Privacy: Keep Your Life Private Archives

“What can I tell prospective employers about my secret government work?”

Published on June 14th, 2011 by Alan L Sklover

Question: Hi, Alan. I worked on a large research project for the government for the last couple of years. Now I am looking for work in the private sector, and am not allowed to talk about it. I really want to move out of government work, but am finding that there’s a large gap in my resume I can’t discuss.

I’m wondering: is there a standard way to say that the information is on an appropriate “need to know” basis? What can I tell the prospective employer? Thanks for your help.

San Francisco, California

Answer: Dear S.I.S.:     

While I don’t think there is a “standard” way to express what you need to express, these are the guidelines my clients have followed in circumstances similar to yours:  

1. To begin with, your own words are a good start. As a start, I like what you have suggested: “For three years, I have been working for the federal government in the field of nanotechnology. Unfortunately there are many specifics of my work that can be shared only with others who have a federal ‘Top Secret’ clearance, and a demonstrated ‘need to know.’” (Of course, I used nanotechnology only as an illustration.)

2. Your first focus should be any Government Guidelines given to you, and perhaps signed by you. Your first real “guideline” should be any that the government provided to you, and/or had you agree to. Organizations that are involved in secretive efforts often provide secrecy guidelines, and often require employees to sign that they will adhere to those guidelines. Such guidelines are commonly quite broad, and so general so as to be unhelpful, but this should still be your first focus to find what you can, and cannot, say. Since you are not the first person to face this dilemma, I’m confident you will find that government guidelines do, in fact, exist.

3. In general, anything that is already in the public domain can be shared. Suppose, just for a minute, that over the last two months three scientific journals published articles about one certain area of your work, mentioned the names of two of your supervisors, and also provided specifics about the success your group had using new plastics in nanotechnology. Materials in “the public domain” which you had no role in putting there, are no longer considered protectable secrets. So long as there are no written guidelines that specifically prohibit you, you should not be too concerned about mentioning those already-published facts in your resume and interviews.

4. Of course, keep to the more general side of things, and avoid specific facts, names, events, and findings. If there is one general guideline to follow, it’s “Keep things general.” Though your prospective employers may ask specific questions, your answers should stay on the “vague” side of things, to your best ability. If you worked with high-energy lasers, that is probably OK to say, but if you worked on a new way to make high energy lasers by putting 100 amps of electricity through salt crystals (just my imagination), you should not say that. 

5. You may consider requesting the Government’s permission to disseminate a written statement that you have prepared. I suggest you consider drafting up a written statement that you would like to disseminate with your resume, and forward it to the Security Clearance Officer or Compliance Manager on your government project. People have a much easier time responding to an actual statement than they do to a general inquiry. Of course, send it only to someone you are confident has the necessary security clearance in the first place. This has been perhaps the most effective measure taken by my clients in situations similar to yours. 

S.I.S., I hope these give you a sense that you can get past this “speedbump,” and some of the guidelines to follow. Thanks for writing in, and we hope you’ll continue to visit our blogsite regularly. Consider becoming a Subscriber – It’s free!

My Very Best,
Al Sklover

We also offer several helpful Model Letters, Memos and Checklists to help you get a New Job. To review a list of those that are available, just [click here.]

© 2011 Alan L. Sklover, All Rights Reserved.

“How do I explain job loss after a personal tragedy made me lose focus?”

Published on January 2nd, 2011 by Alan L Sklover

Question: I was asked to leave my job but given a voluntary separation agreement which I signed.

The reason I was asked to leave was that I suffered a deeply personal tragedy and this situation affected my focus which did not allow me to concentrate on my work to the extent I am capable of. I have worked at other places and always had good performance reviews.

How do I explain this situation in response to the question “Why did you leave your old job?”

         Chicago, Illinois

Answer: LM, besides being an advocate for employees, I am an employer. As an employer I have asked many job candidates that very same question, “Why did you leave your old job?”

Your reason seems honest, reasonable and straightforward to me. Quite honestly, if I heard that (a) you had positive performance reviews at prior positions, (b) you suffered a personal tragedy at this position that made you temporarily lose focus, (c) you and your employer agreed it would be best that you left, considering your loss of focus, (d) you felt that your ability to concentrate had returned, and (e) you were now ready and eager to get back to work, I would have no problem hiring you.

