Worth a Closer Look

[EDITOR’S NOTE ó This article originally cited the fictitious resume of “Harriet Martin,” which is in no way related to any real person with the same name. “Harriet Martin” has since been replaced by the more fictitious-sounding “Jane Smith.”] Jane Smith’s resume is on your desk. You look it over, push it aside, pick it up and reread it, then put it down again. The resume shows some stellar credentials, work history, and progressive advancement ó that suddenly drops off. She isn’t vying for a managerial or executive position. Instead, it’s simply some type of second-tier situation. It’s a job ó or so it seems to you. You go ahead and interview Jane and find an affable, bright, engaging, knowledgeable woman who’s capable of much more than a second-tier position. This makes you wonder why she is undershooting and whether there’s some dark secret that will kill your reputation if you take a chance. I’ve seen these types of resumes in the past. The observation that a major life circumstances that caused a change was confirmed. Although not true of every case like this one, the dark secret may just be that she is a domestic violence survivor making a fresh start. October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. In 1996, President Clinton declared October 1 “Domestic Violence Workplace Education Day.” So even though today may be the last day of October, it is still fitting that I explain to you why the Jane Smiths you interview might be worth taking a risk on. Poor Work History Jane’s work history has short stints at nondescript situations that aren’t remarkable. During the interview, she talks about looking forward to a situation with a long-term commitment. You start wondering about that, given the work history. The truth of the matter is she truly does want something long-term with growth potential. With the abuser out of her life, things are a lot more stable, and that form of constant, unpredictable disruption is ended. After the first interview, you have Jane take some skills and candidate assessments. You know and trust these instruments. The results report that she is a very talented person with high intelligence. She has natural skills in certain critical areas and also has potential in several others with some small amount of training and development. You start wondering again. The reason for her making a lowball application is to reduce the failure factor and gain a means of earning some type of income. It’s called getting a job and a shoe in the door. Judith Herman calls it in, Trauma and Recovery, getting reconnected. Poor Credit and Background Check Okay, so you trust your assessments tools. A second interview results in more positives. Now you’re thinking strongly of making an offer. So you run the credit and background checks. They come back in terrible shape. There’s a trail of debt, write offs, slow pays, and other red flags. The background check confirms the work history with a few short-term situations that weren’t listed. Although you wonder whether it’s even worthwhile to do reference checks, those initial gut instincts urge you to do so. Some are raves, some milquetoast, one or two say something about some sort of instability. Ginny NiCarthy’s You Can Be Free, Jan Statman’s The Battered Woman’s Survival Guide, and Judith Herman’s Trauma and Recovery all speak of these credibility assaults as part and parcel of the survivor’s background. Typically in domestic violence situations, the abuser has access to all finance and credit tools and controls all sources money. The abuser will also create bills in the target’s name or else coerce the target to create unaffordable debt. The abuser might also use a number of tactics to isolate the target and discredit them. These are the bases of the negatives in this situation. She is now on safer ground and the abuser out of the picture, that old background is history. Trust your assessment tools. Strengths Jane has a lot of positives. You’ve already noticed that. That’s why you finally interviewed Jane and did all of that qualifying work. That’s why you’re toying with making an offer. But there’re so many red flags, you’re starting to second-guess yourself. And well you should. Jane Smiths are exceptions to the rule, and they are rare. Your first instincts about good skills are correct: this is a valuable person to have on your staff or present to your client. She has a lot of strengths, and I will now discuss with you why the domestic violence or the abuse survivor of this ilk is worth more to you than may be apparent. Unfortunately, not all survivors are like Jane. Some will drive you mad because it takes three minutes for them to decide whether or not to turn on the computer. They will stammer and stutter when asked to explain anything that is said in a normal, respectful tone, and it will take them twice as long to do something because they keep trying to avoid making mistakes. But the person you have before you may not be like that. She is an exceptional talent who needs a small amount of opportunity in order to blossom into the placement you’ll be proud to have. Don’t waste your time on the run of the mill. But you may want to give Jane more consideration, because of the following qualities:

