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I work as an engineer for my day job. I was running a business on the side. I did not have a required licence for the business and some people died. The media caught on to it and lambasted me publicly. On top of that the victims' family have filed a lawsuit.

My online reputation has been permanently damaged now.

Will this mean that I will not pass background checks in companies any more?

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    Was there any causal relation between the lack of required license for the business and the fire in the building? Were you in fact negligent or merely a victim of misfortune? Nov 24, 2023 at 18:05
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    Your job prospects are what your job prospects are. The only way to find out what they are is to apply, be prepared with a really convincing explanation and contrition (I wouldn't say "and/or" here), and hope. Be extremely careful not to do anything else questionable; the last thing you need is evidence of a pattern of bad choices.
    – keshlam
    Nov 26, 2023 at 22:07

6 Answers 6

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If it is a Civil lawsuit, then passing a criminal background check should be fine...

But let me be frank: if your name comes up in a Google search and I see that people died and you were negligent...

That's the far more important background check- and that one (for me at least) you would be unlikely to pass.

And recruiters do Google candidates.

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  • Makes sense. Is the recruiter google check done as the final step before hiring or is it one of the first steps in the recruitment process?
    – user142624
    Nov 24, 2023 at 2:21
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    @nightmarish - A Google check is rarely a formal procedure - so we can't answer - Some companies do it, some don't - some might do it right at the start of the process, some might do it after initial screening. Nov 24, 2023 at 3:52
  • @nightmarish I typically google a candidate after a I read the resume and it looks like a potential fit. I did learn a few interesting things and it has sunk applicants. One candidate turned out to be a former drug dealer. Sorry.
    – Hilmar
    Nov 24, 2023 at 13:02
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As the other answers mention employers google (other search engines are available) potential employees all the time - and while this doesn't relate to your work as a software engineer it is definitely not a good look. Even assuming the optics aren't an issue it brings your judgement and professionalism into serious doubt, which is putting it mildly; running an illegal business is bad, running an illegal business which ends up with people dying is a whole new level of messed up

Assuming that they don't immediately bin the application (I have to be honest, I would - your application would be deleted so fast your parents' CVs would probably disappear from existence) and you get to interview the best approach is going to be own it - proactively bring it up, express remorse for your prior actions and be prepared to explain how you've changed your thinking so that you won't be making such poor choices/cutting corners in your professional approach in the future.

As you say the story is out there, your name is out there, and even if they don't google you first it's going to come up at some point, especially if you live/work in the same locality as where the fire happened. So you can either live in dread of that coming out in your first month or two and getting canned or you can tackle it head on.

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I did not have a required licence for the business and some people died in a fire in the building.

I think you're focused on the "people died in a fire"; but, the real issue is that you didn't obtain required licenses for a business.

If you cut corners in your personal life, it would be hard for a business to assume you don't cut corners in your business life. This is especially true when your personal business contains concrete examples.

Odds are you ran one of the many realtor scams, like using a wholesale status to sell to the public, when selling to the public specifically requires a realtor license to avoid the sale of shoddy buildings by promoting inspections and other actions that protect them from the consequences that follow.

Considering I don't hear any contrition about the people who died in this posting, that's a huge red flag.

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  • Minor nitpick. You said, "If you cut corners in your personal life, it would be hard for a business to assume you don't cut corners in your business life". The OP was cutting corners in his business life. It just happened to be a side business.
    – Peter M
    Nov 26, 2023 at 15:56
  • @PeterM I'm fine with the nitpick, but with eight businesses in the family, running a (successful) small business is most, if not all, of your personal life.
    – Edwin Buck
    Nov 27, 2023 at 14:55
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I wanted to provide you with something that might be an option if you live in Europe: the Right to be forgotten. This may not be entirely applicable to your situation considering the fairly extreme situation you find yourself in, but it might be of use for others who have a milder case of unhelpful Google search results.

https://support.google.com/legal/answer/10769224?hl=en

Essentially, you can send Google a request to delist certain results, and depending on what happened, how long ago it is and what sites the results are from, they may agree to remove those results, at least in the EU. They also have a related version of that in the US, but it's mostly limited to PII and revenge porn.

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    I'd be skeptical about the applicability to OP's situation: In deciding what to delist, search engines must consider if the information in question is “inaccurate, inadequate, irrelevant or excessive,” and whether there is a public interest in the information remaining available in search results. OP isn't disputing the accuracy, and it's hard to imagine "multiple people died in my illegal business" could be considered irrelevant or outside the public interest.
    – Chris H
    Nov 24, 2023 at 14:38
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    “search engines must consider if the information in question is “inaccurate, inadequate, irrelevant or excessive,” and whether there is a public interest in the information remaining available in search results.” - The author doesn’t claim the information is any of that adjectives nor can they claim an article describing what happened does not serve the public interests, unfortunately the information on the author is true and accurate and likely they have no claim to remove it from the public record. Yes; Google in 2023 is the public record.
    – Donald
    Nov 24, 2023 at 15:37
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    @ChrisH Keep in mind that Stack Exchange intends for answers to be applicable broadly and not just for the person asking the question. While the situation the original poster finds themselves in is unlikely to be covered by this particular feature of Google, it is possible that someone else who has a damaged reputation from a less severe incident may consider this answer useful.
    – Nzall
    Nov 26, 2023 at 18:58
  • @Nzall there's a big difference "applicable broadly and not just for the person asking the question" and "applicable broadly but not to the person asking the question". At the very least, the fact it's unlikely to be of any value to OP should be mentioned explicitly in the answer.
    – Chris H
    Nov 27, 2023 at 7:29
  • @ChrisH Understood. Question amended to clarify the intent of the answer.
    – Nzall
    Nov 27, 2023 at 12:32
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They may or they may not, it depends if the background check includes online searching. There's nothing you can do about this so it's best not to worry about it.

Whether if found out it will affect your job prospects is also unknown.

There is no set procedure for background checks. I've seen a chap get a job who had just gotten out of jail. The background check missed that somehow.

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It's impossible to tell if you would pass a background check. Like others have suggested, if you do, or if there's none, and you get to an interview and end up being questioned, own it.

That being said, it's likely going for a small company will raise your chances. Especially one that isn't in tech. Software engineers are used in many companies, I'm not saying you will necessarily get the most thrilling job, but for instance, a book printing company could have software engineers, while the recruiter may not know much and may not care about Googling people.

The next things you may be allowed to do are:

  • Change your name (legally).
  • Use a nick name (I know people who have used a different first name their whole life, because they didn't like their given one, few people know their actual first name).

If you can land the job, prove your skills and professionalism, when the story comes out (possibly from you), you may be in a better position to keep the job.

Note that I'm answering from a "what can you do" point of view. I leave the ethical part up to you.

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    Also, the OP could incorporate a company and do business as that corporation. That would be a better way to operate under a different name. It would mean that the OP would not get a job but would build an income by doing the work.
    – David R
    Nov 25, 2023 at 16:15

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