How to make your career history work with – not against – you

Q: I’ve got past the first two interviews for a major post I am chasing in a new company, and now, as I get ready for the third, they’ve insisted that they want to talk to the general manager of the company where I worked prior to my current role. This causes me a big problem as I did not have a good relationship with this person. In fact, he was the reason I left the company. Various other senior figures within that company would vouch for me, just not the general manager. What should I do? (IK, email).

A: This is a conundrum, and my initial feeling is that you are as well off to face up to it now and see what happens.

Tell them that you and the manager did not have a good relationship. Don’t labour the point. Explaining could amount to losing.

It may well be that they have already got a whiff of that poor relationship from the first two interviews or from some back-channel enquiries they’ve been making. This might be a little test to see how you react to something that doesn’t really suit you.

As you have outlined above, let them know that there are many others within the organisation who valued your work. With their permission, offer the names and contact details of those former colleagues. It is a roll of the dice, but that’s the territory you are in now. If you don’t roll it, the trail is likely to go cold.

It will force the potential new employers then to make a judgement on whose opinions they most value. If you give them three names of senior figures within that company, it shows that you’re not trying to hide anything, particularly as you’ve also been up front about the relationship with the general manager.

In any career, we all experience ups and downs in terms of the relationships we enjoy (or don’t) with our bosses and colleagues. It is fanciful to expect that every single one of them will be full of peace, love and understanding. This is real life, not a fairytale.

I think you owe it to yourself to roll the dice in the way I have specified above.

In so doing, keep it professional. Talk about the role the other managers played in overseeing your work, the reasons why you got on well with them, and, indeed, firm evidence of successes. It sounds like there is an authenticity to those relationships that will shine through when they get talking.

Skilled recruiters – or just good listeners – should be able to read the tea leaves. Life doesn’t always run in straight lines. The glowing testimonies from the three who will speak for you might just outweigh the downer of not being able to summons the general manager to your side right now.

If they dig in and insist it must be the general manager, you could still give his name – having made it clear that the relationship was not good – and take your chances, and perhaps he will be able to offer a mature assessment of your relationship. Additionally, the recruiters/employers will be less likely to take his input as gospel given that you had flagged difficulties: it takes two to tango.


Featured image courtesy of Pixabay.


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