I happen to be posting this article on Halloween, so I thought this would be a great day to talk about how to handle skeletons that might be in your closet, especially when it comes to job search.
This blog originated from a video that’s posted on my YouTube Channel; here’s a quick link to this video if you’d rather watch it (and we have some fun graphics on this one, so check it out if you can): https://youtu.be/iEJjjiU6i-c
What do I mean by skeletons? Well, I’ll give you some examples that I’ve seen very recently. I had a guy who wasn't able to start his new job on time because the day before his start date the background check company said they still hadn’t been able to verify his education. He had a very legitimate reason for it that he then explained. It seems when he was in college his car was stolen and it was left somewhere on campus and accumulated tons parking tickets. Obviously not his fault, but the school will not release any verification of his degree until he pays all the parking tickets! He’s working with an attorney to get this figured out, but that doesn’t change the fact that he wasn't able to start work on time and his explanation had to be verified.
Other skeletons could include things like like getting fired from a previous job, or if you were arrested for something, or even something seemingly minor, like if you know a former employer will say that you’re not eligible for rehire, that could be a skeleton that could bite you.
Well first, I can tell you that the way NOT to handle it, and that is to just hope that nobody will ask. Someone WILL ask, and if you have to explain yourself after it appears you’ve been caught, it’s going to looking like you’re just covering your tracks.
The key is to get out ahead of it and mention it before it’s an issue.
I had another guy who was fired from a previous job, but it was from a major consulting company who has been known for firing people in the midst of major layoffs. I don’t know if it saves them money on severances or why they do it, it’s very unfortunate, but it happens. This guy had great references from that company, and is very talented, but the fact that he was terminated didn’t come up until 2 days prior to his start date; prior to that he presented it to us that his contract at that company had simply ended.
So as he tried to explain AFTER the background check company asked about it, it looked like he was trying to talk his way out of it, which didn’t work, and he never ended up starting for that company. Whereas if he had just mentioned it up front, ‘hey, you know I used to work for this company, and you know they do this right? Just want to let you know because it’s probably going to come up, but I’ve got great references from my team there.” Well then when it comes up and HR sees it, now it’s “oh yeah, he told us about that” and they’ve already made a decision about it because you were honest about it up front.
If you know a company will say you’re not eligible for rehire, do you have good references from that company? Make sure you use them. Make sure the references are asked if they personally would want to work with you again. And of course, make sure you know the answer to that before you tell employers to ask your references that question.
The guy I mentioned earlier with the parking tickets, he has a degree, and we sent in the copy of his diploma and information proving it to the company, but if we would have known ahead of time, we could have taken care of this before it was an issue.
So the secret to handling skeletons in your closet, is to make sure YOU are the one to open your closet door.
If THEY open the door and see a skeleton, it’s going to freak them out, but if you go to the door first and tell them, ‘Listen, I’ll open this door, but just so you know, there’s a skeleton in here, but don’t worry, he’s harmless.’ Then they won’t be taken by surprise and they’ll be ready.
I hope it's understood that you don’t want to open that door on the first interview. If they ask why you left an employer, be honest if you were terminated, but you don't need to explain your parking tickets in a first interview. Those are better explained once you know there is a sincere interest from the employer and background checks are starting.
Once you see they’re ready to start searching the closets, YOU need to lead that search. Remember, skeletons don’t have to be so scary, and they don’t have to stop you from getting the job you want. You can do this. Now, it's time to get to work.