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So, I'm bipolar. Been stable for a while, but in my past, had a manic episode that ended badly. Got picked up by tons of major news outlets. I'm currently employed, but looking for other work in the Software Engineering field. There are two things of which I'm certain:

A) Someone is going to Google my name, and find the episode.

B) I can get my record expunged in a few years, but for now it will show up on a background check.

I'm not as worried about the background check, as a lot of small software outfits just don't do it. Moreover, it would be later in the hiring process, typically, and I'd have a chance to tell my side of the story, which is what I really care about. If someone doesn't want to hire me based on what I did, fine, but I would really love to have a conversation with an actual human before my resume's chucked in the recycling. As it stands, I feel like I have a few options:

1) Mention my diagnosis in a cover letter, as a "success story that shows me overcoming obstacles." This way, I have a chance to frame the discussion before anyone googles me.

2) Change my name. This has several repercussions, but again, gives me a chance to talk to someone before a knee-jerk reaction is made.

3) Do nothing, just submit as normal and assume I'll have higher-than-normal attrition on the jobs I apply to.

Has anyone else been in a similar situation? Do folks have thoughts as to potential avenues to take, or opinions on whether some of my stated tactics are bad ideas? Thanks very much for any advice you can offer.

TL;DR - Want to give my side of the story regarding mental health event in my past, not sure how to do that in a job search.

EDIT: For more context, the initial charge was a felony, but it was reduced to and I was convicted of a gross misdemeanor via plea agreement. Currently in a Mental Health Court program as a result.

EDIT 2: I'm much more concerned with people finding news articles than I am about the record, necessarily. Lots of smaller software companies don't have an HR person and don't do background checks, and even if they do, I have an opportunity to look someone in the eye and demonstrate what I've learned, how recovery is going, and that I'm lucid and grounded, not crazy like I was when the episode occurred. This question is concerned with someone deciding to Google me before proceeding with a first round of interviews. I would need to provide my social and consent to the background check for one to occur, and this would be my opening to have said conversation. I hope this clarifies why I find this question to not be a duplicate.

marked as duplicate by IDrinkandIKnowThings, PeteCon, gnat, Lilienthal, Retired Codger Sep 7 '16 at 18:32

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

  • How common is your name in your area? Did the news give other details (like pictures, what sector you work at, etc.)? – SJuan76 Sep 5 '16 at 23:46
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    @JoeStrazzere - thanks for your advice. I'm leaning towards an uncommon variation of my first name, given some of the advice I've been receiving today. Definitely not going to play up the media sensationalization angle, and changed TL;DR to reflect that. Just more say something to the effect of "I have struggled with this, succeeded, and come out richer for the experience" - and go into the nitty-gritty if needed. – throwaway26689 Sep 6 '16 at 0:32
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    Also, keeping your bipolar disorder from your employer may be against the law. I know that in the Netherlands it's mandatory for employees to inform their employers of disorders (physical or mental) that could affect their job performance. I don't know if this is even applicable to you (this is not something I can judge) or even there is a law like this in your jurisdiction, but it's something to perhaps think about and/or look into. – Martin Tournoij Sep 6 '16 at 1:37
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    @DavidK Actually asking for such information is illegal in many countries AFAIK; it is in the Netherlands. Having an obligation to tell your employer is a separate thing however. – Martin Tournoij Sep 6 '16 at 15:45
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    I wouldn't bet on small firms not doing background checks these days. Drug & Background checks as pre-employment requirements are becoming more common these days, and with how they're marketed, even for smaller firms. – Magisch Sep 7 '16 at 10:40
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The answer to this depends on a great many specific variables that you're probably unwilling to give, such as if the incident resulted in a felony charge, the exact nature of the incident, and other factors. Assuming it did not result in a felony conviction, you may be overestimating exactly how much people are going to care about it.

Americans have fairly short term memories when it comes to flash-in-the-pan media sensations, so assuming you're not Jason Russell, you're likely not even to have it come up until the background check is complete. If it ~did~ result in a conviction, you will be found out; even small software firms do background checks for criminal history. If this applies to you, the public nature of your incident isn't what's going to bite you, it's the criminal record. There are a great many resources out there that cover the specific issue of getting a job with a criminal record, some of which might be helpful even if it doesn't apply to you.

