1. Business

Career Q&A: Poor safety record can hurt job search

Published May 15, 2014

Q: I was recently fired for a safety violation because I failed to turn off a circuit breaker when making some repairs. I knew better than to make such a stupid mistake, but I just wasn't paying attention. I received a similar warning several years ago, plus a few small talks about safety procedures in between those events. How can I explain these circumstances when I'm interviewing for another job?

A: The difficulty of describing your termination depends largely on the type of work you are seeking. If the position has no safety responsibilities or hazardous working conditions, interviewers will be less worried about future problems and may therefore be satisfied with a brief explanation.

For example: "Unfortunately, I neglected to follow a required safety protocol. Although no one was harmed, this was a mistake that I should not have made. I have definitely learned my lesson about the importance of carefully following procedures."

But for jobs that are similar to your previous position, the barriers to employment will be much greater. These employers will be concerned about a repeat performance, so your poor safety record may automatically eliminate you from consideration.

All things considered, this might actually be a good time to reassess your chosen career path. For a variety of reasons, people often wander into positions that are a poor match for their temperament or work style. If you are simply not a detail person, jobs requiring meticulous attention to procedure will never be very satisfying.

On the positive side, folks who are less detail-oriented often have strengths in creative problem-solving, big-picture thinking, or interpersonal skills. So as you search for your next opportunity, try to find work that better fits your natural abilities.

Focus on bettering self, not co-worker

Q: I sell women's clothing in a large, upscale department store. One of my associates is an older woman who has been here for 25 years and is consistently the top sales performer. "Joan" bullies her co-workers, behaves badly toward customers, and seems to be subject to a different set of rules than everyone else.

Although management has been told about Joan's abhorrent behavior, nothing is ever done about it. We think they tolerate her horrible conduct because of her age and longevity. What can we do to rein in this out-of-control employee?

A: Your depiction of this situation has more holes than a piece of Swiss cheese. You mention Joan's "abhorrent behavior" and "horrible conduct," but provide no specific examples. You also fail to explain how someone who "behaves badly toward customers" can be the department's best salesperson. And you completely disregard her contribution to the store's financial success.

While Joan may indeed be annoying to co-workers, her support from management is not surprising. In a retail environment, consistently high sales will excuse a multitude of other sins. So instead of focusing on Joan's irritating behavior, try to increase your own leverage by becoming a top producer yourself. If you can develop a more friendly relationship, Joan might even be willing to share some sales tips.

Motivation to work trumps pay question

Q: Six years ago, I left the business where I had worked for 23 years because I just couldn't take it anymore. I held a highly paid position at the time, but I would feel lucky to make half as much now.

During job interviews, I'm not sure what to say if I'm asked about my previous salary. Interviewers probably think I was crazy to leave such a high-paying job, so how do I assure them that a lower salary would be perfectly acceptable?

A: Given your six-year employment gap, most interviewers will assume that you have learned to survive without a hefty paycheck. Their greater concern is likely to be your motivation to work. If you can convince them of your eagerness to rejoin the workforce and your ability to make a meaningful contribution, they should have no trouble accepting your downsized salary requirements.