  • Determination. Someone must have had Jane in mind when the word “determined” was coined. If it takes working long hours to get a project properly delivered, she will willingly do so. The basis for this determination, according to Sister Anne Kelley, Executive Director of Good Shepherd, a shelter for battered women with children, is to avoid having to return to the abusive relationship. With financial freedom and empowerment, she can do so. You have a motivated employee for these and several other positive reasons. As for that project, its difficulty is overlooked in deference to finding a way to get the job done.
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  • Resourcefulness. Jane is extremely resourceful. If the tried and true, traditional manner of doing something just isn’t working, she will come up with workable alternatives. Talk about creative! You’ll be amazed at what can be put together with a piece of chewing gum and a paper clip (this is not too much of an exaggeration). This is a by-product of her rigorous background. It’s necessary to be resourceful and creative with all manner of things because of the manufactured roadblocks. Be certain that things don’t get to the point that resourcefulness is part of each and every 26-hour day, six and a half days a week.
  • Solutions. Suffice it to say, she is a person who finds solutions. Discuss her accomplishments or things not done in the usual way. What you want to learn is whether there’s ability to think outside the dots. If she does, you want this person. Let’s get this straight so that you can tell the difference between the wrong kind of candidate and this one. The wrong kind of candidate will come up with one excuse after another about why they could not and did not. The right candidate will have few, if any, excuses. They are responsible. This person is extremely adaptable. The prime focus is on success.
  • Enthusiasm. Not only will she get things done, they’ll happen with enthusiasm. Careful. This can be infectious. Even the humdrum will be done with dispatch and no grumbling. This is the type of person who is their own cheerleader. With the economy as it is, it might be good to have several with this attitude. It gets them and the rest of the team through the roughest of times in good form.
  • Communication, persuasion, and negotiation. Some people just have a way with words. They could talk the stripes off a zebra. Jane is one of them. This may be a natural talent. More likely it comes with a great deal of practice from the need to avert hostility. This one will be excellent at dealing with clients and vendors. You’ll be astounded at her negotiating skills, both with you and with others. If these skills are not well-honed for your industry quirks, it would be good to take note and, once hired, begin the coaching process to refine them. These abilities are valuable to your company or your clients.
  • Leadership skills. Jane is rarely rattled and can face the most grueling of situations with style. Jane is unique because she either can lead or follow ó and knows when to do either. Better, she knows how to bring out the best in others. In sitting in on survivor discussion groups, it was enlightening for me to hear the various tales with a similar theme. Several of the speakers exhibited a high degree of intelligence, tenacity, dedication to gaining new skills, and no exaggeration of details. In fact, the wording used also showed a great deal of tact.

No Coddling, Please Now, I’ve told you that this super hero who walks on water is a survivor. That means Jane is a survivor in many interpretations of the word. There’s no need to coddle Jane. There may be a few instances of self doubt and hesitation that lead to some poor choices but not an overwhelming number of them. These are human issues. They show a few job supplements that should be provided. When you have excellent talent, you do yourself a good service to encourage and nurture further development of it. I’ve already said that. But hiring managers should bear in mind, when new opportunities arise for additional training, you especially want to keep Jane motivated and enthused. She will learn well and quickly; you’ll recoup your training dollars several times over. Then put some credibility behind the training and encouragement by offering Jane advancement opportunities that were discussed during the interviews. The Dark Side I’ve been painting a glowing picture of some super human, and a few words are now appropriate to bring things into perspective. Every person has their dark side; Jane is no exception. Because of their history of living through a form of terrorism and abusive oppression, these survivors will be subject to anomalous, occasional explosions. These situations are not the unspecified and are not out of the blue. Anyone would explode under the same circumstances. She is okay. All of us have limits and boundaries. We have business protocols that dictate what is appropriate. However, some people are like bulls in a china shop and will intentionally push the envelope over the cliff ó repeatedly. Expect that this brutishness will not be handled well. Expect to do some retraining of the offender because they are the one who is out of line. Not Surprise, A Prize Not every person’s resume that has this sort of profile is a domestic abuse survivor. It isn’t safe to make that generalization. Not every person with an initial presentation of this sort is going to prove to be the Jane Smith outlined here. Use your assessment tools and your interviews and trust those results to parse out the type of candidate you have. If the candidate is a Jane Smith, you’ve got not a surprise but a prize. Don’t toss the resume on the bottom of the pile. She will come through the assessments and interviews with the types of positives you’re looking for. Bright, talented, capable, adaptable, educated: go ahead and take the risk.

Yvonne LaRose (ylarose@recruitandretain.net) is a California-accredited consultant and freelance writer. Her column, Career and Executive Recruiting Advice, is read by professionals from all parts of six continents who rely on her advice, previous board experience, and insights on business management, recruiting, and career development issues. Former producer and host of "Legally Speaking," a bi-weekly legal news radio program, Ms. LaRose's 15 years of writing encompasses various media, including print. Her online writing appears at such places as HR.com, AIRS Directory, Workforce, ITWorld's Managing the IT Pro, and SmartPros. She has been interviewed by The Wall Street Journal, Savoy Professional Magazine, The New York Times Job Market, and SmartPros. Yvonne helped author the e-book "The Last Job Search Guide You'll Ever Need: How to Find and Get the Job or Internship of Your Dreams." Her contributions deal with professionalism, how to handle criticism and the qualities of a good resume. For more information on her book, visit http://hop.clickbank.net/?entrances/lastguide.


1 Comment on “Worth a Closer Look

  1. Two things I forgot to mention.

    “Harriet Martin” could be a “Harry Martin”

    A long gap in the employment history or a drop out could mean a proactive choice to care for children or a relative; it could mean there was a maternity leave.

    So what I’m saying is don’t let this type of profile make you think that every time you see it, it means domestic violence. But that could be one of the reasons for the strange history.

    You can read the original article at:

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