Managing a Job Search With a Clouded Past
Chutes and Ladders

by Jennifer E. King

Corporate Legal Times — October 2002

Job hunting isn't easy under the most attractive circumstances, let alone when your work history includes time at Enron, Arthur Andersen or any other company where the legal department may have played a role in corporate wrongdoing.

Above all, say legal recruiters, don't give in to the temptation to omit or gloss over jobs at scandal-tainted companies.

"I would tell someone from Enron the same thing I'd tell anyone else who has something negative in their background," says Larry W. Prescott, president of Prescott Legal Search Inc. in Houston.  "You have to talk about it.  If you've been fired, you have to tell people you've been fired and tell them why.  Don't try to cover it up.  If you've been with Enron, state positively, 'My duties were X, and I was not involved in the actions you've been reading about in the newspaper.'" 

Aaron Williams, president of Aaron Consulting, Inc. in St. Louis, echoes this advice.

"Mentally avoid approaching the job market with a defensive stance," Williams says.  "If you didn't do anything wrong, why act like you did?  This includes avoiding long answers to obvious questions people may ask you about your exposure to any tainted activities involving your former or current employer."

Be prepared for some very direct questions about your responsibilities at a company that has been accused of illegal activities, both recruiters say.  Among those you should expect to be asked in job interviews are:

  • Were you involved in any of the wrongdoing?
  • To whom did you directly report?
  • Were you named in any media reports?
  • Are you in good standing with the bar association?

When answering questions, however, remember the old job-hunting adage:  Don't say anything negative about a former employer when vying for a new position.

"If you go into an interview and start talking about what a bunch of crooks Ken Lay and Andy Fastow were, that's definitely a taboo," Prescott says.

But one oft-repeated piece of job-hunting advice should be ignored:  Do not omit even the shortest stint at a troubled employer from your resume.

"You have to assume your nest employer will learn if you omitted a job from a resume," Prescott says, "and you don't want to be called in one day and have your boss say to you 'I just talked to someone who said they worked with you at Enron for two months, and you never told us that.'  You'd be tainted going forward as someone who's not truthful."