Unless I am missing something, I don’t think you have much to fear. Admittedly, I do not know (i) what kind of tragedy you have suffered (or whether it is even my business to know), (ii) how long it has been since you have regained your ability to concentrate, (iii) how long you were on your last job, (iv) if you received positive review from your last job – at least until you suffered your personal tragedy, or (v) if you seem focused in an interview. But, from what you have shared with me, your reason for leaving your last job is as honest, common, straightforward and understandable as any other reason for leaving a past job as any reason I have ever heard.

It may be helpful to gather letters of support and reference. Why don’t you consider gathering together testimonial support for your hard work, honesty, loyalty, positive attitude and very good performance. While nearly everyone experiences personal tragedies, not too many people can provide proof of positive performance and attitude. It would seem especially valuable to have your former employer vouch for you as to your prior performance and attitude.

Skills, positive performance and superior attitude are the most important drivers of hiring decisions. Your reason for leaving a former job is not among the most important of factors in hiring decisions. My own sense is that you have less to fear than you think. Armed with proof of these attributes – skills, prior performance and superior attitude – I think you’ll do much better than you seem to fear.

I hope this is helpful. And I hope you’ll subscribe to our Blog – it’s free. Please also tell friends on Facebook, LinkedIn and other social media about us.

          Best, Al Sklover   

We offer “50 Good Reasons to Explain Your Last Departure.” To obtain a copy, just [click here.] Delivered Instantly – By Email.

We also offer several helpful Model Letters, Memos and Checklists to help you get a New Job. To review a list of those that are available, just [click here.]

Help Yourself With These and Other
Unique JOB SEARCH Materials

Next Step 1: Letter to Friends, Family: Seeking a New Job
Reference 8: Request for Positive References to Former Managers & Colleagues
New Job 1: Cover Letter Submitting Your Resume
New Job 2: "Thank You" Letter after Job Interview
New Job 8: 50 Good Reasons to Explain Your Last Departure
New Job 10: Model Response to Interview Asking Your Salary Expectations
New Job 21: 163-Point Master Guide and Checklist to Interviews

[ Click Here ] and Go to Sections "A, B and C"

© 2011 Alan L. Sklover, All Rights Reserved.

“When interviewing for a new job, if I am asked about my pending lawsuit against my former employer, what do I say?”

Published on April 25th, 2010 by Alan L Sklover

Question: I was wrongfully terminated for standing up for being a “whistleblower” and insisting on my employer fulfilling its contractual obligations to me. I am suing my former employer, along with several former colleagues.

My problem is with searching for new employment. If you “google” my name, my case comes up quite prominently, as it has become “high profile.”

The lie I was told was that my job was eliminated as part of a “budget cut.” I don’t know what to say when asked “Why were you let go?” I don’t know what to say when asked “Why are you suing your former employer?”

Any thoughts?

         Setauket, New York

Answer:  Gayle, as an attorney who has represented employees for over 25 years, I have had your question posed to me many times. The answer is not a simple one. The good news is that, to my knowledge, every single one of my clients who has sued their former employers has, indeed, found new employment.

There are many different ways to approach this dilemma. Some may be more applicable to your  own situation; some may not be. What seems to help most people overcome this “hurdle” in the interviewing process is frank, reasoned, reassuring and calm explanation that:

1. You Did Not Take this Step Lightly, but only Based on Principle and As a Last Resort.

If appropriate, you might mention that the decision to seek the help of the Courts in resolving your differences with your former employer was not an easy decision to make. Instead, you did so only as a matter of Principle and Last Resort.

2. In Perspective, Litigation means Resolution; It is Not a Thing to be Ashamed of.

At one time or another, almost everyone – and every employer – is involved in a lawsuit, because this is the way our society has decided it is best to resolve disputes. Like needing surgery to resolve a medical problem, it is nothing to be ashamed of.

The words and phrases “law suit, litigation, suing,” and the like often conjure up a threat, or evilness, but they are actually synonyms with “resolution, bringing together, moving on.” No matter what company you may interview with, chances are that company has sued other companies, or has been sued by other companies, in the course of its business.

That does not make it a company you would not interview with, just as your being involved in a “resolution effort” should not make you an employee not to be interviewed.

Chances are even your interviewer has been involved in one kind of lawsuit or another during his or her lifetime. You may point this out, in a matter-of-fact manner. While you are not happy to be in court to resolve issues, neither are you ashamed.

