How to Explain a Demotion on Resume & Cover Letter

How to Explain a Demotion on Resume & Cover Letter

Everybody dreams of climbing the corporate ladder, receiving promotions, and fabulous hikes. When you look to change jobs, these promotions and hikes are laurels for you to flaunt in your resume and cover letter to show your prospective employer that you not only get the job done but get it done well. But what do you do when you have to explain a demotion in a resume or a cover letter?

Demotions can be of any kind: one where your employer asks you to step down due to reasons such as organizational restructuring or downsizing; or a voluntary demotion. While it might seem crushing at the time, the truth also is that demotions are no longer the career killers they once were. However, the question remains, how do you explain this step-down in career to a prospective employer?

What is the best way to explain a demotion to recruiters and hiring managers? How can you get them to focus on your skills and abilities and not zero in on this blip in your professional track record?

It is important to remember that not all career trajectories are similar. Often employees opt for jobs with less responsibility in light of personal developments or are asked to step down to a lower status due to companies downsizing or some other unforeseen circumstances. How you choose to explain this in your resume can help smooth over the rough edges and cut down the negative impact when you are hunting for your next job.

What is Demotion at Work?

Demotions are a mandatory lowering of an employee’s rank or title. These can happen either because an employer mandates it (either due to non-performance by an employee, less than satisfactory results, or if an organization is undergoing restructuring or is looking to lay off people), or it could be voluntary (when an employee wishes to take a step back in their roles either due to personal or professional reasons. In the event, an employee requests a demotion it is also referred to as a deployment.

How to show Demotion on Resume

While it is important to stay honest in your resume and cover letter (fudging facts never got anyone anywhere), it is also true that you do not need to spell out a demotion to hiring managers when applying for a job. It is imperative that you are careful about listing your work. You have to be smart about the way you present your track record in order to get a potential employer to focus on your strengths and achievements instead.

Fortunately, it is possible to explain a demotion on your resume and cover letter in a way that makes you look like an asset for the position.

Here are some tips:

1. Emphasize Your Transferable Skills : If you are moving into a non-managerial position, your new employer will be looking for skills that are different than what they would expect from a manager. It’s important to make sure that every bullet point in your work history explains how the skills you learned would benefit your next company.

2. Don’t Downplay the Role : You might be embarrassed about the change in job titles, but you don’t want to downplay your previous experience just because it wasn’t at the highest level of management. The title of “Manager” doesn’t necessarily mean you were responsible for hiring and firing or even running the business; there are plenty of important managerial tasks that don’t involve those activities that prove you can contribute significantly to any company as an employee.

3. Be Honest About it : The best way to write about a demotion in your resume is by mentioning the many things that you learned from it. If possible, try to find out why was the demotion necessary. Was it due to reasons beyond your control? For example, if the firm faced a financial crunch and had to let go off employees or change their job profile, then mention this reason for the demotion.

Mention clearly how you were able to cope up with this demotion and how it helped you gain new skills and knowledge.

4. Use Alternatives : A great way to minimize the impact of a demotion is to change the narrative around it. Be careful not to use the term demotion or demoted instead use one of these alternatives to “demotion” on your resume:

  • Relocated
  • Reassigned
  • Transferred

You can also Opt for phrases such as “transition in roles” or “new opportunities”.

Examples to Show Demotion on your Resume

Example 1: Use the Time Umbrella

For example, if you were demoted from being an executive assistant to becoming an executive admin, don’t just list both jobs as separate entities, list them collectively under one big time umbrella: Executive Admin at Big Time Company. Then down below, instead of writing your dates next to each job title, write that you’ve held those positions since [insert year here]. That will paint a picture of longevity and show how much you’ve contributed without having to spell out dates for every position.

Explain Demotion on a Resume Example

If you are directly asked about it in an interview, this is where your skillful salesmanship comes into play. Reiterate your contributions to the company and explain how you’ve grown as a professional in order to make yourself more marketable within the company and outside it. If they still are confused about why you were demoted, explain exactly what happened and make sure to emphasize any positive outcomes from the experience.

Example 2: Use a Chronological Format

When structuring your resume use a chronological format where your most recent work experience comes first. List your former position first and place the new position below it; this way the dates themselves will not signal a demotion. For instance, if you worked at Firm ABC from 2015 to 2019 and received your demotion in 2019 title your entry as Firm ABC: 2015 to present. List your previous designation first and under that the new designation.

As is the norm, use bullet points to describe your responsibilities under each role. While doing so place more weight on the responsibilities you held before you were demoted.

