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How to Manage a Company Scandal on Your Resume

What if you worked for Bernie Madoff? How would you handle the future of your career?

What if you worked for Bernie Madoff? How would you handle the future of your career?

Corporate scandals make regular rounds in news cycles. And with each turn, more innocent employees find themselves associated with a toxic brand.

How should you share your work history if you happened to be connected to a Madoff, Enron or AIG ?

You can’t hide the fact that you worked there, and you can’t avoid the fact that even an honest worker faces questions when he’s been associated with a toxic company. But it doesn’t mean you’ll never work again, posits the WSJ article “When Scandal Hits a Resume.”

From that article:

Having such work experience doesn’t make finding a new job an impossibility, however. “Working at a scandal-tainted small company may not end up being such a liability” as long as you leave quickly and fully explain your lack of involvement in the scandal, says Kate Wendleton, president of Five O’Clock Club, a career-counseling network in New York. “Those things help you escape being tainted.”

Conventional job-hunting tactics, such as sending unsolicited résumés, often fail individuals in this situation. But there are some unconventional approaches, including joining forces with former co-workers, that may benefit anyone caught in today’s maelstrom of high unemployment. One thing career specialists agree about: Job seekers from scandal-destroyed small companies should tread carefully when dealing with the issue of their former employers.

Initially, some individuals are tempted to fume over their company leader’s fraudulent behavior. That’s what Seth Ostrow did. Marc S. Dreier, founder and managing partner of Dreier LLP, a New York law firm with about 270 attorneys, was arrested for fraud in December. Mr. Ostrow, chairman of Dreier’s patent department, quit hours after the arrest. “It was obvious that the firm was finished,” he says. He and several colleagues launched a separate practice that month.

In announcing their firm’s creation, Mr. Ostrow told the New York Law Journal that he considered the Dreier firm’s predicament “disgusting.” He made the angry comments because “a lot of people were really hurt by what [Mr. Dreier] did,” Mr. Ostrow recalls. “They did their jobs and he betrayed us.” Dreier later dissolved. Mr. Dreier received a 20-year prison sentence in July.

Bad-mouthing is a difficult practice and one most career experts would advise against. But in some cases, like Dreier, there is some real legitimacy in publicly decrying the crimes. In the case of Ostrow, he was able to move on. Other parts of the Dreier firm were able to continue intact. They were able to pitch themselves as a group, which isn’t always so easy, but it’s something of note in the extraordinary case here.

The article goes on to talk about an ex-Madoff employee (from the infamous Bernie Madoff ponzi scheme), who worked for a “separate entity” from the investment management business. One resume expert advises that in a case like this, a candidate “describe rather than identify his latest workplace on his resume” so he won’t be rejected outright. Talk about you and your accomplishments first, then get into the name. You can’t conceal it completely, but you can minimize its effect on the first impression you make.

In an interview, be prepared to talk about the effects of being “blindsided,” says the article. Hiring managers should be able to empathize when you also talk about your own personal ethics, and what you’ve taken away from working at such a company with an ethically challenged leader.

Want more ethical resume advice? Look here:

To Tell the Truth: Resume Rules

Truth in Advertising

Lying on Your Resume: How Far to Stretch the Truth

How References Can Derail Your Career

[Image by Steve Rhodes via Flickr CC 2.0]

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One comment for “How to Manage a Company Scandal on Your Resume”

  1. That is very interesting article.

    Posted by habib | August 16, 2009, 3:42 pm

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