How to Overcome Being “Ineligible for Rehire”

You are not bound by your past.

Young woman trapped behind prison bars
Photo: Andrea Piacquadio/Pexels

You are finishing an interview at a great company for a position that you are very excited about. It aligns well with your interests and challenges your professional skills.

You are reaching the end of the interview process.

They ask if you are pursuing any other opportunities. They check your availability to start. Everything is leading towards a job offer until they ask for the contact info for your two most recent supervisors as references.

Oh no, they are going to find out your secret!

You are ineligible for rehire.

What does “ineligible for rehire” mean?

The implications of being ineligible for rehire will depend on the HR and rehire policies of your potential employer. In some cases, companies have wiggle room. They recognize that policies are guidelines that can be broken in special cases. This will depend on the specialty of your skillset and the urgency of the position.

But for other companies, the rules are strict.

There are a few scenarios that can result in you not being eligible for rehire:

  1. You were fired from the position for long term underperformance
  2. You were fired due to illegal activity
  3. You breached the organizational trust
  4. You didn’t show up for your first day of work. or you quit without notice during your probationary period
  5. You participated in discriminatory practices

These are understandable reasons that a company would not want you back working for them. But using them to predict future success implies that you can’t (or won’t) change.

Why does eligibility matter?

Reference checks are a critical part of the hiring process at most companies. When it comes to making a final decision about who to hire, a great reference can push one candidate ahead of another.

Most companies use a consistent reference template. One of the most critical questions is, “would you hire this person again, and if so, in what role?”

The answer is almost always “yes.”

But what happens if the answer is “no”?

Let’s say that you were fired for underperformance at a job 5 years ago. Since then, you had retrained and started a new career in a new industry. You have had one employer since then and are now interviewing for a new position. You will have one good reference and one that says that you are “ineligible for rehire.”

So what do you do?

Don’t panic!

Many job seekers are worried that they will get a poor reference from companies that they leave. But hiring managers and HR professionals don’t like to give negative references.

Unless the conditions under which you left an organization were extremely bad, a reference is likely to say that you parted ways amicably. In the case that you were fired, they are likely to be vague about why. They will say that you are “ineligible for rehire” and not much else. This means that your potential employer will call you to discuss the poor reference. They will give you the opportunity to explain the scenario yourself.

Take the opportunity to communicate the conditions under which you left. Most importantly, discuss what is different now compared to then, and how you’ve taken steps to improve and grow.

Proactive communication is key

If possible, explain any “ineligibility” during an interview. Don’t leave the situation to be explained by someone else. Doing so allows you to take control of your story and market yourself effectively.

Here’s an example

Interviewer: So why did you leave your position at Company X?

You: The role did not use the best of my skills and resulted in me disengaging from the work. I could not contribute to the organization at the level that I wanted to (or that the company needed). Since I was not succeeding, they let me go, and I realigned my career search to jobs that better use my skills. I have retrained and worked successfully for Company Y since then. The role within your team will be an excellent opportunity to use my strengths and challenge me to develop further.

By getting ahead of the inevitable question, you are preparing the hiring manager to hear that you are “ineligible for rehire” in a reference. They already have the reasoning and understand the situation. And most importantly, they know what will be different about your performance on their team in the future.

You can’t change your ineligibility status, but you can communicate the story.

You reduce the risk that a poor reference check will prevent you from being hired through honest and proactive communication.

What if you are ineligible on a background check?

This scenario is a little different from an ineligible reference, but similar principles apply.

You are legally required to be informed of the intention to complete a background check before it is done. You should know what components of the check (criminal, credit, education verification etc.) and how far back in your records they are going. When you know this information, you will know if you have a reason for concern.

It is best to be upfront with your potential employer before they start the checks — this way, they are prepared for the results that come back. If you have a criminal record, the information on a criminal record check comes back as “clear” or “not clear.” If “not clear,” they may ask for further character references or more information. If the company is very rigid with their HR rules, they may not hire you and appreciate knowing upfront.

Don’t overcommunicate

It is easy to overshare when you are nervous about securing a job. You need to communicate, but keep it clear and concise.

Here’s what to avoid:

Revealing private health information

If your physical or mental health did not result in you being fired, you don’t need to share it.

The only reason to share health information is if it helps to build your case to work at a company. If you are interviewing at a cancer research center, and you have had a cancer condition, it may make sense to share. It will strengthen their understanding of your passion and dedication to the field.

Telling a complex backstory

If a company wants to hire you, they will ask for some context for your “not clear” criminal record check. Based on your explanation, they will decide if it will impact your work. This is not the time to share the long story of what happened. Don’t tell them who you were with, what the cop said, what you were wearing, or why you did what you did.

The key is to keep it short and sweet. Tell them what is on your record, when it happened, and what you have changed in your life since then.

Providing extraneous information

To add to the last point, it can be tempting to tell an interviewer lots of tiny and non-important details when they ask you to complete references and background checks. I have heard things like, “I have had 12 speeding tickets” or “my dad spent 3 years in prison when he was 20.” This type of response is off-putting to a hiring manager who wasn’t asking for that information.

It is TMI and can come across as immature. And sometimes as desperate.

This is the equivalent to you asking your friend what they had for breakfast. And they tell you the step-by-step process that they took to make it. It doesn’t make sense, and you don’t really care.

Stick to relevant things that they might find in their search and let go of everything else.

The bottom line

Organizations are protecting their risk by completing background checks. Although your past is not an accurate predictor of your future in all cases, companies need to protect themselves and their teams from bad hires.

The US Department of Labor indicates that the financial cost of a bad hire is at least 30% of their first year’s salary. So it makes sense for companies to do their due diligence during the hiring process.

If you reached the reference check stage of an interview process, you are in with an excellent chance. The company likes you, has imagined you working on their team, and wants to hire you. The key lies in proactively communicating with hiring managers about anything that may get in the way. Open communication comes across as responsible, diligent, and mature. If you let them find out something important through a background or reference check, you will likely have broken trust with them.

“Ineligible for rehire” does not have to be a nail in the coffin of your job search. Get ahead of it by proactively and effectively communicating, and you will be waltzing into a new job in no time.

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I write to empower career-minded young people to live a life of prosperity through the pursuit of meaningful work. www.knowlejoble.com

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