3. You Tried Hard to Resolve Your Differences, and Always Do. 

It takes two parties to resolve a difference between them, and sometimes one of those parties simply refuses to resolve matters. You are someone who pursues resolution, with an open heart and a positive heart, but this is one dispute that evaded resolution through discussion.

4. In Your Many Years of Employment, This is the Only Instance of Litigation. 

Mention that you have been employed for many years, for several different employers, and that this is the one and only time you have been unabe to resolve a difference.

5. You Hope and Expect this will be Resolved Soon. 

Lastly, it will be helpful if your interviewer is advised that this may be soon resolved, promptly over with, and not likely to prove a distraction or interference with your work if you were to be hired. 

Don’t forget, “how you say it” may be more important than “what you say.” Always maintain a respectful tone, a calm voice, and an absence of personal invective, in all you say and how you say it.

I hope this has been helpful.

My Best to You,
Al Sklover

We also offer several helpful Model Letters, Memos and Checklists to help you get a New Job. To review a list of those that are available, just [click here.]

Help Yourself With These and Other
Unique JOB SEARCH Materials

Next Step 1: Letter to Friends, Family: Seeking a New Job
Reference 8: Request for Positive References to Former Managers & Colleagues
New Job 1: Cover Letter Submitting Your Resume
New Job 2: "Thank You" Letter after Job Interview
New Job 8: 50 Good Reasons to Explain Your Last Departure
New Job 10: Model Response to Interview Asking Your Salary Expectations
New Job 21: 163-Point Master Guide and Checklist to Interviews

[ Click Here ] and Go to Sections "A, B and C"

© 2010 Alan L. Sklover, All Rights Reserved.

Email at Work – Avoid These “Dozen Digital Disasters”

Published on January 14th, 2010 by Alan L Sklover

“It’s not the most intellectual job in the world,
but I do need to know the letters.”

– Vanna White (Co-Host, “Wheel of Fortune”)

ACTUAL “CASE HISTORY”: It’s happened to everyone, including you, me and all of our friends: an email sent to the wrong person, or containing a message we wish we did not transmit. On this topic, chances are you could probably share a few “digital disaster” stories of your own. The subject is that important, though, that it’s worth devoting a few minutes of time, consideration and reflection, especially considering the potential risk it represents.

Enrique was the Dean of a prestigious architecture school. He was also a well-known architectural critic, who wrote articles for many magazines and was often interviewed in the mainstream media. As Dean, he oversaw the school’s faculty, and had significant input on whether non-tenured faculty members would receive reappointments to their positions.

When the question of Helena’s faculty reappointment arose, Enrique knew there would be strong feelings both “pro” and “con.” Due to Helena’s renown in landscape architecture, she was particularly well known and highly regarded, and was considered a “darling” of the rapidly growing followers of “green,” or eco-friendly, architecture movement. However, due to Helena’s “strong” personality, which included a penchant for participation in controversial political demonstrations, and an alleged “fondness” for illegal substances, many of the tenured faculty saw Helena more a liability to the school than an asset.

In response to an email sent to Enrique by a trusted faculty friend, Enrique replied, “I have no such concerns; as soon as Helena finds the right medication for her psychosis, all will be fine.” Enrique was careful not to send the email to anyone else, but only to his friend. Unfortunately, at just about that time, the school’s email system seemed to freeze up, and Enrique’s email was never transmitted.

The next day a software engineer working on the school’s main computer server found the problem in the email system, and fixed it. That is when the email about “Helena’s psychosis” was transmitted, but for some unknown reason it was distributed to every person in Enrique’s email address book, including all of his worldwide media contacts. This gave Helena’s supporters on the school’s Board of Trustees ammunition in their quest to change the school’s “social awareness.” Long story short: Enrique was required to resign, and then sued by Helena for defamation. With considerable effort, we were able to resolve both matters for Enrique on reasonable terms, but the damage to his finances, relations and reputation were substantial.

LESSON TO LEARN: Email is a powerful communication medium. Like anything powerful, its power both helps and hurts. If not used wisely, with discretion and care, it can cause great damage to your interests, career and reputation. When emailing, you must be careful, very careful.

Email is probably underestimated as a potential tool of self-destruction due to its being so commonplace in our lives. Some people send and receive scores – even hundreds – of emails a day. It’s easy to let your “email guard” down, especially when you have limited time to respond to an avalanche of emails in your “in box.” But keeping your “email guard” continually up is an absolute must.

