Is Work History Baggage Derailing Your Job Search?

Even in this day and age, discrimination is unfortunately alive and well in the workplace, as well as within the hiring process. We’re fairly familiar with the types of discrimination covered by federal Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) laws.

  • Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.
  • Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA), which protects individuals who are 40 years of age or older.
  • Title I and Title V of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, as amended (ADA), which prohibit employment discrimination against qualified individuals with disabilities.
  • And there’s more.

According to

Under federal law, an employer cannot illegally discriminate in its hiring process based on a job applicant’s race, national origin, gender, pregnancy, age, disability, or religion. State and local laws may specify additional protected classes based on factors such as the sexual orientation of a job applicant. Employers must abide by anti-discrimination laws at each stage of the hiring process, from placing a job ad, to interviewing, to the final selection of the candidate to be hired.

And, although not covered by any laws, there’s also the hot topic of “employment status” – meaning employers give preference to employed people, as if just being employed makes them a better hire! This was recently covered on Employment Discrimination and the Hiring Process: Legal Gray Area? We Think Not. I also think not.

Another type of hiring discrimination

But there’s another kind of discrimination NOT covered by any law or hot ethical debate. One that’s based on career stereotypes or simple personal prejudices.  And I bet every single one of you at some point comes across some form of it. What is it? It’s a type of discrimination related to otherwise perfectly fine work experience that may show up as baggage during the screening process.  Things like:

  • Worked in government so private industry thinks you’re lazy
  • Worked in non-profit, so private industry thinks you’re too touchy-feely
  • Worked in investment banking, so non-profits either think you’re a horrible human being or worry you’ll dump them as soon as your “real” work comes back
  • Worked in New York City so how can you relate to people on the West Coast?
  • Worked in a particular role and employers/recruiters can’t see how your old skills could transfer nicely to the new job
  • Worked as a union rep and now – especially now – almost no private industry employer will touch you

The last example is real and comes from Nikki, one of our readers. She wrote to share some of the discrimination and ongoing frustration she’s been facing just trying to get someone to give her a chance, despite ample qualifications. In reading her comments, I was impressed by her attitude and determination to keep going – temping in the meantime because that’s paying the rent.

I just want to share some of her words, since I think others might relate.  Here’s what she said about how she handles the waiting process:

“I apply. Put my very best forward. I get it or I don’t. I have opened my search to include other cities and states AND I plan on doing some consulting. I made some career mistakes (ie my fear of leaving the union job) but I am not damaged goods and I have a lot to offer so I don’t get down on myself too much anymore. It’s the loss of the company and EVERY job seeker should feel like that :-) Don’t let your employer (current or potential) destroy your sense of self.”

Amen Nikki! Thanks for sharing that with us. I wish you much luck finding the right employer who recognizes a good thing when he sees it – and who can think beyond simple straight lines. And I wish the same for all of you.

From the Work Coach Cafe Career Dictionary

Age Discrimination in Employment

FOA in Job Interviews

Overqualified for a Job

Transferable Skills

As for employment gap discrimination…

How to Handle Annoying Red Flags in Your Resume


About the author…

Ronnie Ann, founder of Work Coach Cafe, bases her real-world advice on her many years as an organizational consultant where she helped interview and hire people, added to a certificate from NYU in Career Planning & Development and her own adventures as a serial job seeker. She can also be found on her new blog, and on Google+.


  1. This is great! Thanks Ronnie Ann!
    I had a really good lead today and a chance meeting got me a resume critique by a respected PR professional. She said that my resume and presentation were great and then asked me what my ideal or “dream” job would be. Thats opened up a whole conversation. So I began my week on a positive note 🙂 Thanks again Ronnie. This is a great place to get positive energy and REAL feedback. Its obvious that you have found your passion. Thanks for sharing it!

  2. Hi Ronnie Ann,
    Age discrimination is a hot topic because no one knows where it begins or ends. Until there are market changing discussions, mature job seekers must exert more energy when contacting a potential employer for any reason. Energy and experience makes anyone a more desirable candidate. Salt and pepper colored hair should not equal bored and irrelevant.

  3. I have really been dealing with age discrimination since I have turned 35. However, after reading this article I have been made aware of the fact that I may be discriminated against because I was self-employed for over 20 years. I had my own salon and decided that I wanted to go to college and change careers. I liked it so much that I went to college full time got my undergrad, masters and working on my Ed.D. All through my degrees I tried looking for work and even with my internships and part-time work at universities my self-employment experience makes employers think I may not work for others as hard as I work for myself.

    I would like to hear what others have to say about moving from business owner to employee and how employers may perceive them.

    I must say however, that due to the economy my self-employment nature has come in handy. I have been able to create opportunities for myself while I wait for employment.

  4. I am so glad we are discussing this. Mark I have seen this before when I as at the union but Candi this is a new one but I totally believe it. Can I get a bit unprofessional and call it what it is…”Haters.” Hiring managers and recruiters and even job coaches (with the exception of Ronnie of course LOL) have personal bias some times. I went to the federally ran One Stop to get some career help. The so called job coach told me that I was dumb for leaving my low paying go no where job at the union and that I would never get a job as communications professional (pr, marketing, public affairs etc) b/c I had never been on TV. WTH???? Then his colleague chirped in, she needs to take her Masters off her resume she is intimidating the hiring managers!
    Long story short…these are the people that are doing the hiring and recommendations for hiring. Not all are this bad (you forget I live in Louisiana LOL) but just know that while many job seekers do need some help with presentation and resumes etc many don’t and are more qualified than those doing the hiring. So Kudos to you Candi for having the smarts to remain in business for yourself.