Sample Resume Explaining a Demotion

Full Name
Contact information (include your mailing address, phone number, email address and LinkedIn)

Professional Summary: Summarise your professional background here as succinctly as possible. You could begin by introducing yourself as Dependable/Creative/ Detail Oriented Professional (insert job title) with X (number of years) years of experience in the ABC industry (the industry you are working in). Throw in a line about your professional accomplishment here (helped increase company revenue/broke X number of stories/ landed X number of deals etc). Looking to join ABC (company name here) to ensure XYZ goal (could be hitting a sales target/achieving customer satisfaction/exploring prompt project delivery etc).

Professional experience (list your previous jobs in reverse chronology)

ABC company (2015 to present)
Previous designation
Present designation
● Include bullet points here, highlighting your role at this job, any achievements, mention if you’ve mentored a team, hit sales targets, implemented a new system, etc.
● While you list out your responsibilities at these roles you held there focus more on the responsibilities and achievements in your previous designation.
● You could also choose to politely convey that you “transitioned” to a new role.

Explaining a Demotion in a Cover Letter

While it is wise to not throw undue attention on a demotion, the fact remains that you simply cannot completely gloss over the fact that you were demoted. You could, however, refer to it smartly. For instance, you could always refer to the demotion as a move to fit into a role better suited to your strengths and interests.

In a cover letter how you address the transition will depend on the position you are applying for — whether it is a higher designation or for a similar position. One of the best ways to take the focus away from the role transition is to emphasize the positive impact you have had in that role. Be careful not to use the terms demotion or demoted in any of your letters.

Sample Cover Letter Explaining a Demotion

Dear Hiring Manager (insert name here, always try to personalize your letter)

An Introduction with Impact (Try and make this as creative as you can to catch a recruiter’s attention. But don’t forget to include important details such as who you are, your area of expertise, how you came across the job posting, and why you want to apply.)

A Powerful Body (The body of a cover letter should describe how your employment history, experience, and skillsets will fit the bill for the current job opening. Don’t forget to include phrases and terms from the job description when you do this. You can also make a bulleted list with your accomplishments. Don’t forget to add numbers in these bullet points to quantify your claims. Explain how you can work towards helping the company achieve its goals and vision. Reiterate why you might be the right fit for the position they are looking to fill. This is also where you insert the bit about your “role transition”. A sample of how you can present this transition in a smart manner.) In my 10-month experience as supervisor at ABC Company, I realized how important it is for sales associates to demonstrate dedication, work ethic, and team spirit.

Explaining Demotion : When the company underwent a restructuring in 2019, I was fortunate to be able to transition from a managerial role to sales once again. This allowed me to focus on my clients’ needs and discover that I am a strong team member. This transition allowed me to understand that to be a better manager, I needed to take a step back and build my sales and administration skills. Having done that over the past year, I am now ready to take on a larger role.

A Strong Conclusion (Here, inform the hiring manager that you’re keen on getting interviewed and that you will reach out within a given period of time in case you don’t hear from them. Leave your contact information and thank them for perusing your application.
Your Name


Key Takeaways

As stated earlier, sure a demotion can be a blow when one is looking to scale the corporate ladder. However, it need not be the end of the road or perceived as professional rejection. If anything, it is an opportunity to polish your skills and be the best version of yourself. Make sure you present this “role transition” as just that and assure a prospective employer that you are more than ready to take on additional responsibilities despite any speed bumps you might have hit on your journey here.

Presentation is key; so when you style your resume and cover letter keep in mind that you do not need to sound apologetic about any demotion that you might have had in your professional past. Find a way to make it sound like a transition that allowed you to better yourself and add to your skill sets. There is no reason why a couple of years down the line this demotion might only seem like a minor blip in an otherwise fulfilling career.


How to explain a step down in your career?

The best way to explain a step down in a career is by being honest about it. Don’t fudge facts, it will only lead to a whole other problem. The truth usually emerges during background checks and that could put you at a huge disadvantage. When addressing a demotion in resume & cover letter be brief and avoid dwelling on it. Prepare an explanation for it and try to focus on the positive while making a compelling bid for you to be hired.

How to address a demotion?

While it is important to let a prospective employer know that you did have a switch in roles, there is no need to dwell on it and attract too much attention to it. Use terms such as “transition in roles”, or “switch in profiles” when referring to a demotion. List your strengths and achievements under each of the roles to highlight that you have been a contributing team member with valuable skill sets. Let an employer know that you have come back stronger and better equipped from this debacle.

Related Resume & Cover Letter Articles