I googled my way to your site looking for “blackballed”.

I think this has happened to me, but I’m resolutely deciding to trudge ahead. I won a Title VII judgment against a previous employer. I was not in good shape and have really done well deciding to re-enter my field.

I’ve been out for about 5 years; and my resume has some real gap problems from when I was unable to work. It’s excruciatingly embarrassing to address in an interview; but I think I’m prepared to handle that in interviews.

I just can’t get any. My experience is corporate experience is awesome; elite education; cross-disciplinary management…and I can’t get one bite.

I am just “looking past” the blackball – recruiters DO work for companies, not job seekers. But when I see an advertisement that says “Clean Background” or “Exemplary Work History”, how do you combat that? It’s like institutionalized blackballing.




Dear Blackballed:

You sound very frustrated and discouraged–and I can understand those feelings. I hope we can offer some thoughts that might assist you.

You say that your resume has gap problems and that you can’t get interviews as a result. And you liken the requirement for a clean background and exemplary work history to institutionalized blackballing (blocking someone’s membership or hiring–often based on something other than valid reasons.) I don’t want to imply that your feelings aren’t justified–you likely have many reasons for making some assumptions about such things. But I want you to think about what is keeping your resume from being considered, so that you can deal with the correct issue.

Companies take risks every time they hire someone. The only way a business has of judging an applicant’s future, as a good risk is to look at the applicant’s past. Resumes provide that picture of the past. Looking at it that way, it isn’t blackballing for a company to try to limit hiring risks–it’s good business and ultimately benefits clients and customers. Unfortunately, those efforts sometimes eliminate potentially very good employees. But the responsibility for being seen as a good risk lies with the applicant and that’s why it is so important to maintain a good work history–and to present the work history one DOES have, in the best way possible.

You do have a clean record, apparently–no criminal actions and you haven’t lost lawsuits related to your work. You say you have tremendous corporate experience and you don’t mention rules violations or disciplinary actions–so that sounds like an exemplary work history. You fill the bill in those areas apparently! If your resume is not marked for an interview there must be something else involved–perhaps only the employment gap you mentioned. Perhaps it is the way the overall resume is written or some other aspect about it. I don’t know your career field, but perhaps your credentials are common to many who are applying and thus you do not stand out from the crowd. It may be that there are other factors in your career area that have an impact. Or, it may simply be that the screening process is working against you!

I sometimes review resumes and job applicant letters for several organizations. We use a numerical rating form to allow us to quickly work through stacks of resumes. Each section gets a score based on pre-set guidelines: A point for each year of work experience, two points for a specific degree area, a point for up to x number of people managed and two points for xx number, and so forth. We also factor in diversity elements when appropriate for the job. And if something catches our eye for some reason–positive or negative–we can set that resume aside for additional review. The letter accompanying the resume most often is what will result in that “set-aside” action–good or bad.

Sometimes an applicant is aware that I was one of the reviewers and will call and ask, “What was wrong with my resume?” The answer is usually, “Nothing. It just didn’t get as many points as someone else’s.” When I’m allowed to do so, I tell them where the points may have been lacking. Often it isn’t that THEIR points were lacking but that someone else’s points were unusually high. Most businesses don’t use the point system–but screeners in HR or elsewhere likely have some preset ideas about what establishes a candidate as meriting an interview. There may be a hundred resumes for five interviews. Ninety-five really good people are eliminated for reasons that may be so minor they can’t even be explained!

You likely have been in your field for some time and are well aware that a resume is a tool that must speak clearly for you when you aren’t there to speak for yourself. Talking to someone in your field about key issues that you may be overlooking might help you. Perhaps you could have one of them look at your resume and give you their view about it. Or consider finding a source for a professional review of your resume. Often the letter accompanying the resume has more impact than the resume–so that should be reviewed as well.

It may also be that you will need time to reestablish yourself after the down time you had. You weren’t specific about the nature of that experience or if you did anything related to work during that time. Perhaps you will have to fortify your career now, so that down the line the gap will be overshadowed by a new work history. That might require you to apply for a job that isn’t at the level you ultimately want or need, in order to have the work history you want for a resume. Work histories are sometimes like financial histories–even if the damage is through no fault of your own, there may have to be some time allowed to clearly show that you will be a good risk. In your case, it isn’t your work that might present a problem, but a period of not working. Perhaps that should be treated differently in your resume than you are now doing. That would be something to ask about if you have a professional review done.

Consider an approach other than submitting a resume and waiting. According to your field, perhaps you can use contacts or a personal network to get your name to the attention of someone who can help you. If you have the knowledge and skills someone needs–and if you can show that you will be a great addition to a team, at some point that will be seen and you will succeed. I realize that’s easier for me to say than for you to accept, given the situation! However, that has been the case over and over in my experience–and you have probably seen it happen too. The person and the job DO come together when the person is prepared and the job is right.

Best wishes as you continue to develop your inner strength so that you can move forward. If you have the time and wish to do so, please let us know the results of your efforts.

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.