Be Up Front – Warts and All!

Be Up Front – Warts and All!

Dishonesty of any kind is a non-starter in a job search. Recently, I was speaking with legal industry consultants and employers about what red flags they see during the lateral hiring process, and how they weigh various risk factors in their decisions. There was an interesting discussion around various warning signs candidates exhibit during the vetting process and how best to deal with them, but all were unanimous that lack of honesty at any stage of the hiring process was an absolute NO GO. To make the best match, legal search consultants, also, require complete honesty from candidates.

Be honest with yourself

Before going on an interview be honest with yourself. Know what you are looking for and what you are good at, bad at, and where you need improvement or training. Pay special attention to anything less than stellar in your background and prepare to address those issues early in the hiring process. Proactively bringing up and dealing with any blemishes in an intelligent manner can diffuse their negative impact on your candidacy. Clear self-perception and a demonstrated willingness to learn from mistakes are traits viewed positively by employers.

Be honest with your recruiter

You improve your chances of a landing your dream job by being fully transparent with your recruiters. We can determine whether you’re a good fit for the potential employer only if we know your full story. Withholding negative information from us is likely to cause problems down the road because this information inevitably surfaces at some point, usually to the candidate’s detriment. If we know all relevant facts at the outset we can work with you to craft the best way to present your candidacy to potential employers. We also can do some of the “dirty work” by addressing any red flags up front, thus clearing the way for you to concentrate on the positive aspects of your background and experience once you get in front of the interviewer.

On the other hand, any lack of candor will sour the recruiter-candidate relationship, sometimes to the point that the recruiter may determine that he or she is unable to represent you to potential employers with confidence.

Be honest with the potential employer

During the interview process, candidates should present the evidence—their strengths, weaknesses, credentials, work history, skills, and interests—in the best possible light, but not exaggerate or lie. Even if you’re not caught in a falsehood, fudging to give answers you think the employer wants to hear creates false expectations. You might get the job, but you’re setting yourself up for a fall, and perhaps dismissal, if your performance doesn’t measure up to your representations. While you don’t have to downplay your capabilities or go out of your way to reveal negative information, candor is refreshing and appreciated when handled appropriately. A candidate who presents the facts as they really are often is more attractive to an employer than someone who tries to deliver the “desired” answer.

A few minor missteps in your background aren’t necessarily a death knell to the career of your dreams but attempts to gloss over, hide, or omit information compounds the issue and can leave you without a job or credibility. If you’re up front about an issue, as long as it does not cast doubt on your moral turpitude or negatively impact your ability to do the job, the recruiter or potential employer may be able to help you work around the situation.

On the other hand, telling a seemingly innocent lie on a resume or cover letter, or providing misleading or incomplete information in an interview, LPQ (Lateral Partner Questionnaire), or background check can lead to serious career repercussions. The legal community is small and you cannot hide the facts. They will emerge at some point, possibly even after you start the new job. You will only risk further blemishing your legal career with a short stint on your resume if you’re terminated for dishonesty.

A specific example of duplicity mentioned by several participants in my recent discussion with legal employers and industry consultants was where the candidate lost his or her job for any reason during the job search process and did not disclose that fact. Prospective employers are likely to terminate hiring discussions and have gone so far as to rescind offers because of the misrepresentation, not the job loss per se. Had the candidate been open and honest about the situation, the firm may well have hired the candidate, anyway. However, the lack of transparency gave the firm serious concerns about the candidate's ethics and integrity in general.

Prepare your explanation

Don’t wait until the last minute to bring up any negative issues hoping that, by then, the prospective employer will be so in love with you that they won’t mind. Rather, that can be a deal-breaker because changing the game late in the process makes you look sneaky, risky, or otherwise compromised. It’s much better to handle any possible negative facts head on. Employers value candidates who take responsibility for their actions. If you’re a quality candidate, the hiring authority may be willing to overlook minor blemishes, but you must be upfront and have an honest conversation to build trust with your new employer.

Consider in advance how you want to address your weaknesses. For example, if you left your previous job on less than stellar terms, don’t try to cover it up. Be truthful but professional in expressing that the position wasn’t a good fit, but don’t badmouth your prior employer. Explain what happened and what you learned from this experience. Discuss your relevant skills gained there and how you can transfer this knowledge to the position in question.

Often, in a job search just as in politics and other aspects of life, it’s not the crime but the attempted cover-up that causes the most problems.

Valerie Fontaine

Valerie A. Fontaine earned her JD from UC Hastings College of Law and her BA, Phi Beta Kappa and magna cum laude, from UCLA. She was on the Editorial Board of COMM/ENT, a Journal of Communications and Entertainment Law. Valerie practiced law with a prominent Los Angeles law firm and entered the legal search profession in 1981. Valerie is a member the Board of Directors of the National Association of Legal Search Consultants (NALSC) and serves on its Ethics Committee.
Valerie Fontaine

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