DEAR J.T. & DALE: I got a DUI two years ago. I’m convinced it’s why I can’t get a job. I get through a couple of rounds of interviews, then all of a sudden they say they are going with another candidate. Is there anything I can do? – Matthew
J.T.: It’s very possible they are doing a background check on you and finding the DUI. However, it’s more likely that there is something you are doing in the interview process that is making them cautious. Perhaps you are coming across as nervous or as if you have something to hide. Many people don’t realize they are giving off a vibe that indicates they have a secret – after all, over 90 percent of communication is nonverbal. So, while you aren’t saying anything about the DUI, your body language and facial expressions could be sending a negative message.
Dale: While I don’t want to diminish the driving offense, let’s look at the numbers: There are about 1.5 million DUI arrests each year. Those DUIs pile up year after year, so many millions of people in the workforce have had one. That doesn’t make it OK, but it means that it would be hard to find a hiring manager who doesn’t have a friend or relative who’s been there. My point is this: Rare is the hiring manager who’s going to be shocked by a DUI and instantly dismiss you as a candidate. Further, most companies won’t bother doing a check until they make an offer and you accept. So let’s go with J.T.’s theory that the problem is something in the interview, not in your past.
J.T.: I suggest that you work with someone and do mock interviews to see what’s happening.
Dale: Which is a great idea for anyone. Interviewing is a skill, a unique one. You have to impress the hiring manager without working too hard at being impressive, and you have to be energetic without being overeager. Your interviewing skills are something you can rapidly improve and they’ll set you apart because few job searchers bother.
J.T.: Then, once you’re getting job offers, that’s when you can expect a background check. I’d suggest that you do your own check and see if the DUI is showing up. If so, you need to address it proactively when you get the job offer or when you’re close to getting one. By acting accountable and showing your character, it could help employers look past it.
Dale: You can’t treat it lightly and you can’t wallow. I’d suggest some simple admission or lesson, saying something like: “I was wrong. I was an idiot. I learned my lesson and that will never happen again.” It isn’t often in a job interview that calling yourself an idiot is a good thing, but I think it works here.
Dear J.T. & Dale: I took a new job last month. When I accepted, I told them about a prepaid vacation three months out and they agreed that I could go, even though I wouldn’t have vacation time by then. This week, my new boss told me that the project I’m working on is in trouble and all vacation time is on hold. Can they do this to me? – Eka
J.T.: Unfortunately, yes, they can. However, given all the stress, your boss may have forgotten that you have a prepaid trip and can’t get a refund. I’d set up a one-on-one with your boss and re-explain your situation. If possible, mention exactly how much money you stand to lose. Perhaps the company will at least cover your costs. If not, you’ll have to decide how much the vacation is worth to you: Is it enough to start looking for a new job so you can quit and still go?
Dale: Moreover, I worry about a boss or company that panics and cancels vacations. So, when you talk to your boss, try to get a sense of how often this happens. Perhaps it will help explain why the position you were hired to fill was open. And, if you do look for a new job, you’ll remember to explore that issue in future interviews.
Jeanine “J.T.” Tanner O’Donnell is a professional development specialist and the founder of the consulting firm jtodonnell. Dale Dauten resolves employment and other business disputes as a mediator with AgreementHouse.com. Please visit them at jtanddale.com, where you can send questions via email, or write to them in care of King Features Syndicate, 300 W. 57th St., 15th Floor, New York, NY 10019.