This should be a rhetorical question. What do Lehman Brothers, Countrywide Home Loans, Arthur Andersen, Lincoln Savings & Loan, and, among others, Barclay Capital have in common. Certainly, some things that come to mind are “scandal,” “no longer in business,” "greed" and “too big to fail.” Another is “stigma.”
In the wake of the crises that led to the failures and ultimate closures of these companies were thousands of professionals pounding the streets looking for their next job. Many had left behind large compensation packages and unpaid bonuses. Few received severance. Some were complicit in the actions that led to their respective employers’ demise; some were complicit by their silence. Most were just employees who developed business, booked the deals, tracked the income, recorded the payments or sent out the soon-no-longer-to-come payroll checks. But all shared a common bond: The stigma of having worked for a company that had so publicly failed by its own hand.
Whether, and to whatever degree, they might have been involved in the events that precipitated losing their jobs, all their résumés now bore the names of companies that were once badges of merit. Now, at best, these individuals were subjected to greater scrutiny, vetting and in some cases, curiosity, than previously, and then candidates were from other companies; and at worst, their résumés were not read beyond the name of their last employer.
No one accepts an offer with a top performing company, an excellent compensation package and the promise of what appears to be an unlimited career path, thinking that somewhere in a restricted room the company’s revenue is being inflated, depreciation understated, receivables overstated, expenses capitalized, or that their industry itself might be next year’s burst bubble.
But sh*t happens and if you come out of a publicly besmirched firm, you are going to have to deal with the biases and judgments that go with that. Your résumé may or may not get you an interview, but it won’t change anyone’s preconceived notions or satisfy his curiosity. If you are fortunate enough to get an interview, you will very likely have to field some probing questions such as how close you were to the action, how you did not see what was going on or why you didn’t report anything suspicious. Does this make getting a job impossible? No, just more difficult. Like having been fired for cause, or having an arrest on your record, you will need to explain the circumstances surrounding your (presumed) noninvolvement. If you were at the executive- or C-level of your former firm, the vetting will be even more intense since the higher up the chain you were, the question of culpability to some degree makes deniability less credible. Unfortunately, the flip side of that equation can also have consequences in your job search. Admitting to having been the whistle-blower, the person who did the right thing, may not sit well with your interviewer, either.
When employment started to pick up following the 2008 recession, I was specifically told by two clients that they did not want to see résumés from anyone coming out of three specifically named, recently failed institutions, no matter the strength of the candidate. Many candidates who were able to get interviews told me that they were subjected to some very probing questions such as how close they were to the action, how they couldn’t have seen what was going on or why they hadn’t reported anything suspicious.
Even now, if you have a history with a publicly besmirched firm, you are going to have to deal with the biases that go with that. Does this make getting a job impossible? No, just more difficult. Here are some steps you take to make exiting a failed company not appear so threatening.
Seeking employment is daunting enough without the burden of being prejudged as less trustworthy for no reason other than a former association. You did your job and you did it well. Let others know that, not through your frustration, but rather, through your determination. Let them know that if they were to ask anyone, they would learn that besides the vast skills you own, you bring a high level of integrity to the table.