How Mentoring Helps Overcome Those “Checkered Marks”

Having worked in public and private industry for many years, it has always been important to develop a stellar work history strongly supported by many sustaining references.  In contrast, I have also been keenly aware of the infamous, “black mark,” or checkered past, that can be seen as a game changer for some professionals in their careers.  In many cases these terms have been used to refer to a long-lasting negative impact, career mistake, or anything you have done that people will remember in your future.  Other specific black marks describe serious employee infractions that can get one off track or an unfortunate political decision that derailed ones’ path to power.  In other industries the black mark or checkered past can be used to describe serious conditions such as prior misdemeanors, felony convictions and time in our country’s legal system. With these heavy burdens and others that can emerge in a new social media environment, one needs to turn these circumstances around in order to get your career back on track and your career path back into perspective.  So we ask, can a black mark or checkered past be turned around with the use of effective mentoring or a relationship with a quality mentor or coach?


The Anxiety of the Past

We all recall that exciting feeling you get when you receive the good news that you have been selected for an interview. You feel like this news is the best outcome that can be achieved after a long, taxing job search.  However, the anxiety after the euphoria of the news has passed can focus your attention on how to frame your past without impacting your future during the interview. Probably not at first glance, but career counseling experts, coaches and mentors share that there are ways to de-emphasize that mark and redeem yourself in the eyes of the hiring director, supervisor and influential leaders.

Of the many suggestions received by hiring directors is the approach to seek out a coach or mentor, develop deft interviewing skills, polish up and reorganize your resume, and cultivate boundless determination.  When speaking to internal supervisors and individuals whom you wish to influence, it is important to be authentic, honest, and genuine in your conversations about your past mistakes. This, along with a finessed sense of honesty and humility, will lead you back into the working world, regain confidences, and set up realistic expectations–setting you free to reach your career goals.

Selecting the Right Mentor

Mentoring is an exceptional method for engaging, developing, and retaining your organization’s talent and your personal growth. Having experienced the benefits of mentoring career professionals with my current firm, I find that Coley’s mentoring solution and staff support strategies are easily implemented, adopted, and tailored to meet one’s unique needs and those of a workforce.  This can be done while taking advantage of embedded lessons learned across a broad commercial and government market, along with those professional challenges encountered along a career continuum.  Mentors have the right skill sets, embrace past experiences, are non-judgmental, and embody a clear mission of making you the best person you can be.

Author Your Own Story

I completely support the idea of organizing your work history around poignant skills and major accomplishments.  Many will tell you to pay for a resume re-haul, but no one knows your situation, personal circumstances, and story, as well as you do, an effective mentor or coach can help guide this process.  Eliciting a mentor or someone you respect greatly is definitely a good idea in order to have a sounding board for these challenge conditions.  The individual selected should not be judgmental, have a keen sense of realism, and most importantly, be experienced in the situation you are attempting to navigate through. The first step to independence is to take ownership of your story expressed through your modified resume and personal testimony of redemption.  Your mentor should encourage this approach, and help you frame your story to sound professional and redemptive. Be truthful, but do not overindulge in personal details.

Quality, not quantity, will have the greatest impact on that feeling of anxiety, and the tendency to over explain unnecessary details about your personal journey and past career challenges should be avoided. As quoted by author Colette Baron Reid, “There is a surrendering to your story and then a knowing that you don’t have to stay in your story.

Get Yourself Back on Track

This week, Congress considered a bill to eliminate salary history questions in interviews. The bill sought to eliminate the wage gap that women and people of color encounter during the hiring process. The same can be said about the legalities of asking about a person’s past. While it is legal, it is important to not withhold something employers can determine from a background check. Do not leave your destiny to ever- changing government rules to protect our rights. To be present and move through your unfortunate situations toward your future career goals, you need to act now. An experienced mentor will help you embrace opportunities to talk about your challenge to move it from the past, and frame the beginning of a new career and life chapter for your future.

The bottom line is that you can waste your life blaming others for your failures or you can take responsibility and get yourself and your career back on track.


Photo credit: VFS Digital Design via / CC BY

By Janet Williams

As Director of Human Capital and Performance Consulting for Coley & Associates, Dr. Janet E. Williams provides Government clients and commercial companies insight on how to leverage resources and maximize services for improvements to company operations. She specializes in mentoring, progressive management process improvements, accountability and control, revenue enhancements, and other organizational change methods. For almost 20 years, Dr. Williams worked in government and head an Emerging Leaders Program for mentoring youth. Janet holds a bachelor’s degree in Accounting from Hampton University a MBA from Troy State University, and her doctorate in Public Policy and Leadership from Walden University.

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