- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 29, 2003

THE CAREER TRAIN WRECK

Dear Kate & Dale: A year ago I left my employer of three years to become a bookkeeper for a family-owned business. I noticed the owners were pocketing cash sales and were collecting sales tax they were not reporting. I eventually confronted one owner about it. Shortly thereafter I was let go. Now my resume is a train wreck. I look like a professional job-hopper. I can’t seem to let go of the anger and resentment I have toward these people. — Joy

DALE: Wait, Joy, this is no train wreck; you just got on the wrong train, and now you’ve gotten back off. Thinking it’s a “wreck” will make it so. All applicants have a weakest point in their job candidacies, and if you obsess about yours, your performance in networking, applications and interviews will be clouded. As the spiritual teacher Paramahansa Yogananda pointed out, if you crush a flower, it leaves its scent in your hand. It’s just as true that if you keep holding onto your bitterness — it leaves its odor.

KATE: Speaking of odors, I once worked for a firm engaged in illegal practices. I headed their New York office, running a staff of 70. Because I have a decent business background, I noticed that their biggest contract seemed as though it would never make money. Curious to know what I was missing, I asked about it, and was told, “Don’t ask.” Then they fired me. After I was settled in a new job, the news of their illegalities broke in the front pages of The New York Times. I watched from afar as the company self-destructed. One person committed suicide, and others ended up in jail. Looking back, I was grateful they fired me.

DALE: When you’re asked about your former employer, Joy, just say, “It was a family business, and I wasn’t family.” They’ll understand. T hen talk about the sorts of professional places where you have thrived. If you walk in remembering your successes, that’s what they’ll remember about you when you walk out.

***

Dear Kate & Dale: I left my last job more than 18 months ago due to a conflict with upper management. I moved to another state and have had many interviews, but no callbacks. Is there a way I can find out if my former employer is telling prospective employers not to hire me? — Warren

KATE: Sure, Warren, just have a friend call your former employer and pretend to be interested in hiring you. Then you’ll know.

DALE: However, we know this much already: Your former employer is NOT the problem, Warren — or at least not the only one. Many employers don’t check your references, and many who do don’t bother to check until you’ve had multiple interviews. If you’ve had a lot of first interviews and no second ones, the odds are infinitesimal that it’s an old boss that’s undermining all those possible jobs. So instead of stooping to have a friend pretend to be checking references, I’d have a friend — or better yet, a job-search coach — do mock interviews with you, searching for any problems. It might be that what you say about your former boss has the effect of GIVING YOURSELF A BAD REFERENCE.

KATE: However, if there is no bad reference, then the call to the old employer would merely force Warren to address other issues. And it doesn’t require “stooping” — after all, companies place mock job ads just to test the state of the job market or do interviews when the job is already committed. It’s part of the game. Further, if the former manager is saying bad things, Warren can prepare a counterstrategy. First, he can ask him or her to stop, or figure out a way to avoid using the reference. Then, if nothing else, Warren can say about the troublesome boss, “He/she says negative things about everyone.” Doing so, the hiring managers will not expect to hear good things and will somewhat discount that call.

***

Kate Wendleton is the founder of The Five O’Clock Club, a national career-counseling network (www.fiveoclockclub.com). Her books include “Targeting the Job You Want” (3rd Edition, Career Press, $13). Dale Dauten is the founder of The Innovators’ Lab. His latest book is “The Laughing Warriors: How to Enjoy Killing the Status Quo.” Please write to them in care of King Features Syndicate, 888 Seventh Ave., New York, NY 10019, or via www.dauten.com for e-mail.

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