far more open to these reasons for leaving than they historically have been.

When you should (and shouldn’t) put a reason for leaving on your resume

There aren’t a lot of times when you should put a reason for leaving on your resume, but you can consider it if:

  • It was a deliberately short-term position (e.g. a seasonal or temp job).
  • You worked a fixed-term contract to completion.
  • You were laid off or downsized  — not fired for performance-related issues — and parted on good terms, especially if you left due to Covid related downsizing.
  • You left a position to pursue remote or virtual work opportunities.
  • You left to pursue personal growth or a career change.

On the other hand, you definitely shouldn’t put a reason for leaving on your resume if:

  • You were fired for cause.
  • You left on bad terms or without giving notice.
  • You don’t have a good reason for leaving.

If you’re not sure if you should put a reason for leaving on your resume, upload it to the tool below to get a detailed review with suggestions on what you need to add or remove from your resume.

How and when to address your reasons for leaving a job

You should provide your reason for leaving a job:

  • If a job application asks for it.
  • If you’re asked about it in an interview.
  • If it supports your candidacy (this is rare — see below for possible exceptions).

The importance of honesty when addressing reasons for leaving

Being honest on your resume is essential for building professional credibility. Dishonesty, during any aspect of your application, can be easily found out, potentially damaging your reputation and your relationship with an employer. Especially in today’s digital age, any misalignment with your resume and your online profiles can raise red flags with hiring managers.

It's therefore crucial to be truthful when addressing your reasons for leaving a previous job. While you don’t have to advertise explicitly the reason you were fired, or talk about any bad blood between you and a previous employer, be prepared to provide honest tactful explanations if asked about your departure.

Top-tips for discussing your reasons for leaving on your resume

Here are some key tips to keep in mind when addressing your reasons for leaving a job:

DO wait until you’re asked about it, either on a job application or during the interview stage. You want the focus to stay on what you accomplished at your previous jobs, not why you left.

DO consider addressing your reasons for leaving in your cover letter or LinkedIn profile instead of on your resume.

DO be honest (but professional) about your reasons for leaving. Never lie about why you left a previous job — or about anything else on your resume.

DO be prepared to answer questions about why you left. The key is to keep your answers brief and focused on why you want this job — not why you didn’t want the last one.

Whether or not you decide to put a reason for leaving on your resume, let’s take a look at how to address your reasons for leaving a previous job.

What to put as a reason for leaving on a resume

If it was a fixed-term contract

There is some benefit to indicating a fixed-term contract on a resume. As well as explaining why you left the job, it also shows that you’ll stick around to finish the job.

Do it: If you’re applying for more roles as a freelancer or independent contractor.

Skip it: If it was a single contract position, especially if it was a long-term contract.You can do this simply by adding “contract” to your job title — no need to waste a whole bullet point describing why you left.

Put “contract” in your job title to indicate your reason for leaving
Put “contract” in your job title to indicate your reason for leaving

If it was a temp job or seasonal position

Most of the time, you can leave short-term jobs off your resume entirely. If you have a compelling reason for keeping it — like if you’re new to the workforce or don’t have any other relevant experience — stating upfront that a job was intended to be temporary can prevent recruiters from wondering what went wrong.

Do it: If you have relevant accomplishments or transferable skills from your temporary position.

Skip it: If you’ve held multiple temp jobs — group these under a single heading instead.

You can also put this in your job title, for example, “Seasonal Customer Service Representative” or “Construction Supervisor (Contract).”

Indicate a temp job or seasonal work in your job title
Indicate a temp job or seasonal work in your job title

If you were laid off

A lot of people experienced major upheaval over the past few years, especailly due to the significant job shifts during and after the COVID-19 pandemic. If you’re one of them, you can put your reason for leaving a previous job due to layoffs. Including a layoff on your resume should be a judgment call — if in doubt, leave it off.

Do it: If you have impressive but incomplete accomplishments due to major layoffs (especially during COVID-19).

Skip it: If you don’t have a compelling reason to include it.You can address a layoff in your bullet points, but keep it brief, for example, “due to company-wide restructuring.”

How to put a reason for leaving a job due to layoffs in your resume bullet points
How to put a reason for leaving a job due to layoffs in your resume bullet points

What to do if your reason for leaving was personal

Including personal reasons for leaving a previous job on your resume can be a delicate matter. The key is to be truthful yet professional.

