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Ask the Headhunter: I was fired for being late. What should I tell new employers?

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 am facing a dilemma, and I’d appreciate your advice. I recently lost my job working in retail sales. I was not fired for poor sales or poor service, but for the sin of all job sins: being late. This was entirely my fault, and it’s frustrating, because it overshadows an otherwise good two-year experience working in retail. Since this event I have made it a personal quest to never be late again, and I have confidence that I can overcome my problem.

The dilemma is that I have to find a new job fast, and I don’t know what to do with my resume. I seem to have two bad choices. One is to leave the job off the resume. But that leaves a huge hole in my employment history, and it’s also basically lying to a future employer from the get-go.

The other choice is to leave the reference on the resume, but that would blacklist me for committing the ultimate job sin. I would face an uphill battle convincing a future employer that I won’t be late again (which they’ve probably heard too many times). Do you have any recommendations?

READ MORE: Ask the Headhunter: After being fired for smoking pot, what do I tell potential employers?

Nick Corcodilos: Yours is not the ultimate job sin, believe me. But my advice is almost the same for you as it is for even worse “employment sins.” We’ll get to that in a moment.

First, never list references on your resume. Wait until an employer requests them. In many cases, they won’t. You’d be surprised how many companies don’t ask for references, and even when they do, how many never actually check references. But that’s the employer’s bad — I’m constantly telling employers to always check references and to do it themselves, not via a third-party reference-checking firm.

Note on your application that you will happily provide references if the company decides to interview you. By holding back, you’ll have a chance to explain yourself before a reference discloses a problem in your work history.

My advice: Just fess up to the problem if an employer asks why you left the job. Then make a commitment: “If you hire me, and I’m late once, I’ll fire myself. I will never be late.”

This sounds extreme, but so is not getting hired. You have an unusual problem. You must handle it with unusual means. I don’t know any other good way to make the point that you have changed your behavior. Then it’s up to you to never be late.

READ MORE: Ask the Headhunter: Why companies fire you only to try to rehire you

Even if you can avoid rejection over this matter, you still need to show good reasons why you are the best candidate for the job. Focus on that. See “Stand Out: How to be the profitable hire.”

Be ready to show why you were good at your old job in spite of being late and how you’re going to help make the new employer successful. Combine the on-time commitment with a plan of how you’re going to be a great worker, and I think that’s the best you can do and the most anyone can ask for.

Being late sometimes suggests other problems. You need to explore that or risk yet another job.

Now let’s get to the advice for even worse “sins” we referred to above. Another reader once asked me how to overcome bankruptcy and a DUI when applying for jobs. Check the two video segments in these Q&A columns: “Bankrupt & Unemployed: Will a background check doom me?” and “Bankrupt & Unemployed: How to Say It.” I think you’ll quickly see how to could apply them to your lesser sin.

I hope you find the advice helpful, and I wish you the best in your new job search. Don’t despair — get prepared.

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

Dear Readers: Have you ever had to overcome problems in your work history to get hired? What was the problem? How did you handle it? 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!

Copyright © 2016 Nick Corcodilos. All rights reserved in all media. Ask the Headhunter® is a registered trademark.

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