I did something dumb in the past, will it haunt my job hunt? – #DearTBC

*From the past archives of old posts and questions, specific situational questions are now answered in a more complete way (because ya’ll deserve that) through #DearTBC. Today’s episode comes originally from 5 More Answers To Your Not-As-Frequently-Asked Questions. 

Read on to find out about 1 anonymous reader’s fears of their past coming back to haunt them.

Hi I had a major disciplinary case (it was really bad, such a low point in my life and I made a wrong decision waaahh) but that was like sophomore year pa and it has been resolved through community service hours.

I’m a senior now and I’m scared that when I graduate, companies won’t accept me anymore once they see that I had a major disciplinary case when they ask the school about my character etc.

Do companies still judge based on those? 🙁

Justine: I totally get you. Don’t worry, I have a lot of those fears too.

As someone who used to frequently do bad things for stupid reasons, I too grapple with the constant fear of getting caught. Or of someone bringing up what I did before. Because who wants their future to pay for their past stupidity??

So, I say ‘yes, you should worry. IF you aren’t upfront about it, IF and when someone brings up and asks about your past stupidity’.

I’d like you to notice that there are 2 if’s in that sentence.

I realize that people are more likely to forgive and forget your past transgressions, if and when they bring it up, if you’re honest about the circumstances that led to it and about how you reformed yourself. Again, a lot of if’s in that sentence.

Which means you don’t have to worry (much) about it.

As long as you never broadcasted that this happened to you in the first place (not even telling your closest friends because you never know), no one would find out. And no one could tell possible employers that about you. 

Let’s switch gears first and place this into the context of interviews.

Interviews and Background Checks

Companies don’t usually do background checks, until they’re done with the interview stage and want to move forward with a candidate. That means they’re ready to offer you the job, hence, why they’re checking to make sure you won’t be a problem. There’s literally nothing more you can do at this point in time. 

My only advice: if your application was solid enough to merit them doing a background check on you, then you don’t have to worry. You’re already in, technically.

And most companies won’t do the background check anyways. That’s too much hassle on their part. It might even cost them more to do it than to take you at your word today, and possibly fire you if you become trouble someday.

Or, as is more common here in the Philippines, make your work conditions so bad that it forces you to quit. Which to me is as good as firing you. They just do it that way, so they don’t have to give you a severance package or anything aside from your final month’s salary.

How Are Background Checks Done?

I’ll start by saying this is not commonly done here in the Philippines. Partly, I think, because we’re a relationship based culture, but that’s a topic for another day.

I say that nobody does background checks often, because I know a lot of people who lied about what’s on their resume. I’ve seen people say their president of This org, they’ve received That leadership award, they’ve presented their thesis at Those conferences. And nobody seems to do any checks to see if it’s true or not. I’ve seen someone make up a conference and award, and still get job offers.

So, I don’t think companies really bother checking into your past.

What some companies do instead, is sweep your Google search results and your social media.

If something weird or off comes out when they do their sweep, that might raise some red flags against you. But again, at this point, they’re just doing due diligence before offering you the job.

Protip: Lock all your social media accounts. Change your name and username to not involve your real name. Google search yourself before job hunting to see what comes out on page 1 and 2 of Google, then clean it up. 

What’s a weird hit on Google? Depends on the industry you’re going for. Weirdest thing I’ve ever seen when back searching someone is that they’re very active in comments sections of some controversial topics around religion and ethnicity. 

Related: What’s 1 thing I can do to improve my resume today?

What To Do If Someone Brings Up Your Past

Ok, so what if by some terrible stroke of luck, someone did find out What You Did. For this example to be clearer, let’s make up a fake scenario. Let’s say, you set fire to a chair in your classroom.

First, above all else, don’t ever bring up your chair arson problems in any conversation. Ever. Because it makes you look like you haven’t moved on or worse, you’re proud of what you did. Bury that part of your past. Quietly. Deeply. And move forward from it. Because that’s not who you are anymore.

I’ve seen people end up with enviable opportunities here and abroad, even though they plagiarized their thesis, got caught, and got the whole group sanctioned because of their mistake. Because they never told anyone. I only found out because their groupmates told others.

So, step 1, never bring up you did this terrible thing in the first place.

Second, if someones does bring up your chair arson past, don’t get flustered or go into denial mode. They brought it up because they know someone who knows you set fire to the chair. They’re doing this on purpose. Stay calm and launch into your prepared monologue for this exact situation.

If you haven’t prepared a quick monologue yet, prepare a 4 sentence explanation that goes like this:

a. Yes, I did burn a chair.
b. It was dumb of me to burn a chair. I wasn’t really thinking it through.
c. I have learned and moved on from my chair burning tendencies, through the following actions.
d. It was an experience that I’ll never repeat again.

Start by playing it off as a young, dumb, and foolish move that happened once, and led you to an early maturity combined with a newfound appreciation for rules. Be as clear as possible; it wouldn’t hurt to explicitly state what lesson you learned.

In terms of delivery, you can go the calm route. Or you can do it the way I do. Talk about it in a fast, fiery, and frank tone, instead of the demure, detached, and mildly disinterested tone to show how you’ve moved on from that period of your life. It’s in the past, and you placed it there via these concrete steps you took to make up for it.

This sounds like a complete contrast from the calm monologue you’re supposed to be delivering. And what I’m advocating. But I believe strong emotions makes people trust your words more.

Other examples

If your terrible past had something to do with dishonesty, you have to overcompensate by being absolutely honest if they ask.

Be calm and upfront when asked. Say exactly what you said in your question, which is that it was a stupid mistake you made at a low point in your life, you’ve learned your lesson, and swear that it will never happen again.

If it had to do with violent tendencies, talk about how you sought out counseling or therapy to control those violent urges and how you channel all that energy now into something productive. More importantly, stress how you haven’t had a violent episode in years and that you’ve learned what triggers you and how you avoid those triggers.

If it really had to do with burning a chair in the classroom, do the exact same process as violent tendencies. And don’t crack any jokes about chairs or fire. 

Related: “My boss ghosted me, what do I do?” – #DearTBC

To Summarize

In the end, I do think that some places will not consider hiring you, once they find out about the disciplinary case. And that’s OK.

Find work elsewhere.

The Philippines is in need of intelligent manpower, so not every company can afford to be picky. Somewhere out there, a company will see you for your merits and go, “We gotta hire him, even if he seems like a nut case.”

Whatever happens, just keep this in mind.  My dad told it to me eons ago.

When someone asks you about something they think you’d be ashamed of, own it or dismiss it. Don’t let them know you’re rattled.

No one can make you feel bad about something you’ve already processed through your system.

Before you even get to this point of worrying about your jobs and future though, figure out how you’re going to spin your story. And test out your poker face by playing lying games with your friends. If they say you can trick them into believing something sad you said, then you’re good to go.

Chin up and cheer up. If you’re still worrying about the terrible thing in your past, do some good karma in this world that’ll negate that stupid silly thing you did. That’s what I did. By the way, I did not burn a chair. I’m too afraid of fire to do that.


In case you have no idea where you are, welcome to The Border Collective, where any question you’ve got on internships, resumes, or careers in the PH can and will be answered. I’m Justine, founder and writer of all things here.

#DearTBC is a slot for really specific career-related questions that you’re worrying about, but you’re not quite sure who you can turn to. We answer in-depth so that anyone else who’s never wondered but wants to know, will know what to do next.

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About Justine

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Hope you read something useful, til the next time I write something, bye~


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