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Why do applications ask for a reason for leaving? Will it look bad if I refuse to answer the question “May we contact your past employer?”


Dear Donna,

Why do applications ask for a reason for leaving if your past employer cannot say anything bad about you anyway? Will it look bad if I refuse to answer the question, “May we contact your past employer?” If I am asked about gaps in employment, can I say
“job searching”?

Filling Out Applications

Dear Donna replies:

Dear Filling Out Applications,

When a prospective employer asks about why you left your last job, they are looking for information: Did you resign? Were you laid off? Were you fired? Did you relocate? There are many reasons people leave jobs.

If asked if they can contact your past employer and you say ‘no,’ it will raise some red flags unless it is because that employer went out of business or something similar. They often want to contact a previous employer just to verify you actually worked there since some people might falsify applications and resumes. But if you left on bad terms, were fired or other challenging circumstances, you can’t be certain what will be revealed. It is true that most employers will only verify employment dates these days.

Regarding gaps in employment and depending on how long and how often those gaps were, you might say, “seeking new position,” “personal/family circumstances” and/ or “pursuing higher education” if any of those pertain to your situation.

If you have a problematic work history, you might want to consult with a nurse career coach (as opposed to a non-nurse coach) to help you work through those issues. Find a nurse career coach by asking around, doing an Internet search or getting a referral from your state chapter of the American Nurses Association (, whether or not you are a member.

Read “Picking up the pieces of your career” ( for more useful tips to get your career back on track.

Best wishes,


About Author

Donna Cardillo, RN, MA, well-known career guru, is’s “Dear Donna” and author of “Your First Year as a Nurse: Making the Transition from Total Novice to Successful Professional” and “The ULTIMATE Career Guide for Nurses: Practical Advice for Thriving at Every Stage of Your Career.” Information about the books is available at and, respectively. To ask Donna your question, go to Find a “Dear Donna” seminar near you: Call 800-866-0919 or visit http://www.

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