Mortgage Careers 2010 Jun 11 2010

Dealing With a Toxic Resume

By alina dizik

Bear Stearns. Countrywide. Stanford Financial. The list of financial firms brought down in recent years goes on.

For some job seekers, the first step to a solid resume is overcoming the stigma of past work experience. Sometimes a company name on your resume can end up hurting rather than helping when it comes to landing an interview or a job.

Jobs seekers who have held senior positions at dissolved investment banks or worked at smaller companies that have been tied to unethical deals may be especially at risk.

The Ponzi scheme at Stanford Financial Group is one recent example, said Mindy Diamond, president of Diamond Consultants, an executive-search firm specializing in financial advisors based in Chester, N.J. "Stanford was a boutique firm, and it was very hard for potential employers to reconcile that they were dealing with an advisor who had no knowledge of what was going -- and then that advisor was tainted by a bad name," Diamond said.

But not all employers will see experience at a tainted firm as a negative. It could even help you land an interview with hiring managers curious about getting the inside scoop on a story they may have only read about in the newspaper.

"There's just such a mystique to it," said Maureen Ennor, a conversion specialist at Oakland, Calif.-based investment firm Liberty Group, who worked at Bear Stearns six years ago.

Even so, Ennor said, she is still required to address her time at the firm when speaking to potential employers.

If you have a toxic name on your resume, there are steps you can take to dampen the effects it might have on your application. Here are some tips from the experts on what to do about it:

Reassess Your Resume

After Bank of America acquired Countrywide (and renamed the unit Bank of America Home Loans), Dawn Jordan, an employee at the firm at the time, decided to put the most recent company on her resume (Bank of America Home Loans) instead of listing the tainted previous employer (Countrywide). Not only was this the most accurate information, but it also raised fewer red flags during the application process.

While interviewing for jobs, however, she said that she always mentioned Countrywide. "I was always upfront about my full employment history and positioned my work at the epicenter of the financial services meltdown as proof of my ability to be an adaptable employee and a strong, yet flexible manager."

Provide an Addendum

Depending on the eyebrows raised regarding your role at a specific company, consider adding an explanation sheet to your resume. An explanation should be a formal description of what the hiring manager needs to know -- an addendum.

When writing an addendum, brevity and tone are key -- no one wants to read your life story. "You have to be very careful about things you put in writing because they are there in perpetuity," said Stacy Ethun, president of Park Avenue Group, an Orlando, Fla.-based executive search firm, specializing in banking and finance positions. For example, if you previously worked at a mortgage lender that was notorious for offering improper loan information, providing a short statement that separates you from involvement in those activities can be helpful.

Demonstrate Lessons Learned

Showing employers what you've taken away from a career path that has experienced turmoil can make you a more valuable hire, said Ed McGlynn, founder of Mountainside, N.J.-based Financial Recruiters, a financial services placement firm. "There's nothing wrong with admitting a loss or a failure as long as" you've worked through it, said McGlynn. For example, if underwriters at your previous company were seen as unethical, then highlighting additional training courses like those offered by a respected professional association will show that you can hit the ground running.

Weight Experiences Appropriately

Ethun of Park Avenue Group recommends using fewer bullet points to describe your role at a tainted company. "Minimize your role there, but maximize your accomplishment and roles elsewhere," she said. For example, instead of listing five key accomplishments under a specific company list three and use the remaining space to add more information about another role. "You don't want to be perceived as being really good at doing something bad."

Avoid Bad-Mouthing

Knowing how to address the acts of your previous firm can be especially difficult. Most employers are hesitant to hire anyone who badmouths a previous employer, but showing that you do not condone any unethical behavior is important. When the question was raised in interviews, Jordan tried to focus her own learning experience without addressing the merits of her previous employer. "I explained that as a manager, I had to keep people focused and motivated amidst wildly changing priorities, constant downward pressure, scathing media reports, and several rounds of layoffs. I did my best to be truthful without going in to detail or sounding bitter," said Jordan.


A past job at a scandal-tainted company doesn't need to doom your search. It could even help you snag interviews. But be sure to prepare what you're going to say about the issue and show employers what you've learned in your time there.

Write to Alina Dizik here. Please be sure to include the title of the article in the subject line of email.

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