  • Before you write an email, ask yourself, “Who might be offended or upset by this?”
  • Before you reply to an email, ask yourself, “Must I send this now, while I am uncertain of a best response, or even emotional?”
  • Before you press “send,” ask yourself, “How could this possibly hurt me?”

Will “common sense” and good judgment suffice to protect you? No, for two important reasons. First, today’s “ultra-sensitivity” requires “hyper-attentiveness” to possible risks of offending people. Many believe this “ultra-sensitivity” defies common sense. Second, the nature of email, itself, creates unusual risks that defy common experience: nowhere else do you have such things as “reply-all” buttons, the ability to respond so hastily, and the possibility that your employer can be identified by your workplace email address. With emails, more than “common sense” and old-fashioned good judgment is necessary.

The lesson is this: “There are no erasers on your keyboard.” Once an email is sent, it is sent forever. Treat emails as you would sharp knives, bearing in mind that a single momentary “slip” can cause untold pain.

WHAT YOU CAN DO: Read over these “Dozen Ways to Avoid Digital Disasters,” and then read them over again. Additional effort to protect yourself regarding emails at work is necessary, because common sense and good judgment won’t suffice. Here’s the twelve things you need to bear in mind:

Read the rest of this blog post »

Can I report something to HR and ask them to keep it confidential?

Published on January 7th, 2009 by Alan L Sklover

Question: Just before Christmas, my boss asked me out on a date, and I politely said, “No thank you.” Since then he seems angry with me. I don’t think he necessarily did anything wrong, but I thought it would be best to make a report about it. Can I report this to HR and ask them to keep what I told them confidential? I don’t want to lose my job.

A Blog Fan
Reno, NV

Dear Reno Blog Fan:

The answer is simple: No. No. No. No. And No. Oh, one more thing: . . . there are No Exceptions to this rule.

You must understand, accept and remember that HR should have just one loyalty: to the Company. If what you tell HR seems to them to justify their taking some action, step, or measure to correct a situation, or to prevent a worse situation, they will (and, to my mind, should) take it. You are not the judge of what they should, or should not, do in response to a report of any kind.

Often employees would like to “report” something, but have it stop at that. Unfortunately, HR just can’t guarantee that no further steps will be taken . . . to anyone. Until HR hears all of the facts, and investigates the matter, HR won’t know what it is required to do . . . sometimes even by the law. There are many laws that actually require HR to report matters that come to their attention, and HR will generally not violate those laws in order to fulfill a confidentiality assurance to an employee.

I am aware that some HR Departments have a policy that permits employees to report incidents or problems on a “strictly confidential” basis. I’ve seen those policies and those assurances violated many, many times. I’ve seen those “strictly confidential” reports sent on to the Legal Department, sent on to managers and executives, sent on to the police, and sent on to the alleged victimizer.

What is the solution? There are really only three choices:

a. Don’t make the report, claim or complaint.

b. Make the report, claim or complaint in a “blind” manner, that is, send it to HR without including your name, although that’s impossible in some situations – like yours – with only two people involved. Understand, though, that most HR Departments won’t follow up on a “blind” report, claim or complaint.

c. Make the report, but accept that it may not be kept confidential. Have the courage of your convictions to stand up for yourself.

But when filing a report, claim or complaint, don’t expect confidentiality from HR, no matter what you are told. It’s like telling a police officer the identity of the person who robbed a bank, and asking the officer to “keep it just between us.”

Sorry if this is not the answer you wanted, although I’m sure you really did want the truth.

Best, Al Sklover

P.S.: Feel you’ve been retaliated against? Use our “Model Memo Objecting to Retaliation on the Job” to stop it and have it reversed. “What to Say, and How to Say It,™ just [click here.] Delivered by Email – Instantly! 

© 2009 Alan L. Sklover. Commercial uses prohibited. All rights reserved and strictly enforced.

Alan L. Sklover

Alan L. Sklover

Employment Attorney
and Career Strategist
for over 35 years

Job Security and Career Success now depend on knowing how to navigate and negotiate to gain the most for your skills, time and efforts. Learn the trade secrets and 'uncommon common sense' of Attorney Alan L. Sklover, the leading authority on "Negotiating for Yourself at Work™".

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