Ask the Headhunter: Will a DUI in my background cost me a job?

BY Nick Corcodilos  April 1, 2014 at 11:28 AM EST
A DUI doesn't have to end your job prospects. Photo by Chris Ryan/Caiaimage via Getty Images.

A DUI doesn’t have to end your job prospects. Photo by Chris Ryan/Caiaimage via Getty Images.

Nick Corcodilos started headhunting in Silicon Valley in 1979, and has answered over 30,000 questions from the Ask The Headhunter community over the past decade.

In this special Making Sense edition of Ask The Headhunter, Nick shares insider advice and contrarian methods about winning and keeping the right job, on one condition: that you, dear Making Sense reader, send Nick your questions about your personal challenges with job hunting, interviewing, networking, resumes, job boards, or salary negotiations. No guarantees — just a promise to do his best to offer useful advice.


Question: I’d like to know whether a background check is going to cost me a job. I have an old driving under the influence (DUI) conviction that might interfere with an opportunity. I have good qualifications for the job, so how can I convince the employer to give me a chance if the DUI turns up?

Nick Corcodilos: You can count on the DUI turning up. Employers routinely do background checks. Be ready to deal with it. (Whether an employer handles this properly under the law is another matter, but this is not legal advice — my goal is to help you win the job anyway.)

We’re going to try something different this week — video Ask The Headhunter. Another reader recently asked me a similar question, but the DUI in that case was compounded by a bankruptcy that resulted from unemployment. (Sound familiar, folks? For every disaster there’s one worse.) I produced my reply as a short video. Since my advice is the same, I hope you’ll watch. Below are some additional notes. I hope you find the video a helpful addition to this column.

1. Avoid job hunting tools that can’t defend you.

Your resume cannot defend you when a manager sees a problem and wonders how it would affect his business. Nor can an online application form. Only someone who knows you can defend you and override legitimate concerns by emphasizing how you’ll deliver benefits to an employer.

So the answer is clear: Invest most of your time in a strong referral. Arrange for someone who is credible and who respects you to contact the employer and recommend you. It’s not easy. But it’s the best tactic. A reference doesn’t have to be your former boss. It might be another manager from your old company who knows your work ethic, or even a customer or consultant. But it must be someone who will make the call and stick their neck out for you.

I know it might be painful to make such a request. But you’re in a painful situation, and like I said in the video, you have to have the stomach for this.

2. Help the employer focus on what matters most.

The employer is right to be worried. Any red flags pose a risk to his business. So it’s up to you to help the employer stop worrying. Be honest and candid about your DUI. But don’t dwell on it. Quickly focus the employer on your clear commitment to help him make his operation more successful. In other words, distract him from your problems in a way that engages him in what matters: his success. Show him that you’re worth taking a chance on.

Just remember: The manager who hires you needs convincing. He won’t ask you to do it. You must volunteer. The economy is still lousy, and losing a job opportunity because you’ve got problems in your personal or work history makes it even worse for you. If you’re qualified and you have a solid work ethic, it’s up to you to help an employer get past objections. (Sure, there’s a chance the employer isn’t going to do a reference or background check — but that would make him a dummy.)

Some might argue that it’s not fair to expect the job seeker to take such measures to prove he or she is worthy, and that employers should always be fair and reasonable. That’s all well and good, but if you’re going to wait for a fair world, you’ll still be waiting for a job. My purpose is to help you take control when things go south.

Dear readers: How would you handle problems in your background when trying to win a job?


Nick Corcodilos invites Making Sense readers to subscribe to his free weekly Ask The Headhunter© Newsletter. His in-depth “how to” PDF books are available on his website: “How to Work With Headhunters…and how to make headhunters work for you,” “How Can I Change Careers?”, “Keep Your Salary Under Wraps” and “Fearless Job Hunting.”

Send your questions to Nick, and join him for discussion every week here on Making Sense. Thanks for participating!

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