That was me, but it wasn't me, and isn't me now.
July 19, 2010 9:30 PM   Subscribe

How long does a bad performance review matter?

I work in IT. I currently have a job that I loathe, and am looking actively to get a new job. An opportunity has arisen at a large company where I worked about 7 years ago, and it's an opportunity I would like to pursue. However.

I left that company after two years, following a three-month period of intense conflict with two coworkers and a boss. The result of that conflict was a scathingly bad performance review - the worst I've ever gotten, in fact. I've never even gotten so much as a "could do better" before, and this review just basically tore me a new one. I've moved on, I've got stellar recommendations from several subsequent employers, and I don't think at this point the contents of that review are relevant to my career.

This new opportunity is in a completely different part of the company, and none of the three people I was in conflict in are even there any more, but still - when I check the "yes" box on the application question that says "have you worked for the company before?", the first thing an HR screener will probably do is go into my file and pull out that review.

I fear that the bad review will scotch my chance of ever really even interviewing - am I just being paranoid? If I get an interview, I can easily both explain what happened at the time and demonstrate that that person is not the current me, but I worry it won't even get to that point.

How, if at all, should I address this issue beforehand? Should I mention it in a cover letter with my resume? Should I ignore it and hope nobody notices? This isn't my only employment opportunity at the moment, but it is one of the ones that I would like to take seriously, so any advice would be most helpful.

Obligatory throwaway email is
posted by pdb to Work & Money (14 answers total)
It should matter until your next (good) one.
posted by squorch at 9:32 PM on July 19, 2010

Response by poster: squorch - I've had several good ones since, just not with this company. That's kind of my question. How worried should I be about this particular company's long institutional memory?
posted by pdb at 9:34 PM on July 19, 2010

This post appears to be intended to be anonymous, as it includes a throwaway email and is made by an account that has personally identifiable information... but it's not.
posted by Tomorrowful at 9:36 PM on July 19, 2010

Do you have to go through HR? Couldn't you just find the hiring manager in the department where you want to work and get the job that way?

It seems risky to me to send in an application, especially after you left the company on essentially bad terms. It's pretty hard to get a job with an unsolicited application, or even in response to a want ad in the first place, so by getting them to pull out your file you may become marked. Or you may not. Anyway, I've always found jobs through networking and word of mouth.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:03 PM on July 19, 2010

I would pretend that it never happen and go ahead with my application. If ever asked about it, I would be as brief and dispassionate about what happened as possible, and move the focus onto what has happened since. I wouldn't raise it myself.

I worked for an organisation where we specifically had a system to stop us hiring people that had caused major problems (we hired a lot of consultants), and I saw someone get hired even though they had the red flag on their file and should never have been rehired. And that was because, at least here in Australia, people will not write down much detail about these sorts of things because anything in writing is subject to the privacy laws and therefore can be requested by the person it concerns. It would not surprise me if nobody has any idea what happened, and also whether they would care (you may not know the circumstances in which these other people left - perhaps it caught up with them if this was a pattern of bad behaviour on their part).
posted by AnnaRat at 10:17 PM on July 19, 2010

When you say 'moved on', were you fired or did you quit? Because the first question they're going to look at is whether you were considered eligible for rehire when you left. If you were fired, you probably aren't.
posted by jacquilynne at 10:36 PM on July 19, 2010

I wouldn't be so certain that they still HAVE a copy of your old review much less will think to look it up. That assumes a level of organization and diligence in recordkeeping that I have rarely witnessed in any organization of any size.

The most you have to lose is your time spent on the application. If you want to work there, go for it.

I wouldn't mention the situation at all, in either the cover letter or the interview. Wait for them to bring it up, if they even do. Don't say anything bad about anyone you used to work with if/when it comes up.

Do you know anyone who currently works there and likes you whom you could mention as an internal reference when applying?
posted by Jacqueline at 11:33 PM on July 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'd place bets on them not realizing you even worked there if you don't mention it on your resume. (Not advocating leaving it off, just saying 7 years is a long long time).
posted by An algorithmic dog at 11:51 PM on July 19, 2010

I think it doesn't hurt to apply. There is a decent chance that they don't keep records for past employees as long as seven years. Even if they do, the review may not be handy to whoever does the initial resume screening. However, if they DO happen to have the review and the screener finds it, i would bet there is very little chance of you being calling in to interview.
posted by rglasmann at 4:01 AM on July 20, 2010

If there are people still working there who are willing to throw in a good word for you, and if whoever gave you the bad review is no longer there, you'll probably be in a really good spot. The old boss might have had a reputation at the company as a real jerk, who knows.

If you were fired from the company, chances are less good.

Don't mention the conflict or negative review unless it's specifically brought up in the interview. Even then, be as diplomatic as possible and give the least finger-pointing explanation you can (e.g. "our group was overwhelmed by X project, and the relentless long days caught up to all of us") and focus on all the good that has happened since ("I've since learned how to manage stress and have never encountered a similar situation since, here's a boatload of references who can vouch for me"). If you have specific stories about how you've gotten better, and people to back you up, it won't look weasely.
posted by Metroid Baby at 4:17 AM on July 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

Really, really bad reviews tell an HR person one thing: This person's boss was a dickhead.

Everyone knows that reviews are whitewashes, and that "Did not have perfect attendance" means "He stumbled in still drunk at ten every morning, took three-hour lunches, and could not be found after four unless one of the interns had recently broken up with her boyfriend." The only time a serious scorcher is ever written is when there's a personality conflict. The exception to this rule is when the employee has actually committed a crime or broken a company policy that exposes the company to serious liability. If an employee is just lazy or apathetic or dumb, then there are plenty of code words and "wink-winks" that aren't "NEVER EVER EMPLOY THIS PERSON FOR ANYTHING EXCEPT FUEL."

So don't worry about it.
posted by Etrigan at 5:57 AM on July 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Tomorrowful - it was indeed supposed to be anon, but due to confusion on my part was posted non-anon. No worries.

KokoRyu - it's a big enough company that channels must be followed - I gotta submit a resume to HR, and even if I knew the hiring manager, they'd run me past HR first.

jacquilynne - I quit, but on decent terms, and my exit interview was pretty positive.

Thanks all for your advice, it's definitely appreciated.
posted by pdb at 6:54 AM on July 20, 2010

Most large companies hold records of ex employees on site for 1-2 years, offsite for 2-4 years then destroy the records afterwards (especially back in the day when most of it was not electronically quantified). You will likely be in good luck. Apply with confidence!
posted by Hurst at 7:39 AM on July 20, 2010

I think this all depends on the people who still might be working in the department that you left, not so much at the corporate/HR/permanent file level. Is the new position in the same department as your old job? Are any of those folks still working there?

I wouldn't put it on the application or bring it up at all, but be prepared to defend it if they bring it up in an interview. But if those folks are still around and are involved in the hiring process, it's very likely they will squash your application before you even get to the next round of eligibility.
posted by CathyG at 2:13 PM on July 21, 2010

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