Workplace Rights

Weekly (5/2/16)

Topic of the Week  Getting Past Your Past: Career Survival Skills

  • DON'T let others break the news.
  • DO show what you learned.
  • DO rehab.
  • DO express regret.

Have a few red flags in your past? Join the club. Most of us have made a mistake or two in our career. Okay, maybe a lot more than that. But the screw-ups don't have to be career-enders, just a speed bump that you can drive around to get to the next opportunity. Which reminds me of Ernie K-Doe. "Mother-in-Law" was his big hit many years ago. When he died his wife collected his hair and fingernails and made a life-sized mannequin of him. Ms. K-Doe kept Ernie, the mannequin, very busy with public appearances and he actually ran as a write-in candidate for Mayor of New Orleans. I once saw a quote where she observed that Ernie had never been busier.

If Ernie can stay that busy after dying, then your red flags don't have to be career killers, do they? I've got three Do's and one Don't to help you overcome your past mistakes.

DON'T let others break the news. With Facebook, Google, video cameras in every pocket and background checks, is it really possible for bad news to stay hidden for very long? I doubt it. That's why I believe it's always a good strategy to deliver your bad news first hand. At least you won't compound the problem by appearing to be deceitful. So find a moment when your boss is in a good mood, a real key, and announce the bad news yourself.

DO show what you learned. A little bit of learning can go a long way. Explain specifically how this bad part of your past makes you a better employee now. For example, say you had a major blow up with a manager in another department. Go directly to your boss and tell them what happened, what you learned from the experience and your plan for getting the relationship back on track. People will often give you slack for a mistake, but showing them what you learned is the key.

DO rehab. Celebrities know that when you get in trouble today, there is nothing like a trip to the Betty Ford clinic, or one of a million other rehab centers, to get your career back on track. Rehab, what a concept. Was it your anger that got you into trouble? Sign up for an anger management program. There is a program for whatever ails you, trust me. Two good things will result from a stint in rehab. First, you'll probably learn new strategies for coping with your problem. Second, you'll show people that you are taking your problem seriously.

DO express regret. You'd be surprised at how far a sincerely given apology can go toward cleaning up your image. But it is very important to acknowledge the trouble that your mistake caused for the organization. It's painful, but a necessary part of the healing process.

Ernie's appearances at the Mother-in-Law lounge in New Orleans are a bit more sporadic these days but he's still out there, and you can be too, if you follow these strategies.

Bob Rosner is a best-selling author and award-winning journalist. For free job and work advice, check out the Check the revised edition of his Wall Street Journal best seller, "The Boss's Survival Guide." If you have a question for Bob, contact him via

Thought of the Week

"Unless you are prepared to give up something valuable you will never be able to truly change at all, because you'll be forever in the control of things you can't give up."

–Andy Law

Weekly Comic by Jerry King

Weekly Comic by Jerry King

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