Resume Tips: How to Handle Embarrassing Past Employers

Resume Tips for Job Action Day 2015
While younger workers often wonder how to gain the skills and experience they need in order to get ahead, many older workers worry about both what’s on the horizon and what’s left behind in the dust. If you’ve ever worked for an employer with a name that’s eternally attached to scandal, mismanagement, or insurmountable brand damage, you know what we mean.So how can you sell yourself to employers in the future when you’re weighed down by the past—specifically, by someone else’s mistakes and poor decisions? How can you include this tarnished employer on your resume while keeping your own reputation squeaky clean?  Here are a few moves that can help.

Hit the delete key.

If you can, just omit the embarrassing employer from your record. Take that job you held for a few forgettable years in the 90s and simply delete it from your profile. It’s best to only chronicle the last 10 to 15 years of work history on your resume anyway. If your potential employers ask you to explain the gap in your record, you can do so. But as you explain, you’ll be staying in control of the details you choose to share, and you’ll have an opportunity to clear your name and protect your reputation using your own words.

If you can’t delete, rearrange.

Sometimes deleting an employer from your record isn’t an easy option. For example, if you’ve worked for this company for the past fifteen years or the company is your current employer, simply expunging them from your resume can create serious confusion. So if you can’t delete this name, rearrange the presentation of your work history. List your previous positions by relevance, not chronology (omitting dates along the way). Drop the embarrassing employer to the bottom of the list and focus more on fleshing out your skills and achievements in a separate section not tied to specific job positions.

Clear your name then and there.

If the company is so universally scorned that a simple mention could be poison for your job search, there’s nothing wrong with inserting a line under the employer’s name and your job title that creates a little distance. For example: “Left the company two years before the Johnson scandal” or “Resigned after learning about the company’s illicit activities.” You can also use a phrase like: “No association with the controversial XYZ project.”

Don’t be afraid.

Have faith that your potential employer will keep an open mind and recognize that the wrongdoing of a handful of company decision makers doesn’t necessarily reflect poorly on every single employee. Even if you were an active, unknowing participant in a corrupt system, most potential employers will listen to your side of the story and respect the lessons you’ve learned from the experience. Share those lessons. Nobody is perfect, and if you had known then what you know now, you may have made different decisions. Trust that your future employers will understand this. Regardless of your proximity to the problem, demonstrate your ability to reflect, learn, and grow as a professional and as a person.—This post is part of Job Action Day, an awesome annual movement that looks to empower workers and jobseekers with key insights from industry experts and movers and shakers in the career space. This year’s theme, Act II: Finding Career Satisfaction After 50, looks to give baby boomers and beyond the resources they need to keep moving forward in their work-life journey.Follow #JobActionDay2015 on Facebook and Twitter on 2 November for more great info!