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How to Get a Job Despite Bad Past Employment History

Christine McDade is a human resource professional (PHR & SHRM-CP) with over 20 years in the public sector.

Learn how to get a job despite having a bad past employment history.

Learn how to get a job despite having a bad past employment history.

Take This Job and Shove it!

Looking for a job is challenging enough without having to include a bad work history on the job application. HR recruiters who are going through the applications to schedule job interviews are not impressed when they see a past termination or long gaps between jobs in the employment history of an applicant. Walking out of the job and exclaiming, "Take this job and shove it," may have sounded like a good idea at the time. However, today, it may now be nothing more than a big regret. To move on and get a second chance at establishing a sound work history, there are some things you can do to get over these obstacles.

Examples of Bad Work History

There is no definitive list of what constitutes a "bad experience" on a job application. However, some common examples are as follows:

Issue: Getting Fired from a Job

The one thing that comes to mind when you think of a bad work experience would be getting fired from a job. Involuntary terminations which result because of misconduct are difficult to explain to a prospective employer because no employer wants to take on an employee who is going to be disruptive or participate in bad behavior at the workplace. In other words, why hire a problem? The reasons for leaving a job that people put on job applications often can be a little frightening for a prospective employer who may not feel like taking a gamble on someone who could turn out to be a bad hire.

Possible Solution: Applicants who have a discharge in their work history will want to include additional language to offer an opportunity to explain the circumstances around the discharge. In the space which allows for the reason for separation, it is important to be truthful but to include language such as "can explain further." A discharge from a job does not need to mean the end of your ability to get further employment.

Many individuals will experience a termination at some point in their career that is not related to misconduct. There may be a change of managers, which offers the new manager an option to hire their choice of personnel. Some employees may find themselves as part of "fallout" due to politics. Others simply find they do not have a good fit with their organization and are asked to resign or be fired. Firings can be done for reasons other than violations of protected classes as outlined by law. For more information, see

Issue: Employment Gaps

Job seekers have gaps in their employment history due to a variety of reasons. Some individuals choose to take time off from work to have children, become stay-at-home moms or dads, change careers, care for sick parents, become self-employed, etc. Others have gaps in their employment because they cannot find a job after a layoff, involuntary termination, business closure, etc. In today's economy, it is not unusual for an individual to have a hard time finding that next job and, therefore, have a gap in their employment history.

Possible Solution: As there are so many reasons for an applicant to have gaps in their employment, it will be helpful to your chances of gaining a new position to explain the reason for these periods of unemployment. High rates of unemployment over the last two-plus years will assist in explaining how some folks have trouble becoming gainfully employed after a layoff, resignation, discharge, etc., because there simply are fewer opportunities available in the job market. Applicants are becoming more flexible in the jobs they do take, the salaries they accept, and the number of hours they accept in a job. American workers have learned how to adjust during these tough economic times.

Focus On What You'll Bring to the Position

Applicants who get the opportunity to explain their firing, gaps in employment, or bizarre reasons for not having a job will want to focus on the skills they will bring to the new job. Employers want to know that there are concrete reasons such as education and other prior experiences that will make the individual with some bad experience in their employment history worth the investment to offer them a job. Emphasizing how skilled you are in the field of specialization, your education and/or training, and your ability to get along well with others will be important to a prospective employer.

Being honest about your employment history is important; you want to build a relationship with your employer that's based on trust and mutual respect.

Being honest about your employment history is important; you want to build a relationship with your employer that's based on trust and mutual respect.

Be Honest

Whatever the reason is for the bad employment history, it is most important to be honest about it on the application and when you have the interview. For purposes of explanation, it is to the applicant's advantage to have the opportunity to explain what occurred in the past to present the other side of the situation. If there was a disagreement with a former boss, the applicant can explain his/her side of the situation.

The prospective employer will recognize that we all have professional differences, and there are times when you do not agree with your boss. It is important to keep personal feelings and emotions out of the discussion of what occurred. I suggest not degrading the former boss or company in front of the prospective employer because it will turn them off to you.

It is important to focus on the moment, not what happened in the past. Having the interview will give you the opportunity to emphasize and expand upon your skills and talents that would make you an asset to the team. If you have good skills, education, and the ability to work hard for a company, the interviewer needs to pick up on these assets to give you a chance to join their organization.

Make Good Choices

Control what you can. While you cannot go back and change the past, you can make some good choices for yourself that will help you get that job. For the interview:

  • Dress appropriately. Look sharp and be polite to everyone you see. When you walk into that office for your interview, you must be ready to sell yourself to them. Be kind to the person you meet when you walk through the front door, the person sitting at the receptionist's desk, and the person you sit down with for the interview. At my first job interview out of college, I approached the receptionist with kindness and professionalism. I was not arrogant with her or condescending because of her role with the company. I am glad I did because I later learned that the person I approached at the reception area was actually the executive director of the organization. She had offered to stay at the front to cover for the receptionist. She later reported to the manager who interviewed me that she was impressed with my manners and friendliness. I eventually got the job!
  • Be on time. If you were let go for dependability issues, it would be in your best interest to get to the interview on time and be prepared for the questions you will be asked.
  • Have a copy of your resume and references available. It is always a good idea to have a hard copy of your resume and references available at the interview. Your resume is going to list all of your skills that make you a good addition to the prospective employer. Select sound, professional references of people who can speak to your talents when the job calls on them for information about you. As a professional courtesy, always contact your references before giving their contact information to the interviewer.
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Look Ahead

No one gets through life without some hiccups along the way. Having something negative in your work experience does not have to derail your career for good. Rather, it may just be a time to get back on track with some reflection on what you can do differently at the next job and an opportunity to move forward in a positive direction.

It is prudent to be honest in those interviews, talk about how you have moved forward from the past, and concentrate on your skills that would be an asset for the new job. Employers are looking for enthusiasm, skills, a team player, and someone whose ambition will be good for the organization.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.


Reena Dhiman on August 11, 2015:

Great! This is an important topic for those people who do not have a good past professional record.Thanks for tips.

poetryman6969 on July 06, 2015:

My basic rule is don't explain anything! Unless they ask. Then, change the subject!

Your advice is probably much more useful than mine.

Ann Toma on March 19, 2013:

You can create a profesional CV at Business & Job network. I think that you can hide a little your past employment history if you write a good CV. Its address is

Christine McDade (author) from Southwest Florida on September 17, 2012:

The gap is a challenge. It is not so uncommon in today's world. Thanks for the comments.

Claudia Porter on September 17, 2012:

The gap in work is my big one! I quit work when I got pregnant so I don't have much work experience in 10 years except for sub teaching and lots of volunteering. I hope I've solved it by having a resume that has a quick statement as well as all of my volunteer experience on the 1st page and my work experience on the second. Useful hub.

Christine McDade (author) from Southwest Florida on September 17, 2012:

Thank you for the feedback.

Deborah from Las Vegas on September 17, 2012:

Well done! This is a very useful article for people who need some solutions to their problems. Excellent work and well written, thank you! Voted up~

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