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Attitude, Sales, and a Bonus

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This week you are receiving a twofer. The first part of this article will be dedicated to a question I received on background checks. In the second half I am going to go off on one of my rants, this time on ''age discrimination'' (and remember that I am a contrarian thinker). Interestingly, these two topics relate very closely. Both ''are what they are,'' and you really can't change them. So both require a proper attitude and good personal sales. I have condensed the question.


Can you help me? I have a serious problem and am looking for your experience and advice. I was employed for one year with a national company. There was a massive reduction in management as well as the sales force. To that end, I was unemployed for nine months. My resume indicates my unemployment. I did not alter my resume. Being unemployed for so long, I had serious problems paying my financial obligations — mortgage, credit cards, etc. I had to file for bankruptcy.

Typically companies view a person with bankruptcy and credit issues as a person with poor responsibility and improper planning in taking care of their financial obligations. My understanding is HR will conduct the background check and will be the decision maker and not hire this person due to a high risk to the company.

(This person posed several different questions regarding the subject and also brought up age discrimination.)


First of all, we all run into major problems (I call them opportunities) in life. There are many people that are declaring or have declared bankruptcy, thanks to our "everything now" lifestyle. So my first comment is that if all these people were discriminated against, we would have a very severe labor shortage.

To start with, I would run a full credit report from all three major reporting agencies. You can find them online. You may have already done this, but for those who haven't, it is a good idea to spend the few dollars and do it yearly. I do. You never know what might be on there. I have actually had a couple written-off bills show up on mine in the past. They were small but still could have had a dramatic impact. (By the way, both of these actually belonged to other William Gaffneys.)

Also, I would run a general background check if you are in job-search mode. Errors can typically be cleared up rather quickly, and it is good to know exactly what others are seeing.

Next, have a positive attitude about this. As I said, you are far from the only one. It does no good to fret, worry, or be negative going in. It will only be reflected in your performance in the interview.

The vast majority of the companies I know are not doing these checks until they are ready to hire people. (Companies are not in the background-check business.) They also might not do a background check on you. By law they have to disclose whether they are doing one. (If a company does one without your knowledge, it is not a company you want to work for.) So why would you want to put negative information about your past in a cover letter or disclose it at the beginning of the interview process? Once they are ready to hire you, it is going to be much more difficult for them to change their minds.

Whether you disclose such information at this point is based on the situation. If they don't go past a reference check, forget about it. If they do a background check, many times you are aware of this up front. A good question to ask fairly deep into the interview is "I am just curious. What is your final hiring and acceptance process?" If you feel that at this point this information might be critical, divulge it to the hiring manager, not HR. HR's job is to stick to the basics. The hiring manager's job is to get results. If they really want you, they can generally work around something like a bankruptcy.

Finally, come prepared with an explanation. It doesn't have to be apologetic. It should simply be factual and describe what you are doing or have done to rectify the situation. It is all in the presentation — a short story.

A good number of years ago, I went to purchase my first house. I had not been responsible financially during the first few years of adulthood. I had no unpaid debts, etc., but I had a lot of late payments and a couple of liens from taxes. I had cleared all that up and had a few years of clean history. Unfortunately, it was still reflected on my credit reports. I was introduced to a mortgage broker that knew the family and situation. He was able to get us a loan at the going rate fairly quickly. Again, the personal relationship is most valuable. It is easier to say "no" to a piece of paper.

One final note on this subject: if you are in the finals of an interview through a recruiter and are the company's choice, the recruiter will do everything he or she can for you. The recruiter doesn't want to start over.

"There is no reality, just perception." That's what I'm told Dr. Phil says. I don't know since I don't watch him. But I like the saying, so I am going to credit it to him. Age discrimination is primarily about perception. I have written on this subject before, but since I have many new readers, a brief refresher is in order.

First of all, let's look at the reality of the labor market. There are four big factors. They are in order. We are all long-term contractors, with the typical job lasting two to four years. The Baby Boomers represent 80-plus million and the X-ers and so forth 30-plus million. Can you say "labor shortage"? People aren't retiring as early. People are staying healthier longer. Based on all of this, why would any company in its right mind age discriminate? Yes, it does go on, but you need a job, not a cause. So move on. Those companies are idiots anyway.

Back to perception. Here are some things I have noticed and heard from hiring authorities in my 17 years in this business:
  • "There is no fire in the belly."
  • "They seemed to just be going through the motions, waiting for retirement to catch up."
  • "They are living in the past."
  • "Their skills are not up to date."
  • "They had no energy, etc."
I may have rattled a few cages with this, but this is more reality than discrimination. I'd like to give you three examples of people I know that haven't let age be an obstacle. First there is my mensch, Jerry Kotler, who is one of the best recruiters in the business and going strong a little past (I won't say how much) 60. He tells me he is going to retire, but I don't believe him. Then there is the gentleman a mutual friend introduced me to about a year ago. He is in his mid-60s and wants to start a new career. Then there is my late mentor Loren Minnich, who was still working 50-plus hours at 88 up until a couple weeks before he passed away.

So what should you do?
  • Get a little fire in the belly.
  • Stop living in the past.
  • Get your skills up to date. If you don't have good computer skills, you are in big trouble. People don't have admins any more if you hadn't noticed.
  • Make sure your wardrobe is appropriate for the 2000s, not the 1980s. This doesn't mean go hip-hop or whatever.
  • Finally, stop your whining. It is not helping you anyway.
Here's wishing you terrific hunting,


About the Author

Bill Gaffney has had 16 years of experience as an executive recruiter, a career coach, a recovering idiot boss, and an employee. He can be reached at 937-567-5267 or If you have a question you would like him to consider for his column, please email

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