…Successful jobseekers use to cover up their chequered past you’ll wish you tried years ago. Applying for work is no time for over-sharing.
- Know when less is more
Over-sharers be warned, you never need to share your date of birth or whether you have children or had health problems until you’ve actually been offered the job. Just don’t give recruiters the chance to treat you unfairly. Same goes for a criminal record unless the law requires you to disclose it, although some bosses ask and might accuse you of lying if they’re going to do a check later. If it doesn’t affect how you’ll do the job, try to keep that info to yourself. What the head doesn’t know, the heart doesn’t worry about, right?
- Get your story straight
There may come a time when your new boss finds out what you’re hiding, so plan what you’re going to say before that day. If you had a stack of sick days in your previous job, was it for real health reasons? If so, explain what it was and why you’re sure things will be better now. If not, try not to say it was because you hated your boss or you were stressed – don’t spook your manager now – but maybe you can say the job didn’t fit but this time it’s different. If a criminal record comes to light, be clear how life has changed now and what support you have around you
- Have a plan
Some people understand the triggers of problems they’ve had in the past. Undue stress might have led to anxiety attacks or using drugs may have led to petty theft, for example, so have the help in place and a strategy for dealing with anything that could lead to history repeating. When asked you can talk about what you’re doing to prevent any future problems and turn that into a real character strength. Former drug users who successfully find work have recognised the discipline, determination and ability to ask for help that it took to turn the corner as proof they’d be a good member of the team
- Know the law
Employers are not allowed to show bias on the grounds of age or disability. (In fact, there are nine kinds of status protected under law: Age, disability, sex, sexuality, transgender status, race, faith, marital or parental status.) You can challenge any question asked about these anywhere through the recruitment process. There are campaigns like ‘Ban the Box’, calling on employers to only ask about criminal convictions if it’s relevant to the job, but this is voluntary on the part of the company. If you’re struggling, the law often demands that bosses make ‘reasonable adjustments’ and even if it doesn’t, good bosses will try to provide the help you might need if it doesn’t disrupt the day job too much
- Pour water under the bridge
Once you’re in a job, if you are worried a skeleton may fall out of the closet, work your hardest to prove yourself. Make sure you’re the person in the team that people would miss if anything were to happen. We all deserve a new start sometimes and if we get that chance, be a different person so your past doesn’t matter any more. Be the person you want to be… or the one you promised to be at interview, at least
- Ask for help
The key to independence is knowing when it’s okay to ask for help. When and how can be different for different people but if anything is affecting your performance at work, until you ask your manager for help, they can only judge you on how well the job is getting done. Take comfort from the fact that it will cost a lot to replace you, so they should want to keep you if possible. Most bosses are only human and will want to help if you say you need it. Maybe all your manager can do is be flexible while you get help outside of work, with a health issue, for example. Don’t squander this help though, find the support you need and do your bit to get on top of things
- Talk. And listen
There is advice online for just about anything we might come up against, just be sure it’s not crackpot advice you’re reading. (With everything online, check what people tell you.) But maybe you need something local or specific to you, so you might need to talk to an adviser in the real world. If you find advice, listen to it and follow it up. In some cases, though, just talking might help. Hearing yourself ask the questions out loud might help you realise you know the answers already. A trusted friend might work, or someone trained and paid to listen
Jeff Mitchell is editor of Quids in! magazine and also runs Clean Slate Training & Employment, helping long-term unemployed people into work. His book, I’m Ready, 7 signs that show you’re right for the job, was published in 2016.