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Working for the "wrong side"

Kurt Wilkinson -- I worked for 8 months in a bizarre environment. I resigned the day it came to my attention that the owner/president of the company was making death threats against an employee's family.

This was the "tip of the iceberg." These are scary people. I am getting ready to interview for a terrific position with a company that carefully checks references. I have an excellent reference from the vice president who hired me, and I gave notice and left on my terms (polite, dignified, and professional). What do I tell my prospective employer? I don't like to bad-mouth a previous employer.

A. Approach this new opportunity and employer with the intention of winning the job based on your merit and value-add to the company, and don't dwell on what may happen in the reference-checking process. You're right, bad-mouthing an employer is a no-no during the interview process, even in an unfortunate situation like this one. Since you already have the vice president's reference, you have at least one good word from your most recent employer. Did you work prior to this last job? Can you get one or more references from those companies?

You will need to cover the questions "Why did you leave?" and "What would your former employer say about you?"

In answering these questions, try to be honest and keep your emotions in check as to the reasons for resigning. Explain the uncomfortable nature of the situation quickly, as simply as possible, without disrupting the positive flow of the interview. If a company truly wants you on its team, the inability to get additional references from the company should not affect a forthcoming offer. Don't let your previous manager ruin it twice for you, so do your best to block this unfortunate situation from your mind during the interview.

Kurt Wilkinson is the principal of Wilkinson SoftSEARCH, Inc.

(c) 2002

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