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Don't let your job history derail your prospects

Being prepared for the start of a new job is important for your success and in making a great first impression. But if you have some flaws in your records, it might negatively affect your employability. Don't let your history derail your new job. Here are some potential problems — and some ideas on how to deal with the skeletons in your closet now to eliminate unpleasant surprises and allow you to focus on the job.

Your resume isn't exactly about what you did.

Stretching the truth about your work experience, education or skills is common, and a company with a good HR department confirms key elements of every resume. Claiming awards or credit for work you did not earn may be discovered when the company calls your previous employers.

Prevent this potential embarrassment by calling your business references and reviewing your work history with them of when you were hired, your overall record, if you were laid-off or fired and the real reason you left that job. Call your personal references to confirm how long they have known you. Tell them you are interviewing and they may be called by your future employer.

Hint: Some companies ask your references for others who might know you or worked with you. Tell all your friends you are in job-search mode so there are no surprises. You could provide your references with the names and phone numbers of other individuals who would give positive information about you.

You burned bridges with a prior employer.

If you were "terminated for cause" such as poor job performance, attendance issues, workplace disruption or other actions, identify that issue during your interview and what you learned from it. If it was your fault, acknowledge it. Avoid blaming anyone else for your failure to perform. If you discuss the problem honestly during the interview, the hiring official may dismiss this skeleton as a one-time event.

Hint: Many companies provide only the hire and termination dates and your job title to avoid possible legal hassles with former employees. A good HR representative will ask your former employer if they would hire you again. Their simple reply of "Yes" or "No" provides a strong indication of how you performed with that company and may make or break you with the hiring company. Be prepared to address any issues that might result from calling prior employers.

Find someone who worked with you and can provide positive comments about you as a professional referral. You might also call that supervisor who fired you. They may be persuaded to give neutral comments rather than negative. A little humility may go a long way.

You didn't answer all the relevant questions on your application.

An application is a miniresume on your background with several personal questions. One important question not answered or answered incorrectly is whether the applicant was convicted of a felony such as theft, assault or possession of illicit drugs. Many companies conduct a standard criminal background check, and a wrong answer will be an instant end to any job offer.

There is controversy in the HR community on asking applicants whether they were ever arrested or convicted of a crime and, in some states, it is not permissible to ask one or both of those questions or use them to disqualify a candidate. Some companies do hire applicants with criminal records and believe in giving a second chance. An applicant who demonstrates a good work ethic and positive attitude might be able to overcome a criminal conviction. It's better to identify a conviction than to have your employer discover it.

The company is a drug-free workplace, but you smoked a little weed last week.

Even though the company's application form states the company does not tolerate drug use and that a drug test is a "condition of employment," many job applicants still complete the forms and go through the interview just to be disqualified by the drug test before they start work.

The drug test is usually conducted by a local walk-in clinic, and they will identify whether someone used another person's specimen or tries to mask drug use through home elixirs. The test results are seldom challenged but may allow a retest, usually at cost to the applicant. In most cases, that does not mean the applicant can submit a new sample several days later. The lab usually will split the specimen and retest the unused sample.

It's important that you identify for the walk-in clinic any prescription medications you currently are taking. You don't have to tell that to the hiring company, but the physician who runs the tests may get a "false positive" from a prescription drug and that may disqualify you. Ensure that you provide a phone number where you can be reached by the clinic's physician as they will call you first with questions. If you don't return their call, they will then notify the company of a "positive result."

Hint: Most tests can uncover illicit drug use up to two weeks after use. Also, don't try the excuse that you were at a party where someone else was smoking marijuana.

Your credit score is just below your weight.

More companies now use credit reports to identify applicants who are struggling with finances as a potentially risky employee. If you are interviewing for a position requiring any handling of money such as sales or bookkeeping, or would have access to inventory or equipment, the company wants to know that you are trustworthy and honest.

If you are having financial problems, do not volunteer any information unless it's asked, and only if it is relevant to the job. A company in compliance with federal law will need your written permission to perform a credit check. Remember that your credit rating refers to your credit worthiness at a point in time. Your credit history will show a variety of historical information on credit extended to you, vendors you have used and paid over time, when a company requested information on your credit (usually credit card companies and lending institutions), where you lived, and other relevant data about you.

Hint: Get your free annual credit report online and ensure that the data is correct. Contact the credit agency in writing if you find errors and get them corrected.

You always use Uncle Bob's Social Security card.

The company needs your valid identification to hire you as an employee, and that includes identification that shows you are eligible to work in the United States and a photo identification. The company must see and record data on the federal I-9 form from your documents such as a Social Security card (yours), birth certificate, military ID, passport or driver's license. Without those documents, the company can be fined by the federal government if they allow you to work.

Hint: You can contact the city hall of your birthplace to request copies of your birth certificate. The Social Security Administration will issue you a replacement card at no cost and may provide a temporary application card you can use.

You have 11 points on your driving record, all for speeding.

If the job requires you to drive a company vehicle or your own vehicle as part of your employment, there's a good chance you won't be hired after the company or its auto insurance carrier runs a motor vehicle records check. However, if the job does not require you to operate a vehicle, your driving record should not matter to the company.

Hint: Take an approved driver-training and defensive-driving course if you can knock off some points. Many of the courses are now offered online and may result in points not being assessed against you. If you're that poor of a driver, it probably is worthwhile for your health and job security.

Your academic record shows you majored in partying.

If you are newly out of school, it may be worthwhile to work on improving your skills through self-study, online courses or even auditing a course. Your work inexperience is obvious, but community work and part-time jobs show energy and commitment. Improve yourself in any way possible and be a self-starter. That admirable trait may get you a job despite the toga parties.

Your skills are rusty and you hope they'll retrain you.

Don't wait to be hired to renew your skills. Get current via the Internet or library, or practice your skills if you've been out of work. Be at the top of your game, and if your skills are that exceptional, don't let them diminish through lack of use.

Retired Col. Irv Dupre is the COO of Davron Staffing Inc., a Tampa recruitment firm specializing in the placement of engineers, geologists, architects, IT managers and programmers, and finance/accounting managers. He can be reached Or go to for more information.

Don't let your job history derail your prospects 11/27/10 [Last modified: Saturday, November 27, 2010 3:30am]
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