Resume Advice - My 3rd most recent job was for a notorious criminal
January 14, 2013 9:12 AM   Subscribe

I'm updating my resume and having a bit of a tough time deciding what to do about a questionable business/boss who was one of my most recent jobs.

An ex-boss stole a lot of money, and used it to prop up the business I was working for (among other things). They were caught, tried, and convicted. Recently the business closed, which generated more ill will in the community, as there were a number of clients who had funds on account.

In other words, it's poisonous (at least locally) on my resume. And it's been a number of years since I worked there, but it is the 3rd most recent chronologically. Problem is, I worked there for 8 years. Was a manager. I did a little bit of everything for them, and have a lot of experience from them that would be directly applicable to many of the sorts of jobs I'd be applying for. I can answer any questions that come up as part of any potential interviews, but am afraid that this will bump me out of consideration for many employers just because of proximity to impropriety.

I can fall back on previous jobs, and leave the large gap. Then I'd have to explain the gap. They're more of career 1.0 though, the bad one was filler and now I'm trying to start career 2.0. So should I list it, or not?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (20 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
An 8-year-long gap will get your resume tossed out a lot faster than having been a middle manager in a company where the upper management did a lot of questionable stuff. Worse, it'll look like you're trying to cover up something, which makes you more suspicious than it would if you openly declare "yeah, I worked for Embezzlement Inc., make of that what you will." Most businesspeople will know that if you're out of work (as opposed to in jail, on probation or on permanent vacation in the Caymans) because someone above you was screwing around with the finances, you probably didn't have anything to do with it.
posted by griphus at 9:20 AM on January 14, 2013 [8 favorites]

Any chance you could abbreviate or otherwise obscure the company name in a way that makes it non-obvious what the company name is, while leaving you in the clear in terms of having an honest resume?
posted by COD at 9:20 AM on January 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

You really only need to go back 10 years unless you're applying for a job that requires a full list - if the 2 jobs since then cover all ten, you don't need to list it and can simply reference the positive qualities you learned there in cover letters and interviews without direct attribution of the company.

If it's within 10 years, though, you should list it. It was years ago, the situation has been resolved legally, and it doesn't seem from your question that you were directly linked to the impropriety.
posted by batmonkey at 9:21 AM on January 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

You had two full jobs between then and today. And it was "a number of years" since you worked there. If I saw a resume that indicated that someone had worked for, say, Enron, and had worked at other places since then, my first thought would be that they were just another employee at a company that had corruption in it. Anyone involved in actual wrongdoing would presumably not have smoothly moved into not one but two other jobs like you did.
posted by Tomorrowful at 9:23 AM on January 14, 2013 [5 favorites]

You should briefly address the issue in your cover letter and indicate that you would be glad to discuss your experiences and the reasons surrounding your departure in-person during an interview.


List the type of business or industry on your resume instead of the actual company name. For example: Shipping Warehouse instead of Sam's Shipping Service or Local Branch of Investment Firm instead of Smith's Investment Services.
posted by JennyJupiter at 9:25 AM on January 14, 2013

You should list it, only because if you get hired somewhere local, it may well come up that you worked there, and it could be awkward if they feel you were not totally honest about your work history.

Better to figure out a good spin on it to give at interviews; something about the lessons you learned, or the importance of business ethics. Even if they don't ask about it, try to work it in to the conversation so you can be out ahead of any gossip. If an employer is unwilling to look past it, they are probably not the kind of organization you want to work for.
posted by Rock Steady at 9:37 AM on January 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

I say include it. It was years ago, the job skills are relevant to your new position, you were there for a significant portion of time and it's very easy to say, "I left before any of those issues came to light. Of course, in my position as xyz, I had no knowledge of it."
posted by Flamingo at 9:40 AM on January 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

I worked at an accounting firm with tons of Arthur Anderson and Enron folks. These things are really not as career breaking as you might imagine.

Be prepared to discuss it. But mostly so that you don't sound anxious when discussing the job. That could be construed as having something to hide (ie you knew more about the criminal shenanigans than you should have)
posted by politikitty at 9:58 AM on January 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

List it and do not apologize. If someone brings it up, explain that you were in no way culpable.
posted by downing street memo at 10:23 AM on January 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

I would either just include it -- just because you worked there doesn't mean you were complicit in any of the wrongdoing, and I doubt people would assume that -- OR, if you have good reason to believe that potential employers will think that job reflects badly on you, then put a sentence in your cover letter spinning it in a good way, like that it's important to you to work for a company with integrity after your experience working with Company X.
posted by chickenmagazine at 10:24 AM on January 14, 2013 [3 favorites]

This happened to my brother when he worked for MCI. In fact he was part of a blanket firing because he was at whatever level of management it was where they decided to unilaterally fire everyone at that level. So his stock was worthless, he lost his job, and he felt personally betrayed by the people who had screwed the company..

