Do You Have “Dirty Little Secrets” You Would Like To Avoid In The Job Interview?

November 29, 2012 |

Maybe you were in a messy scandal (we know those happen – don’t we?), or maybe you had a dishonorable discharge; or had a run-in with a higher-ranking officer and were disciplined or demoted.

For whatever reason there is something or some things that you’d rather not talk about in the job interview. Not only have you had a bad experience, but now you have to talk about it – again and again.

How you deal with these questions will depend a lot on how you have resolved the issue with yourself. In order to answer these types of questions effectively it will be important to deal with your issue ahead of time. The best way to do that is to think about and script an answer.

    Here are some sample questions of difficult questions:

    “Have you ever done anything that you weren’t proud of?
    “Why were you demoted?”

    Here are examples of how two candidates answer the questions:

  • Candidate #1
  • “I had a great commanding officer, but he was sent overseas. From the very beginning it was clear that my new boss and I were going to be at odds. We just had different types of personalities. He kept changing the rules. One day he would want it this way, and the next day another way.“ I don’t usually have problems with superiors but this guy was really overbearing in his approach.”

    This is not the best way to present the situation. This candidate could be classified as a “whiner.” Badmouthing former employers during the interview is a bad idea. No one wants to hear about someone else’s shortcomings, particularly someone they don’t even know. And, you may give the interviewer the impression that this is how you’d talk about them someday.

  • Candidate #2
  • “I was disciplined and demoted after a major shake up in my barracks. There was some bad judgments made and I took responsibility for my part in the situation. There were some differences of opinion between individuals, in the end, I was disciplined along with my fellow officers and I was demoted. I take responsibility for my part in the way things turned out. I learned a lot from the experience, and in retrospect, I would have handled it differently. But, that is behind me now, and I am ready to move on with a new perspective.”

    This is a much better answer because it demonstrates strength and self-confidence. Candidate #2 takes responsibility and deals with the question honestly.

  • Scripting
  • Whatever the circumstances, write down your thoughts, and how you would answer this question. Read your script aloud, or use a tape recorder, and practice until you like what you hear. Better yet, answer the question for someone else in a mock interview. Have him or her observe your interview technique – body language, eye contact, comfort-level while answering this question. Feedback from someone else will help you improve your presentation.

Probably the worst way to handle any question of this nature is to lie. One lie usually leads to another, and before you know it you are in over your head. You always take a chance whenever you put a lie on an application. The application usually has a signature line on the back where you sign, stating that the above is true, and that any false statements could be grounds for termination.

It is a fact that people are involved in messy situations everyday. They move on and get new jobs. And, you will too. No matter what the circumstances, put it behind you and move on. Deal with your feelings about the situation, and prepare your answer to the question before it is asked. Being prepared will make you feel more confident and less emotional about the situation.

Job interview expert Carole Martin has been a prime contributor to our Veteran Jobs blog, and now she’s offering her advice to veterans and service members who have questions, general or specific, about tackling the civilian job interview process. Send Carole your questions at, and moving forward, we’ll feature her answers in this blog.

The Interview Coach, Carole Martin, is a celebrated author, job coach, and speaker on the subject of interviewing and recruiting. She is also a contributing writer at and featured on talk radio. Carole is using her proven methods for coaching job seekers on competitive interviewing skills in technical and non-technical industries. You can download her free worksheet for determining your Values Exercise at the Interview Coach website. Follow The Interview Coach on Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin to learn about current workshops and seminars Carole is offering.

About Carole Martin

The Interview Coach, Carole Martin, is a celebrated author, job coach, and speaker on the subject of interviewing and recruiting. A contributing writer at and featured on talk radio, Carole is using her proven methods for coaching job seekers on competitive interviewing skills in technical and non-technical industries. Learn more about her Federal Agency Interview Coaching and Coaching for Business Interviews at
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  1. Andy says:

    Do civilian or state employers have access to military records that can reveal Article 15 punishment?

  2. HR Spec says:

    Employer can, and will ask for your DD-214! It is legal to do so! An employer may deny you employment based on a dishonorable or other than honorable discharge. You may refuse to show it to your employer, however, this may result in you not obtaining a position you are vying for. They do not have access to your military records. Hope the answer helps.