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Ask the Headhunter: Should I divulge my bad credit record to an employer?

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

In this special Making Sen$e 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 stopped by my sister’s on the way home from work yesterday to find her in tears. She had interviewed for a good job and was told by the hiring manager that she was perfect for it. Then they asked her to sign a form granting permission to run a credit check. Her credit report is full of derogatory information as a result of a divorce several years ago, plus her good-hearted loan of her credit card to a “friend” who ran up some huge bills and left her stuck with them. Much of this stuff will drop off in a year or two, but that doesn’t do much good today when she needs a job. She has run into this a couple of times before, and it appears that most employers are running credit checks, which will leave her out in the cold no matter how qualified she is.

READ MORE: Ask the Headhunter: I said goodbye to my boss bully

How does one counteract this? The company yesterday told her the credit check was a way to evaluate “character,” and there was no appeal. Do you have any suggestions on how to deal with this?

Nick Corcodilos: I’m not going to get into the mechanics of cleaning up a poor credit record. There are many expert sources you can turn to for that with a simple Google search. (Just be careful about paying for help with this. Make sure any credit service is credible and legit.) That’s where your sister should start to solve this problem once and for all.

While that bad credit record looms, your sister should politely decline to give permission to check her credit record. Then she should offer a better alternative to the employer.

How to Say It:

“Please feel free to check my professional references however. I’d be glad to have you inquire into my abilities, ethics, character, honesty and my work history. But my credit is private.”

She must have sterling references ready to go.

READ MORE: Ask the Headhunter: Here’s how to ask someone to be your job reference

If your sister is a highly qualified candidate, some employers will skip the credit check if she’s firm about it. (In some states, credit checks for employment are illegal. Check this list.)

Unless the job involves banking or investment work (or something where one’s credit situation might be truly revealing), I just don’t think it’s anyone’s business. I see more and more companies backing off when candidates decline to divulge salary history and other private information that is not directly relevant to the job.

Of course, what is relevant to the job is being able to prove you can do it. I find that this approach is a very powerful way to help an employer decide to hire you in spite of negative factors. See “Stand Out: How to be the profitable hire.”

Since your sister knows the information is going to hurt her, I think she has little to lose by politely declining to provide it. She need offer no explanation other than to say it’s private. I think the risk of rejection warrants taking an assertive position like this, but it’s a decision she has to make for herself.

Dear Readers: Would you permit a credit check if you know there’s a problem? How would you advise this reader?

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,” “Keep Your Salary Under Wraps,” “How Can I Change Careers?” 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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