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What to do when the past haunts your job search

Ways to control or fix the damage that could hurt your careerImage Credit: Supplied

Making a wrong choice in your career can be devastating, particularly if that mistake lingers and haunts you in your future job searches.

Have you been fired for an ethical issue? Have you been through litigation where your integrity in relation to your job has been in question? Do your online service reviews overflow with warnings? Are your previous employers reluctant to recommend you for a job? This kind of trouble shouldn’t be overlooked, and if you’re serious about changing course and starting a new chapter in your career, you must begin to control the damage right away.

Based on the scale and magnitude of your past mistake, you may find yourself cornered with no choice except to tackle this problem head on until you’re able to get a new lease of life that may be in the form of getting a new job.

Here are a few tactics that you can employ.

Don’t conceal the problem

You may be aware that with today’s easy access to information, your background will probably come to light faster than you like. That is why whether your past troubles are known in the industry or not, you must be open about them with future employers. Explain what happened and also explain why your change of course is realistic and can be taken seriously. The more candid you are, the more likely you will get — eventually — an employer who is willing to take a chance on you. You pledges should come with a full backing of actual steps that you’ve taken to correct past problems.

Clean up the mess

In professional scandals, word of mouth hurts most, but that is not everything. Today, angry employers, customers and business contacts vent online. Employers who are looking for more information about your past may come across a variety of accusations that may go well beyond the truth. You don’t want that as you’re trying to turn a page.

Although it may be difficult to reach out to every single person who posted a negative review or experience with you, try to at least get to the ones who appear on top of the search results and try to make amends. An apology and an explanation of how you’re trying to make things right can go a long way. Even your efforts to reach out can be sufficient for some to take the high road and take down their posts.

Get a makeover

Many people may be hurt by problems that they had nothing to do with. If your company has been accused of fraud, for example, you may not have escaped unscathed. The best strategy to salvage your image is to associate with better company. Join industry circles and donate your time for good work like training and community initiatives, among others. Before you know it, your past will begin to become a distant memory for many, and new experiences will become your reality in the eyes of the collective industry.

If you were the one who got in trouble with ethical issues or otherwise, taking such a course may be difficult, but not impossible. The most important first step is to convince whoever is in charge of your sincere intention to change course and give you a second chance.

Rebuilding bridges

On a much smaller scale, you may be struggling to get a new job because of a work experience that turned sour with a previous employer. Your failure to secure a good reference with that employer may continue to remain a hurdle. In such a situation, you have two choices: First, bite the bullet and reach out to that employer and try to make things civil. The second choice is to make a good argument to future employer about how you now realise what went wrong and you’ve learnt a harsh lesson.

The second approach may be appreciated by employers who see your personal and professional development in that statement. By doing so, you also can explain why you’d rather avoid providing that employer as a reference.

Because many industry circles are small, rebuilding bridges can be advantageous in controlling any future damage. But it may be easier to wait and see when the time is right. Approaching previous employers who weren’t left on good terms is difficult, and you must be careful not to start another round of problems that surely will hurt you while you’re looking for a new job. 

Source: Rania Oteify, Special to

The writer is a former Gulf News Business features editor, is a Seattle-based editor.