How to Explain a Demotion in a Resume and Cover Letter

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Looking for a new job can be challenging, but it's even tougher when you’ve been demoted. You may harbor bitterness at your old organization, or feel like a loser when you’re talking to new employers about job opportunities. You may even have chosen to be voluntarily demoted.

What’s the best way to explain to prospective employers? How can you spin a demotion on your resume, so that hiring managers can see your skills and abilities, and not this one blip in your work history?

The important thing to keep in mind is that not all career trajectories are the same. Employees often take on jobs with less responsibility, or are asked to step down to a lower status position. How you mention the job change on your resume and in your cover letter can go a long way toward minimizing any negative impacts when you're seeking your next job.

Also keep in mind that you don't need to spell it out for the employers who are considering your applications. Being careful about how you list your work history can help keep your application in the prospective employee pile.

How to List a Demotion on a Resume

In some cases, the job title of your new position – if you have been demoted – will clearly indicate a lower level of responsibility. Take for example, if you were demoted from sales manager to salesperson or from customer service director to customer service associate.

Don't use any negative language like "demoted" on your resume when you list the change.

You should simply list the positions separately, and describe the skills and accomplishments associated with each job.

Review a Sample

Review an example of a resume that includes a change of position from manager to associate.

Resume Example With a Demotion (Text Version)

Sandra Sellers
1234 Archway Avenue, St. Louis, MO 63105
ssellers@email.com
000.123.1234 (C) 
www.linkedin.com/in/SandraSellers

Qualifications Profile

Charismatic and customer-focused Sales Professional highly motivated to provide world-class service to clients within dynamic fashion retail settings. 

Sales & Marketing: Leverage passion for fashion, proven sales planning talents, and creative visual merchandising strengths to optimize retail operations and promote brand awareness among store patrons.

Customer Service: Create positive and upbeat shopping experiences for customers through individualized attention, informed product advising, and flawless communication in English and in Spanish.

Leadership and Teamwork: Readily assume leadership of teams and projects, motivating others to task ownership by personal example, supportive coaching, and engaging sales competitions and recognition programs.

Technical Proficiencies: Solid command of Microsoft Office Suite and NetSuite retail management software.

Professional Experience

WONDERFUL WOMEN’S WEAR – St. Louis, MO

Sales Associate, 01/2018 to Present
Following corporate reorganization, transitioned to sales associate role to optimize store merchandising of popular name brands to upscale customers. Greet customers, assist with product selection, cashier sales, and maintain premises.

  • Partnered with store manager to develop sales associate incentive program that reduced turnover by 80%.
  • Willingly worked overtime, weekends, and on holidays to ensure uncompromised store staffing.

WONDERFUL WOMEN’S WEAR – Columbia, MO
Store Manager, 01/2015 to 12/2017
Brought on board to coordinate launch of flagship fashion boutique. Hired and trained all sales personnel in effective customer service and brand presentation strategies. 

  • Rapidly expanded client base by 64% by introducing innovative text messaging program to inform customers of sales events.
  • Established new merchandising designs and standards adopted for use by sister stores across the state.

THE CLOTHES RACK – Columbia, MO

Store Manager / Sales Associate, 06/2010 to 12/2014
Promoted to manage daily store operations for high-volume retail store. Coordinated and supervised teams of ~10 sales associates in sales and merchandising activities; established sales targets and implemented strategic advertising campaigns. 

  • Coordinated store’s transition to new loop floor plan key to a 35% increase in store revenues within 3 months.
  • Consistently earned store awards for sales performance and customer service excellence.

Education

ST. LOUIS COMMUNITY COLLEGE – FOREST PARK, St. Louis, MO
A.A.S. Degree in Business Administration

How to Explain a Demotion in a Cover Letter

How you address the transition in your cover letter will depend on whether you are targeting positions comparable to the higher level or lower level job.

In the case of the sales job, for example, if you now prefer sales over management, your letter should frame the transition as a move to a role more appropriate for your strengths and interests. If you would like to return to a higher-level position with a new organization, then you have a tougher case to make.

The best thing to do is emphasize the positive impact that you have had historically in that role.

You can also mention what you have learned in your reduced role that would be of value in the higher-level position. As with your resume, don't mention the terms "demotion" or "demoted" in your letters.

Review a Sample

Review a sample cover letter that explains an applicant's transition from a management position to sales.

Cover Letter Example With a Demotion (Text Version)

Sandra Sellers
1234 Archway Avenue, St. Louis, MO 63105
ssellers@email.com
000.123.1234 (C)  
www.linkedin.com/in/SandraSellers

March 8, 2019

Dear Hiring Manager:

It is with much interest and enthusiasm that I am submitting to you my application for the Sales Associate position that has opened at Adornment Boutique.

As an experienced salesperson with eight years’ experience in fashion retail, I can offer you proven customer service talents, innovative merchandising finesse, and a passion for matching clients with premium brands that make them feel beautiful whenever they look in a mirror. I also understand, from my two-year experience supervising others as a store manager for Wonderful Women’s Wear, how important it is for sales associates to demonstrate a dedicated work ethic and an enthusiasm for teamwork.

After this company’s reorganization in 2017 – a blessing in disguise – I was fortunate to be able to transition from management back into sales. At my best when I’m able to focus entirely upon my clients’ needs, I am a strong team member who enthusiastically owns the sales process.

Should you hire me, you would be onboarding a sales associate with a positive attitude, extensive brand knowledge, and a track record of earning customer service and sales awards. Thank you for your time and consideration – I would welcome the opportunity to meet with you for a personal interview, and look forward to hearing from you soon.

Sincerely,

Sandra Sellers   

Get LinkedIn Recommendations

LinkedIn recommendations can help you get your foot in the door with an employer. They can also help alleviate any concerns the hiring manager might have about any aspect of your work history or skill set.

Be sure to line up some recommendations as part of your LinkedIn profile from colleagues who can attest to the value you added in that higher-level job, and include your profile on your resume.

Need some help getting LinkedIn recommendations? The best way to get them is to give them. Just be sure that you would truly recommend this person to an employer. Dishonesty won’t help either of you progress in your careers.

You can also ask outright. Connect with former colleagues, bosses, and clients and ask them if they would write you a LinkedIn recommendation.

Keep it Positive

Never criticize management for your demotion. If you do, employers may think of you as a difficult employee or a troublemaker.

The same goes for the employer as a company. You may think that their management decisions were terrible and their way of doing business unprofessional, but now’s not the time to mention that. If there was a reorganization that eliminated your higher-level position, then you can explain that fact in your letter. Avoid getting into details about how and why the reorganization happened.

Be Prepared to Answer Interview Questions

Regardless of how well you spin it, your demotion will most likely come up during job interviews. Expect to be asked interview questions about being demoted, and have some answers prepared. Rehearse your responses until you can deliver them comfortably and transition to the next topic as soon as possible (without appearing to rush away from the subject).

Again, the key is to be positive and frame the demotion as an opportunity to develop skills and abilities. Don’t criticize the company, your team, or your boss. Focus on the future, and what you can bring to this new opportunity, not on the past.