No I haven’t suddenly become a relationship blogger (phew I hear you say), I have just been reflecting on how you can use the reasons you left a role with a company to explain who you are and what is important to you. This includes what you should put on your resume and what you shouldn’t. What you should disclose in interviews and maybe what you shouldn’t. We all make decisions to leave a role and there are ways we can tell this information to help prospective employers make decisions on your application.
And it’s one of the questions that always gets asked in interviews. I always ask because it tells me something about the candidate; how they make decisions, what is important to them and sometimes how they deal with situations they can’t control. For me this is as, or more important, than someone’s technical capability. We all have jobs that ended in a way we wish they didn’t or we accepted roles that just didn’t work out, but it’s how we talk about these experiences that can make the difference.
Returning to Singapore in 2017 I had the opportunity to interview quite a number of people for my team. It was an important lesson for me in understanding the difference between the Australian and Singapore culture, or more broadly between a Western and Eastern culture in general. Generally people from a Western background will tend to be more direct in their response to this question. They might say they didn’t fit the culture or they didn’t like their manager or they wanted to learn something new. Generally people from an Eastern culture will tend to not directly answer the question and be much more general and polite. Generally.
I’ve had some very interesting answers to the question of why someone left a role. Some examples include:
“I left the role because I hadn’t had a career break yet” from a late 20’s early 30’s year old candidate with maybe 7 years’ experience. I decided to play along because I was curious as to why this candidate needed a career break. Maybe they wanted to do something that linked with their values and purpose? Maybe they had had a bad experience and needed some time out? Maybe they wanted to travel or study? Maybe they wanted to do a couple of fitness classes at their apartment block (which was the answer I got when asking what they had been doing during the last 6 months). So what do you think this told me about this candidate? I can tell you it wasn’t to offer them a job.
“I took a break to look after my sick mother/father/sister/ brother/aunt/uncle/son/daughter” For some candidates (particularly in Asian countries) this is the truth and part of the culture. There is much respect given to the elderly and clear expectations that families look after all their family members when ill. The trouble with this reason is that just about every candidate has given me this reason for leaving for at least one job on their resume. It doesn’t give much insight to the candidate (apart from their value on caring for their family) and in many cases I think this reason is used when they don’t want to disclose the real reason. It has become the acceptable response that, to be honest, I have become a bit sceptical about.
This week someone in my network asked me to review their resume, which I gladly accepted even though I don’t think I’m an expert on resumes. It’s flattering to be asked and maybe I could give some helpful feedback?
The resume was very good. Clearly laid out and clean looking. One thing I noticed though is that for each position she had included the reason for leaving. In some cases I think this is ok. In others, not so much. I’m uncertain what some of the new AI technologies do with this information when reviewing resumes after you have uploaded it to a website as part of your application and you want the focus to be on your experience and achievements.
Some of the reasons given were because the roles were fixed term contracts. I think prospective employers understand fixed term contracts. It’s not unusual to bring someone in for a specific skill for a specific period of time. Fixed term contracts are great for maternity leave cover, projects like system implementations, or during a period of change.
Other roles said “redundancy” which is completely honest and not unexpected in today’s organisations, but in this case I didn’t think it was the best idea. Firstly because you don’t want prospective employers making judgements about this and secondly I knew that neither of the more recent redundancies were straightforward. By putting this on her resume she loses the opportunity to explain what happened and demonstrate her character and values.
One of the redundancies she worked through was during a buyout of the company. It was a lengthy period of uncertainty and stress. She knew there would be no job at the end and didn’t know when the end would be. She was part of managing redundancies and change management activities for many other employees in Countries across Asia, before she didn’t have a role herself. Working through this period showed grit, resilience, loyalty and tenacity as well as the ability to work in an ambiguous environment.
At the end of another role she also had a great story. As part of Companywide restructuring she identified the Company didn’t need someone with her experience and seniority in an ongoing capacity. She worked with the leaders of the business to find someone more junior and suitable for the role and worked on an effective handover. This ensured the business had the support they needed, saved them money, demonstrated business acumen and pragmatism and freed her up to find a new role that suited her career aspirations more closely.
In both these examples, by including the reason for leaving on a resume (as redundacny) is an opportunity lost. Being able to tell meaningful stories in an interview provides insight into what you could do for a future employer and what attributes you bring, when asked the inevitable question of why did you leave this job?
What do you think? Should you be honest for your reason for leaving a job on your resume?