When Filling Out a Job Application, Do I Have to List Every Job I've Ever Had?

by Ruth Mayhew

    When you want favorable consideration from a recruiter or hiring manager, you must put your best foot forward and describe a professional background that showcases your qualifications. Showcasing your expertise and qualifications doesn't always mean telling every single detail about your work history. In some cases, you should focus on highlighting the most relevant work history. In other cases, you must provide a prospective employer with a complete work history, even if it includes jobs you think are unimportant to your candidacy.

    Full Disclosure

    When you apply for a job, it's wise to consider full disclosure of your background when you describe your expertise and qualifications. Recruiters might look at jobs you previously as relevant even if you don't think they prepared you for the job you currently want. For jobs that require government security clearances, you must disclose every position you've ever held, account for times during which you were unemployed and list volunteer or unpaid roles in your background, as well.

    Relevancy

    Job seekers with lengthy careers often shorten their resume or include on their employment applications only the most relevant jobs or the jobs they've held in the past 10 to 15 years. Technology, best practices and business methodologies change over time, and if you believe your most recent work history is most relevant, then expand on that instead of including every single job you've held for the past 25 or 30 years. That said, if you're asked about previous jobs in your career, don't mislead or withhold that information.

    Short-Term Jobs

    Short-term jobs may be those lasting around 90 days or less. Some career counselors, such as Marie McIntyre, founder of Atlanta-based career consulting firm, Your Office Coach, say it's perfectly all right to omit short-term jobs that lasted only a few weeks. But, McIntyre reinforces the importance of being honest about your complete work history when asked during an interview. If you omit short-term jobs, prepare an interview response that explains why you omitted the jobs. If you've omitted short-term jobs to avoid looking like a job-hopper, simply explain why and assure the interviewer that you now are looking for a long-term role.

    Resume Vs. Application

    Job seekers who have 20 to 30 years of experience sometimes construct a resume that abbreviates their work history, because a two-page resume is far easier to digest than a six-pager. In fact, career adviser Alison Green reminds job seekers that a resume isn't intended to be a diary. She says a resume is designed to present enough information to compel the reader to learn more about you. This advice was in her May 2011, article for "U.S. News & World Report," titled, "10 Mistakes You're Making on Your Resume." However, since the employment application is a formal document, provide a complete work history so it doesn't appear that you are hiding something.

    Contractors

    Professionals with several roles as independent contractors often wonder about the best way to present their work history without looking like they worked for so many companies in a relatively short period. In this case, use the term "Contract Work" on your resume or employment application and list the companies for which you performed work throughout that period. For example, if you worked for ABC Company from March to April 2011, for XYZ Corp. from May 2011 to January 2012, and Acme Corp. from February 2012 to January 2013, combine all of those assignments into one role. List your position as "Independent Contractor" and your employment dates from March 2011 to January 2013. Include the companies' names and your duties in one set of bullets or one paragraph for your description.

    About the Author

    Ruth Mayhew began writing in 1985. Her work appears in "The Multi-Generational Workforce in the Health Care Industry" and "Human Resources Managers Appraisal Schemes." Mayhew earned senior professional human resources certification from the Human Resources Certification Institute and holds a Master of Arts in sociology from the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

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