How to talk about your past

Most people have things in their background they’d rather not tell a potential employer – perhaps you have a criminal record, or have made a workers’ compensation claim. However, once you reach the interview stage you may have to disclose this information. So, what’s the best way to discuss sensitive issues while still putting your best foot forward?

Know your rights

There’s no hard-and-fast rule about what you do and don’t have to disclose to an employer. It depends on the job, the organisation and the industry. Generally speaking, an employer will want to know about things that may impact on your ability to do the job.

Consider the nature of the role. Some professions, such as those where people are working with children, have mandatory police checks. If you’re working in the transport industry, an employer may want to check whether you’ve had any traffic infringements. Physically demanding jobs may require a pre-employment medical examination to ensure you’re able to perform all aspects of the role.

Research whether you’re obliged to reveal details about your background. For instance, there is no legal obligation to disclose information about a mental health condition unless it could potentially impact on the safety of you or your colleagues.

You’ll feel more confident about how you choose to answer job interview questions when you know your rights.

Be up-front and honest

It’s easy to be honest when you’re talking about your achievements. It’s not as easy to be honest about negative information, but it’s just as important.

Say you have a criminal conviction that needs to be revealed. Don’t offer excuses. A better tactic is to be proactive – admit responsibility, express remorse, and talk about what you’ve done to prevent this from happening again. The same is true for your bad credit history, or your unfair dismissal.

Similarly, being transparent about your medical history prevents you from getting yourself into situations where not revealing the information can result in legal liabilities or further medical issues.

We’re all human and we’ve all made mistakes. Put yourself in your future employer’s shoes for a second. Would you prefer to hire an honest and transparent employee who takes responsibility, or one who makes excuses for something they’ve done? Which one can you trust? Which one is more likely to perform better and be more responsible?

Being truthful is the best option. As with all job interviews, prepare by practising interview scenarios in a role-play with someone you trust. It will make you more comfortable and confident with what you want and need to say on the day.

The benefits of being honest

So, what are the benefits of being honest? Why would you share information about your past, especially when you don’t have to? Firstly, evidence suggests that those who have control in life and take responsibility for their actions often possess higher self-esteem and confidence. These individuals can regulate their emotions, and will learn from failures in order to improve future performance. To put it simply, accepting mistakes and taking responsibility leads to better long-term outcomes and more mature behaviour.

Secondly, research shows that lying in job applications is troublesome for both the employee and employer. Dishonesty, at the very least, could cause you to lose your job, and you’ll walk away with a terrible reference.

Talking about these thorny issues is not easy, but admitting the past will empower you as a responsible and reliable citizen. Your honesty will disarm potential employers of any preconceptions about your character, and will help them to see you as a trustworthy future employee.

Show potential employers that you’re not trying to hide your past by having your employment history independently verified by CVCheck. It’s a great way to build trust, and demonstrate that you’ll make an honest employee.

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