He kept MCI on his resume and nobody ever batted an eye, certainly nobody thought he was complicit. Hiring managers knew he got shafted just like shareholders, employees, and customers did. He developed a lot of skills while there and not having that job on his resume would have weakened his prospects considerably.
posted by headnsouth at 10:43 AM on January 14, 2013 [3 favorites]

I would list it without comment. If someone is going to make a decision not to hire you based on that then you're better off avoiding wasted time, as they will eventually find out.

As is said above, plenty of folks have worked for places that turned out to be sleazy. In most cases the employees themselves were just as much victims as everyone else. Attempting to hide it would make me, personally, question whether you had been complicit in the sleaze.
posted by phearlez at 10:43 AM on January 14, 2013

Yeah, I feel ya.

I worked for MCI WorldCom. Whenever I was asked on a job application why I left that job, I always answered: "Left due to accounting scandal and unethical business practices."

If you frame it as though you were a victim of the scam as well (as most of us who worked for companies whose CEO's were crooks were) then you'll get sympathy, or at least people will look upon you kindly.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:45 AM on January 14, 2013 [10 favorites]

I worked for MCI WorldCom. Whenever I was asked on a job application why I left that job, I always answered: "Left due to accounting scandal and unethical business practices."
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:45 PM on January 14 [+] [!]

A good friend of mine was, for a few years right out of law school, a junior associate in the private law practice of a state legislator who was sent to prison for bribery. She still has that job on her resume, and responds almost exactly how you've suggested above when asked about it.
posted by deadmessenger at 10:52 AM on January 14, 2013

What Ruthless Bunny and deadmessenger said.

Heck. If the firm is as notorious as you suggest, I'd list it and include an offer to tell the inside story during the interview.
posted by notyou at 11:02 AM on January 14, 2013

Can you structure your resume as a functional resume which includes all of the experiences and accomplishments in the main body but not linked to that employer, and then with the name of your actual employer either tucked away less prominently at the bottom, or left off entirely if you think it's really that poisonous (perhaps with a header of something like Recent Jobs and only mentioning the last two so there's no 8 year gap)?
posted by EmilyClimbs at 12:28 PM on January 14, 2013

Functional resumes will get you tossed in the trash, because the hr people think the only reason to use one is to hide things. I wouldn't recommend it.

If it's more than 10 years ago drop it, otherwise keep it and explain in the interview.
posted by winna at 12:38 PM on January 14, 2013

Ruthless Bunny for the win! List it on your resume, but NOT on your cover letter; if it's brought up at an interview go with something like "left due to their unethical business practices".

(And I, too feel your pain: at one of my jobs, the CEO has just come home from stint at a federal prison after his conviction for tax fraud and a couple other things...... if we're lucky, the company MIGHT stay afloat, but at least half the employees have had to be laid off.)
posted by easily confused at 1:17 PM on January 14, 2013

Do you know from experience that it's poisonous? Friends of mine, in a similar situation in the industry I'm in, found they got interviews because people were curious about what it had been like to work for their questionable/notorious employer. They were not blamed for their employer's practices.
posted by srs airbag at 5:03 PM on January 14, 2013

I worked for a few years for an organization that later became the subject of national headlines, due to fraud and other misdeeds. I worked in the actual office where the fraud was ongoing and saw some of the key players frequently. I was very, very concerned that disclosing the name of the organization on my resume would hurt me. I experimented with a variety of ways of naming the organization. In the end, what actually got me the most responses was using the name of the organization. To my great surprise, many people were very curious about what it was like to work there and they were willing to pull me in for interviews, when perhaps I would not have otherwise stood out. This was more likely to happen when the actual hiring manager was doing the screening and not an HR firm or recruiter. Many hiring managers seemed to think it was hysterical that I had been working in the office of an infamous organization and they wanted to see what someone from that office was like. Once they met me, they realized they had a great employment candidates and I got some great employment offers. Only one person ever thought there must have been something wrong with me for having worked there. And, in a few situations where I had simply not listed those 2 years on my resume, recruiters and hiring managers scolded me for not bringing forward such valuable work experience.

So, my take on it is that you might as well be honest and see how that goes. It worked for me and it gave me a chance to story tell. If you can captivate the hiring manager, you're golden.

Oh, and as above, I always said that I left because the organizational culture was really not in alignment with my values - and then say something like, "And, gee, when the scandal came out, was that ever clear."
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 6:23 PM on January 14, 2013 [5 favorites]

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