Q: Is there career redemption? I screwed up big time on the job. Nothing illegal, but very bad professional conduct representing my organization as a senior person. I was fired and I’ve had to work at jobs much lower than my skill set because the internet has a long memory. Will I ever sufficiently “pay the price” and be trusted by a high-quality employer so I can return to that high level work again?
A: A number of high profile people have demonstrated that there is career redemption, and there should be. Depending on others’ perception of how bad the offense was, the sincerity of the offender’s apology, the understanding of the error of their ways, and the extent to which they take responsibility, these can help promote an individual’s ability to move past the error and get hired once more into a trusted capacity. If you can honestly say to yourself, “I recognize my error, I’ve atoned for it, I’ve taken responsibility for it, and nothing like this would ever happen again,” you should be able to present yourself as a viable candidate for a high-quality employer who will want to utilize your full skillset.
Mike Tyson and Robert Downey Jr., and many others, have lived through redemption stories following their own major career and personal mistakes. Reviewing some of the current situations in the headlines, readers can make the distinction between someone who took responsibility for their actions and someone who gets caught up in blaming others. How they reacted to their situations helped define whether or not people could see past their errors and move on.
Going forward in interviews or other opportunities, it’s important that you, your references, or whoever introduces you acknowledges that a challenging situation exists in your past. This is not the kind of news that you want your potential employer to find out on their own after they begin actively considering you as a candidate. This is something to be up front with during live communication, whether it’s at an interview or over the phone. It may be difficult to initiate this information in a conversation – but doing so is the only way to gain trust. You will never be hired if they find out after the fact, and you may even be fired for not disclosing that information in the first place.
If you were able to network your way into an organization, it’s best to have a third party who can vouch for you, your acknowledgement of the error, and that it would never happen again. But in closing the interview, you may need to say, “I need to be candid. Because I respect you and your organization so much, I must bring up a challenging situation. I want to make sure you find out about it from me,” and explain the situation using the guidelines discussed earlier. Ask directly, “Do you think this will impact my candidacy?” It may or may not, but better to deal with it live than not know. And again, the more time that goes by, these things usually do take on less and less depth, if the internet and former colleagues can let it rest.