Your Bad Previous Employer Doesn’t Have to Define You

Wells Fargo continues to experience setbacks. Last year, they fired over 5,000 employees who created fake accounts so they could hit their goals. Then, a few months ago they announced that they were taking $75 million from two executives who were involved in the scandal.

Most recently, on July 27th, they reported finding a document showing more than 500,000 clients may have paid for car insurance attached to their auto loan without knowing it.

How does a company's public misconduct affect employees when they decide to search for a new job? Boosting job opportunity after a PR disaster may seem irrelevant to job seekers, but that is far from the truth.

Erin Berkery-Rovner, career advisor and former recruiter, wrote on Quora: "Employers absolutely filter out candidates based on past employers. In fact, I've had some hiring managers specifically ask for candidates from certain companies."

A recent study by revealed 11 percent of employers and HR professionals say they turn down job seekers because they've worked for a company with a bad reputation.

Here are three steps to improve job opportunity and overcome a bad employer reputation:

1. Address the issue upfront and head-on.

Address the elephant in the room by acknowledging a past employer's bad reputation at the time of application. Eliminating any curiosity about alignment with previous employers allows the focus to be directed toward your qualifications for the job opportunity instead.

To distance yourself from the negativity, create a compelling case of your value to the company. Compose a cover letter that shows your quantifiable accomplishments and clearly defines how you offer value to your prospective employer.

Did you take initiative that created change? If so, what was the outcome and how can you take that initiative into your new role?

Another solution to stand apart from speculation is to submit a creative application, like a video or other uniquely designed resume. Whatever creative approach you take, make sure it shows you researched the company. Hiring managers don’t have much time, so if your resume doesn’t fit the company or the job description, it may give them a negative impression.

For example, Jenny Johns, a recent design graduate who applied to graphic design roles, submitted a playable board as her resume, which included game pieces, a board, and dice. This demonstrated her skills in an engaging way that aligned with the company culture.

Hiring managers could move their piece around the board and draw cards for each space. Each card explained her experience in client relations, visual communication, research, and more.

This approach shows employers that she is creative and passionate about her line of work. It also gets prospective employers more interested in learning about about her and her skills, taking the focus away from past employment.

No matter what format you choose, if you demonstrate your value in a unique way, employers will notice you for your skills and abilities. They’ll remember you for that, which matters more than your experience with a bad employer.

2. Initiate a personal branding campaign.

To build a positive personal brand, start volunteering at a reputable organization, preferably one that speaks to your values. This creates the perfect opportunity to enhance your professional skills and give back to a worthy cause you are passionate about.

For example, if you want to build on your communications skills, volunteer at a non-profit organization aiding in hunger relief. Orchestrate fundraisers, write content, plan events, and refine their social media approach.

Use these experiences to prove you are the most qualified for the job opportunity at hand. If you show how your values drive you personally and professionally, employers will have more respect and trust you.

One of the best ways to share your personal brand is through a website. As a 2015 report from Pew Research Center found, 74 percent of 2,001 respondents said it would be easy to highlight all their employment skills using a personal website.

Make your website an extension of who you are and what value you bring. Blog about your experiences volunteering and share an online portfolio of your work. This engages employers with your work and your values.

3. Change your networking approach.

When you shake hands and engage with your network, chances are someone will ask about your experience with your controversial employer. Focus on how you learned from the company’s missteps and what you did to steer the organization in the right direction.

Also, offer ideas about what you would have changed or done to prevent the situation. This shows you are aware of the severity of the problem and that you have already identified a respectable solution.

Then, refocus the conversation back to how your skills and values make you a top performer. Highlight relevant accomplishments that your connection would be interested in.

Bottom line: Don’t let your previous employers define who you are or take away your value. Instead, prove yourself through strategic networking, positive personal branding, and being transparent. Focus on the job opportunity and show how you’re the perfect fit.

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