Differentiate Your Work from the Company

By Scot Herrick | Job Performance

Oct 02

In case you didn’t notice it, a lot of banks and other financial firms have been bought or liquidated. That translates into tens of thousands of people looking for a job that came from a business that failed.

Politics likes to play “guilt by association,” but sometimes hiring managers do too. If you worked for a failed company…you failed as well. And you don’t get hired. Just put yourself in the hiring manager’s position: when you get down to choices…you with a failed company and someone else coming from a successful company…who would you hire?

Makes you self-assured, now doesn’t it?

One of the great, but subtle, tasks a Cubicle Warrior needs to do in an interview is overcome bad stereotypes about the companies they worked for in the past. Granted, were in some tough times and there are plenty of people who have been laid off from failed companies, but your objective is to get the work in the right position for you. Overcoming subtle “guilt by association” with your old company is something that needs to be done.

How can you overcome this subtle bias?

Accomplishments matter

Getting things done counts with hiring managers – that is why they want someone in the first place. They want someone who can help achieve their business goals. Understanding your accomplishments and having the numbers to back them up cannot be overstated.

Knowing your accomplishments and explaining them during the interview overcomes the failed company objection: the company may have failed, but not because this person didn’t get stuff done.

Know your company stereotype in the hiring marketplace

People don’t pay much attention to their company reputation in the marketplace. Yet, recruiters and others have strong opinions on your company and its effectiveness. These opinions need to be known so you can construct the right stories about your work to counter the stereotype. If your company’s reputation is slow decision-making, you need to talk about your fast decision-making in your job. If your company has a reputation for fast decision-making, you need to talk about how your work matched the company stereotype. In order to create the right narrative, you need to understand what the stereotypes are about your company.

Your stories counter the poor stereotypes

Once you know your accomplishments and the company’s talent reputation, you are now in a position where you can subtly, but strongly, assert your work overcoming the poor, failed company. Be clear: you cannot be negative about your previous company.

What you can do is start off your story about your accomplishment with something like this: “Washington Mutual has the reputation of not making decisions quickly, but that was certainly not the case in my work. For example…” You can look at your specific work to counter the reputation. You can take your department’s work and management to counter the reputation. You can take your division and use it as against stereotype. For example, WaMu’s banking division was considered very good while the home loans division was not. If you worked in the banking side of the business, you can say you worked in the profitable division of the company and go from there. Lehman Brothers had great bankers in the bond division.

Use the stories of your accomplishments as the starting point for blunting company stereotypes without being negative. Doing so effectively blunts the unstated bias against a failed firm when you’ve done great work.