How to Explain a Demotion in a Resume and Cover Letter

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Looking for a new job is doubly tough 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. 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 straight up. 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 impact 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. 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.

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 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.

Get LinkedIn Recommendations

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

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 should explain that fact in your letter – without getting into details about how and why the reorg 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.