I would certainly not try to "get ahead of it" unless you're incredibly easy to identify. If it comes up, be prepared to talk about it (specifically how you were a different person then and have learned and moved on), but volunteering the issue ensures it's seen as a weakness and a risk right up front. A great number of people have done really stupid things that they regret in the past, and as long as you present a concrete, put together appearance in the interview process, I think you'll find they're more willing to be understanding than you are concerned about.

Edit: Since you have specified it did result in a criminal charge, I would probably bring it up in the interview proper, telling the interviewer what happened and that it will turn up on a background check. I probably wouldn't put it in the cover letter however. Being forthright about your criminal history is always a good idea, since they will find out in the background check, even if it gets expunged.

  • Thank you very much for your feedback. I've just seen SWEng hiring managers mention 'I'll google you if I'm curious,' which is why I'm trying to "get ahead of it," as you put it. Edited my post to include more context, happy to share specifics over PM, but trying to eschew exact specifics in this post, as they're indexed by Google. – throwaway26689 Sep 6 '16 at 0:05
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My wife often hires people that need to obtain a security clearance, which is a stricter standard than typical employment. She is not allowed to ask candidates about disqualifiers, but she can first enumerate the items that would disqualify them for employment or clearance, and then if there is any reason why they might not be able to qualify.

It would then be up to the candidate to say something like "I owe back child support". (One disqualifier for a security clearance.) From there she might be able to help the person with options, or not hire the person. If they are deceptive and say "no", and it later comes out that they do have something, they are terminated without eligibility to rehire. In one case, she hired the person who owed a small amount of back child support with the agreement that he repaid it during a set time period. He went on to be a good employee.

This sort of time would be the time to bring up the incident and to have a well rehearsed rebuttal and actions you have taken to overcome your condition.

So I would not do any of the items you suggested. Bringing it up in a cover letter is like talking about ex's on a first date. Legally changing your name will not clear you of an FBI background check and could be seen as a sign of dishonesty. Ignoring it might disqualify you for a position that you might have otherwise obtained.

If it was me, I would wait until there is interests on both parts for employment. If the interviewer brings it up, then answer honestly. If not, and you feel that an offer is pending, then I would bring it up.

You may still run into trouble. An option might be to only do freelance work until your record can be expunged.

Good luck to you.

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Regarding a name change. Here in Ireland many people have an Irish equivalent of their name, (e.g. David Murphy could just as legitimately call himself Daithí Ó Murchú without having to legally change his name). Many people would not think to search for both variations.

Can something similar be done in your culture?

  • Perhaps it could be a nickname, but not necessarily lying. For example, Dave Murphy might return different google results. Nearly every common name in America has a counterpart. I believe google is smart enough to pick up on similar names though especially in a area search. – Dan Sep 6 '16 at 16:48
  • This will not stand an FBI background check and would probably be seen as dishonest. For insurance reasons, just about every company does an FBI background check on every employee here in the States. – Pete B. Sep 6 '16 at 20:16
  • @PeteB. It's anectodal to be sure, but I've found it very different in the software world. The past 4 jobs I've had have not run a background check. Is it really so dishonest to use a nickname? I have coworkers (and clients) who go by their middle name, on resumes etc. as well. – throwaway26689 Sep 7 '16 at 4:26
  • @throwaway26689 I've been working as a software engineer since 1995, and most positions I have worked required a background check. – Pete B. Sep 7 '16 at 11:48
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    This is true in many places, Depends where you are and cultural allowances, I can legally use my name on my birth certificate, my chiefs title, or my birth name in my own language, and actually have 2 passports with different names both of which are perfectly legal and a drivers licence and all other ID under my title. – Kilisi Sep 7 '16 at 21:50
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Firstly, I think you should stay with your current employment and avoid the issue altogether, but I'll give you my take on the problem.

Expunging the records won't take you off Google, so forget that as a cureall. Since that is your major concern, just do what everyone else does, interview and hope for the best. Stand up straight and learn from your past.

Or skip the country and go somewhere where no one cares about your past. There's expats all over the World doing just that.

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