    • Nikki, you know this already: a job coach is just that, a coach. We may suggest, but that doesn’t mean you take your hands off the throttle. Your career, training, and final decision is in your hands. Today, everyone should have a business, a side hustle, part or full-time job, and additional training of some sort (yes, all at once). To remain dormant now, is futile, no matter the movement occurring in the job market.

  5. So true Mark. I told God that when I am delivered from this situation I will never make a job my only means of supporting myself. You have to have something else even if its just being and Avon rep

  6. Love the conversation. Thanks everyone! And Candi…my own consulting career came about because of all the “wrong” jobs I had. And all that “bad” experience only increased my rate! 😉

    ~ Ronnie Ann

  7. Well my week started out full speed ahead but lost momentum when I talked to an HR manager at a job that I would love to get. She had no idea that my last name was the same as the 11th President of the United States. When she asked the spelling I told her and then added “spelled the same as the President” She said I never heard of that President. WOW! Ok so I guess I can file this one in the “no chance” pile LOL… again I SMH at the people that are hiring
    Hope this week is more productive 🙂

  8. Hi Nikki!

    Oh wow! I can only imagine how that must have felt for you. But I still wouldn’t be surprised if you get a call – or at least made it into the maybe pile. 😉

    Have you ever watched Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader? Would be fun to put hiring managers on the show. Then again, I’m not sure I’d do well myself!

    Please don’t let this stop your momentum. The momentum comes from within and you have so much to offer…the other stuff is just, well, stuff.

    Good luck, Nikki. And thanks for sharing this with us.

    ~ Ronnie Ann

  9. try getting a job as a felon!!!!!…make one mistake at 18 years old and the REAL punishment is life without a job….unless you want to dig ditches all your life… you can’t even get a job at the mall… talk about discrimination …..O and I can’t even vote anymore….so good luck changing it….and I fought for this country…SEMPER FI….

    • Erik I can tell you this b/c I know it to be fact. If you have public technical colleges (not the shady ITTs or the ones theyt advertise on TV) it may be wise to sign up for a trade. The advisors and counselors can help you get placed upon graduation…felony or no felony. Check it out and Good Luck 🙂

      Ronnie I have made it to the face to face interview phase with a national organization. Lets see how it all plays out 🙂

  10. Thanks Nikki for your support for Erik. And fingers crossed for you!

    Erik…I’m so sorry. Your situation sucks – even more so for your service to this country. Just so you know…I have worked with former felons who were great to work with (they were placed in the jobs by organizations designed to help formerly-incarcerated people get work), and I even worked for an organization that provided such services. I know just telling you “it isn’t easy” would be a vast understatement, but there are ways.

    Do you have any such non-profit organizations or governmental agencies in your area? Is there a Legal Aid office that can help maybe? Sometimes even a local politician will help if you go to their office, ask for help, and get them engaged by showing how determined, ready to dig into a real job, and future-oriented you are.

    If you don’t have good support resources where you are…and please excuse if this is not possible…can you move to a city where there is a better support network? Or maybe there are small businesses right where you are who will take a chance on you, especially since what happened was so long ago? Sometimes a small business will be open to hiring an ex-felon whereas larger orgs are a bit too inflexible.

    Unfortunately, that’s all I can think of. But here are some more suggestions I found on the internet. Maybe one of them will help:

    How does a person with a felony find a job after he has served his time?

    Finding job after a felony

    I wish you all the best, Erik. Thanks for telling it like it is. I’m sure you are not the only reader going through this.

    ~ Ronnie Ann

  11. Bill Maly says:

    I am experiencing some major disappointment trying to land a new job at another airline after my current one went into bankruptcy. I have 20 years of aviation maintenance experience with technician and leadership roles. Presently, I work as a troubleshooting crew chief solving difficult problems. I have always presented myself as a problem solver in multiple interviews.
    My quandary is that I am hitting only triples and can’t get the homerun. While the interviews go excellent, I’m getting no job offers and little feedback. One thing that I am having problems with is that I have been voted on the Executive Board for my local union. What I see as an incredible opportunity to provide leadership may not be perceived as such by another company. Am I sabotaging my career by placing this in my narrative? I do not see Union v. Management and work only to make a safe work place while providing safe airplanes to the public. Do I have to deny who I am to get hired today? I wouldn’t feel right about that and know I have a lot to offer if someone would just constructively view my resume and interview. Am I completely off base?

    • chandlee says:


      Thanks for writing. The question you pose is an interesting one as many employers may see union leaders as potentially threatening — even though as you say “you don’t see union versus management.”

      One strategy you may want to do is to take the union leadership position off some of your resumes — and leave it on others. See if it generates a different response — and then share your union role with employers later in the process — once you’ve been selected in the final rounds for a position or extended an offer (and when you have the time and space to explain your perspective on unions). This strategy isn’t just because of the union issue, but also because employers may see you as overqualified (not fair but it happens.)

      Good luck to you and please keep us posted.


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