Skeletons in Your Closet: Coming Clean (or Not) in an Interview

Whether you’re a recent graduate or a seasoned professional, you may have something unsavory in your past — at least insofar as a recruiter or human resources director is concerned. Honesty is a good policy, overall, but is it always in your interest to solicit certain unsavory information in the midst of an interview?

Sharon Jautz, an HR expert who has worked with Media Bistro, TheLadders.com, and WashingtonPost.com, weighs in on whether you should let your skeletons out of the closet during an interview — or not.

1. If You Did the Crime…

If you’ve committed a crime, it could affect your future employment potential. However, says Jautz, “As I recall, you are asked only if you have ever been convicted of a felony — not a misdemeanor. Additionally, just because you have a felony conviction, it does not necessarily mean you won’t get the job.” She advises, “If I were applying to be a chauffeur and had a DUI conviction, that would likely show up on a background check, so it’s best to get out in front of it and assure the prospective employer that it happened long ago, it was only once, etc.”

Jautz, who has worked at major media companies, including Conde Nast and Forbes, acknowledges that she once dealt with a temp-to-perm employee who, after four years on the job, came to her with tears in his eyes, saying, “I have to tell you something and you’re going to have to fire me.” Jautz asked him, “What did you do? Rob a bank?” The employee admitted, “Yes, I did.” Despite concealing this (by then) long-ago transgression, Jautz, after consulting with her legal department and CEO, decided to keep on this now-valued employee.

2. Yes, Yes, Yes…

There are a lot of very good reasons to go to rehab. In fact, there probably aren’t any bad ones. Whether it is for chemical or emotional reasons, nearly 743,000 persons become patients at rehabilitation facilities in last year, according to the 2009 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.. But if you’re gone for several months or more, how might you explain this disappearing act on your resume? You may not have to, directly. There’s nothing to be ashamed of, but if you want to keep your interview on point and professional, you may choose not to address your recovery at this time.

“So long as you were not released from your last job due to the addiction, and your past treatment won’t affect the new, proposed job, I am not really certain this needs to be disclosed, personally.” Further, she says, “Recovering addicts are protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act.”

3. The Dish on Digital Dirt…

Perez Hilton. Gawker. The Huffington Post. Twitter. Many of these sites have been the incubators for very public feuds involving, at times, not-so-public figures. Regardless of who fueled the fires of scandal, they burned ? and oftentimes a formerly private professional figure has been thrust into the spotlight. If this happened to you, should you address it?

Jautz says, “This actually happened to a friend of mine who got slammed on a blog and was told the author was protected by the first amendment. Unless this is really huge, I don’t see it coming up in an interview. Keep in mind, though, that as you become more senior in an industry, it’s probably a good practice to search for your name on search engines every now and again and see what’s out there.”

4. There’s Smoke, and Then There’s Fired…

An online feud or scandal may seem easier to put out than the fact that you’ve been terminated by an employer for poor performance. But, like the housing market, employers are softening their stance on this.

“This used to be a huge no-no. Now, it’s seen as more of a non-meeting of the minds. As ‘not a good fit.’ Or, simply, a poor hiring decision. Depending on what the performance issue was, you can get out in front of it that way. A friend of mine was hired with years of experience, yet, was micromanaged out of the gate to the point of not being challenged at all. She and her employer mutually agreed that this was not the role for her.”

5. Deep Background Doesn’t Always Stay in the Background…

What will a background check reveal? What WON’T a background check reveal! According to Jautz, who often scans a resume in 15 seconds, “Everything is discoverable! If you have something serious in your background, don’t let six interviews go by before it comes up. It looks — and is — concealing and disingenuous.

“Above all, never lie. I’ve passed on hiring a handful of people, who, not expecting a background check, indicated they’d had a college degree when none had.”

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interview, jobsearch