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Coming Clean When Job Hunting

When filling out a job application, individuals should tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

We've all heard the legend about America's first president, George Washington, chopping down a cherry tree when he was a boy. While likely an elaborate fabrication rather than something rooted in fact, the story claimed that young George admitted to chopping down his father's beloved cherry tree with the famed quote, "Father, I Can Not Tell a Lie; I Cut the Tree." Allegedly, George's father was disappointed to see the tree die, but he was proud of his son for telling the truth.

The moral of the story, which rests on the significance of always telling the truth, transcends time, and is just as important in today's tight job market. When interviewing for a job, if you fail to be completely honest about your past, it could cost you in the end.

Employers frequently ask about prior convictions, employment dates, etc. So a little lie or small inconsistencies on a job application could raise red flags for a potential employer. It's better to be upfront (i.e., guilty with an explanation) than try to sweep something under the proverbial rug.

Here are some tips to help you handle various situations during the hiring process and ensure that you're as truthful as young George.

1. Dates of Past Employment

Don't lie about the dates of your past employment. If a hiring agent phones your previous employers and finds even the smallest inconsistency, the employer will start to question what else you might have lied about during the hiring process. Even if you didn't intentionally misreport your employment dates, any errors will reflect negatively on your character.

2. Gaps in Employment History

There may be some logical gaps in your employment history. For example, if you left a job to tend to a sick family member or if you were laid off and couldn't find a new job quickly, you must note these gaps in employment; just be ready to explain them.

As you prepare to clarify your employment gaps, think about how any skills or qualifications you may have developed during that time off make you a better candidate for a particular job. If you counted collection money at your church, for example, it shows you are a trust-worthy, dependable person. Alternatively, if you chaired the book fair at your child's elementary school, it reflects positively on your organizational and management skills because you likely coordinated logistics between the book supplier and school's administration, and led a team of volunteers. Further, if you cared for a sick family member, discuss the planning skills you used to create schedules for required medications, or how your dependability ensured your family member made timely visits to doctors or therapists.

You basically want to show that even though you weren't paid for your work, you kept working on your skills.

3. Criminal Conviction

Many employers perform background checks on potential employees to identify any hidden information that could affect their hiring decision. Alternatively, you may be asked whether you've ever been convicted or charged with a crime on a job application. If you've made mistakes in your past, don't hide them. Instead, be open, honest, and fully prepared to explain your conviction. Admit past mistakes and acknowledge the lessons you've since learned.

Additionally, while an employer may refuse to hire you if you've been criminally convicted, there are still ways to find employment; you may have to work at a lower-level position or just find the right type of job. For example, if you were convicted for stealing from a retail store, don't expect to be hired for a job where you'd have access to a cash register or merchandise. Instead, seek a job that doesn't have anything to do with your conviction to boost your chances of earning employment.

Also, as more time passes between your conviction and when you're looking for employment, your conviction is likely to have less of an impact on a hiring decision - depending on the severity of your crime, of course.

Improve your Chances for Being Hired

If your past keeps getting in the way of you becoming employed, here are some ways to make yourself more marketable to a potential employer:

  • Seek Additional Education. If you don't have a college degree, enroll in some classes. Even taking one class at your local community college or trade school shows a potential employer that you're serious about a particular industry or field of study and are willing to commit to furthering your education. If you do have a college degree, seek advanced education or attend a seminar or conference on a related topic.
  • Volunteer. If you can't get a paid position, boost your skills by volunteering for a company you eventually hope to work for, or in a field you are interested in. Working even a handful of hours each week to hone your skills shows an employer that you're willing to do anything to earn a paid position and that you're making the best use of your time.
  • Don't Give Up. Don't let past failures steer you into more negativity. Looking for a job can be a tiring, challenging process, even for those who on paper seem destined for any job they want. But when you have a past full of employment gaps or even a felony conviction, the challenge of finding a job is exponentially worse. In these cases, it's critical that you don't give up. Keep networking and let everyone know you're looking for a job. Tell your friends to let their friends know you're looking for a job, too. Eventually, something positive will come your way. The important thing is to believe in yourself.

Sometimes people lie during the hiring process about any shadows in their past because they think it'll fast-track them into a position they really want or need. However, once hired, the truth eventually comes out and people are fired on the spot. While coming clean about a shaky past may initially be embarrassing, it's a far better alternative than having something be discovered later. Admit your mistake, and be prepared to explain to a potential employer why you're still the best person for a job. There's no better way to launch a successful career than by just telling the truth.

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