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Are you going to risk your reputation during your job search?

(BUSINESS ENTREPRENEUR) You feel like your past may be haunting you as you are searching for a new job. Wondering how to manage your reputation? Let’s talk about it.

Woman in interview with concerned expression, perhaps considering her reputation.

We hear all the time about what a small world it really is and that many industries or career paths are close-knit where “everyone knows everyone.” Some may have also been called incestuous. Many recruiters know a lot of people (that’s their job!) and also require references so that they can speak with some of your former colleagues if seriously considering making you an offer. Have you had experiences where you worry if a future employer finds out about it, it may ruin your reputation? Do you fear that no future hiring manager will want you on their team if they hear about some of your mistakes (aka learning experiences)?

Here’s a fairly extreme example from this Reddit post:

“My reputation is ruined. What do I do?

I have struggled with crippling opiate addiction for the past ten years, resulting in being fired from a number of positions that could have led to successful careers. My reputation is absolutely destroyed, and I’m feeling quite hopeless about ever finding another good job. I have since decided to get clean, and have over a month. But I’m still unemployed, with a terrible reputation, and I don’t know what to do. I have a few good references from previous bosses who saw my true potential, but plenty of bad ones as well. What should I do to rebuild my reputation? In my future job search, should I mention my history of addiction or be vague about it? Should I try to go back to school? Should I volunteer? Or should I just give up and accept a miserable dead-end job, or just off myself? Is there any hope? :’(

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Edit: Thank you all for your advice. I never expected to receive so much support. I will continue to work on staying sober. You have all helped me stay positive and I really appreciate that.”

First off, let’s give credit to this person for getting sober (and hoping they continue to have the support to stay on that path – and especially support if they relapse). We are all human and it definitely doesn’t hurt to constantly be reminded of that. There’s lots of well-earned attention on Brené Brown right now who spotlights the need for vulnerability and being your authentic self. Her work is based on research and it’s inspiring and uplifting.

Like most things in life, there has to be a balance in your vulnerability as it relates to job searching. People that are looking to hire us do want to get to know us, but there are some things that they may not need to know right away as they evaluate us for a position. Or things they may never need to know about. There is a balance in sharing things that are too personal as it relates to your professional pursuits.

You may expect that this article suggests that this person be totally honest. Well, it’s not that kind of article. There’s a time and a place for divulging your deepest secrets, and the interview room may not be one of them.

It is important to be your authentic self, but you have to identify what is your professional authentic self. When we are job searching and interviewing, we put on our best and have to be buttoned up and polished.

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As we grow and learn in our careers, there may be a variety of challenges that we feel can possibly tarnish our reputation (not just limited to addiction mentioned above):

  • Bad relationship with a manager
  • A toxic work environment where stress got the best of us
  • Harassment that was not addressed by HR
  • Financial blunders as it relates to personal or professional budgets
  • It just wasn’t the right fit – whatever that means

Here are some thoughts if you worry like our Reddit contributor that your reputation may be tarnished beyond repair:

  1. Is it time to explore a new industry – where the connections are fresh and they won’t know about why you left so many previous positions? If so, you may have to do some Career Exploration on your transferrable skills and how those can take you in a new direction. Or even a new city. The good news is, doors are opening with remote work in our current situation so maybe you can find a new pool of contacts or companies hiring.
  2. Would this be the right time to take what you have learned and help others? Is there a certification or volunteer project that would help you help others that have dealt with your issue? This may help you feel redeemed for why you had to go through that experience.
  3. Utilize LinkedIn to build your network with your advocates or make a simple journal entry of who you worked with in the past that was able to see your potential. These would be great choices for references.
  4. Seek a chat with a friend or even licensed therapist to discuss your situation and forgive yourself. Ultimately if you are holding on to guilt and shame, you won’t allow yourself to move past it and admit that it was full of life lessons. Explore Brené Brown’s work if you need some help in learning more about guilt and shame. They can be very heavy emotions that are also an innate part of being human. We don’t need to eradicate these emotions, we need to acknowledge, accept and MANAGE them.

Often times we are the ones holding ourselves back. It can help to speak with professionals (therapists, recruiters, mentors) to see if the issue is bigger in our head than it really is. And if you need a reminder that we are all human, here it is. Be kind and graceful with yourself.

Erin Wike is a Career Coach & Lecturer at The University of Texas at Austin and owner of Cafe Con Resume. Erin is fueled by dark roast coffee with cream AND sugar, her loving husband, daughter, and two rescue dogs. She is the Co-Founder of Small Business Friends ATX to help fellow entrepreneurs + hosts events for people to live a Life of Yes with Mac & Cheese Productions.

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