Telling a Difficult Story

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Many jobseekers have a back story that makes it challenging to compete for jobs. If you’re one of them, having been fired from a former job, having personal or financial problems, or having a criminal background, the idea of handling the story in an interview is probably keeping you up at night.

Career coaches tell us that there is a formula for success in telling a difficult back story.  One thing everyone agrees on is that you must be truthful about what happened.  Never, under any circumstances, lie about your background on an application or in an interview.  Employers may give you a chance if you share your story openly and appropriately, but they will almost certainly fire you for lying to get the job.  Being up front is better for you, too, even if you get passed over for the job.  It’s better to be turned down at the beginning than to worry about being discovered for months or years on the job – no one would want that hanging over their head every day at the office.

Once you decide to disclose your story, there are some general rules that will help your case with a potential employer.  First, keep it short.  Practice telling your story until you can include only the essential facts.  No long lead up, no messy and excruciating details, and no rambling excuses; just the facts.  “I went through a difficult divorce, and would up having to file personal bankruptcy.”  “I committed a crime when I was 20 and wound up serving a 15 month sentence.”  Make it as brief as you can.  Follow it up with “It’s painful to discuss it, but I know you’d want to know. I will answer any questions you feel you need to ask.”

Here are some things that will not help you when you tell your story:

  • How it wasn’t your fault
  • How evil, wrong and unfair the other parties were
  • Talking about other issues that won’t affect your employment – stick to what matters right now.

Here are some things that will help your case:

  • Taking responsibility and expressing regret: “I know it was a foolish move, and I feel very bad about the effect it had on my family and my career.”
  • Talking about what you learned: “I made it a point to enroll in financial planning classes, and now work from a strict family budget.  My personal finances are finally under control.”
  • Talking about what will happen if you get a second chance: “I am working hard to convince a company to take a chance on me.  I plan to make that chance count as a new start for my career.”

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