Do it: If you feel comfortable discussing your reasons and can do so in a brief, concise statement.

Skip it: If you would rather not discuss your reason for leaving. Instead, simply say “took a sabbatical for personal reasons”.

Mentioning personal reasons can demonstrate your ability to manage both personal and professional aspects of your life, and assure potential employers that you are ready to reuturn to work. But remember, the choice is up to you.

How to discuss leaving for personal reasons on your resume

To discuss personal reasons for leaving a previos job, start by highlighting your personal and professional achievements during your time at the company. While addressing any sensitive issues, also mention the positive aspects of your experience and avoid laying blame on yourself or former employers. Instead, discuss your enthusiasm for the future and your readiness to contribute positively in a new role.

Here are some examples of discussing personal reasons for leaving a previous job:

  • Work-life balance: Post COVID-19 saw many workers reevaluate their work-life balance to prioritize a healthier lifestyle. Focus on this positive shift by saying, “left to seek a healthier work-life balance" or "resigned to reassess career goals."
  • Relocation: If you left your job due to relocation, mention it on your resume without going into excessive detail. Simply include a brief statement, such as "Relocated for family reasons" or "Pursued new opportunities in a different city."
  • Mental health: Honesty and brevity is key when addressing mental health-related reasons. Frame it professionally and positively, by stating, "Took a temporary leave to prioritize mental health and well-being" or "Engaged in a self-care sabbatical to address personal health.”.
  • Parental leave: Parental leave is a common reason for leaving a previous employer. Mention it by saying "Took a planned parental leave to spend quality time with family" or "Prioritized family responsibilities during this period."
  • Toxic work environment: Explaining leaving due to a toxic work environment can be challenging, as you want to be truthful without coming across as overly negative. Be honest yet professional by emphasizing your personal and professional growth and your commitment to your values. For example, "Sought a new opportunity to align with a workplace that fosters a supportive and collaborative environment.”

What to do if you were fired from a previous job

The first rule of being fired is: Don’t say that you were fired if you don’t need to. Never put it on your resume or job application unless you’re asked about it — but don’t lie about it if you are.

Here are some ways you can address being fired without lying about it:

  • Answer honestly if you’re asked outright whether you’ve ever been fired.
  • Use a more neutral-sounding phrase that means the same thing, like “mutually agreed separation” (if it actually was) or “difference in long-term goals.”
  • Have a good answer prepared for if (and when) you’re asked about it — for example, it became clear that the actual requirements of the role weren’t a good match for your skill set, so you’re looking for something that better aligns with your skills in X and Y.
  • Leave that job off your resume entirely. This isn’t always a great option, but you should consider it if you were only there for a short time, you’re unlikely to get a good reference, or if you were fired for a particularly egregious reason.

Examples of how to discuss being fired on your resume

Here are some examples of how to discuss being fired on your resume:These phrases explain the situation honestly without explicitly stating that you were terminated or using the word "fired”:

  • Concluded employment due to a mutual agreement on separation.
  • Transitioned from the role as part of a strategic workforce adjustment.

These statements emphasize your commitment to finding a role that aligns with your skills:

  • Recognized a misalignment between role expectations and my skill set, prompting a decision to seek opportunities better aligned with my expertise in X and Y.
  • Exited the position to pursue a more suitable role that leverages my strengths in [specific skills].

This statement demonstrates your commitment to personal growth and development:

  • Voluntarily transitioned from my previous role to pursue personal and professional development opportunities.

This phrase places the emphasis on finding a better cultural fit:

  • Left the organization to explore opportunities with a company whose culture and values align more closely with my own.

While these statements focus on achievements within the position despite termination:

  • Contributed to key projects during my tenure, achieving [specific accomplishments]. However, a difference in long-term vision led to my departure.
  • Successfully managed [important responsibilities] while in the role, but ultimately sought a more compatible work environment.

Discussing reasons for leaving on international applications

International applicants should be mindful of local norms when deciding whether to include their reasons for leaving a previous job on their resume, as these can vary significantly across countries and regions. In some countries, discussing reasons for leaving openly may be expected and viewed as a sign of transparency, while in others, it might be seen as inappropriate.

Research and adapt your approach based on the specific expectations of the job market you're targeting, and consult with local professionals to gain insight into local recruiter preferences.

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