Earlier this week, disgraced Theranos CEO Elizabeth Holmes was convicted on four charges of defrauding investors. She could face up to 20 years in prison and fines upwards of $250,000 for each count. The guilty verdict is already being positioned as a cautionary tale for Silicon Valley and aggressive startup founders.
As head of Theranos, Holmes insisted that the company’s “pioneering” blood-testing technology could diagnose a broad range of health issues from a single drop of blood. Behind the scenes, however, the company was running blood tests on other companies’ hardware, all while deceiving investors about the readiness of its own products. Many former Theranos employees claim they knew nothing about the deception. (If you’re looking for a good book about the saga, find a copy of John Carreyrou’s excellent “Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup.”)
Holmes’s conviction brings Theranos back into the headlines, and also raises an interesting point for technologists: What if you have a “bad” company on your résumé or CV?
If you only spent a few months at that company, you can safely leave it off your résumé and online profiles with little consequence. If your tenure there was a contracting job, just don’t include it on the list of clients your company sent you to help.
If you worked at that problematic company for a longer period, though, things get a little trickier. You should never lie to a hiring manager or recruiter about working at a particular place; that has a nasty habit of blowing back on you. If you want to avoid having a gap on your résumé, consider listing the company, but take care to emphasize your accomplishments (and skills learned) in the role. Hopefully, your work as an individual contributor and team leader will stand out despite the company’s sins.
During the actual job interview, the recruiter or hiring manager will likely ask some pointed questions about your time at the company. Again, it’s important to tell the truth, especially if you weren’t involved in whatever rendered the company problematic. Focus on the positive, including your achievements and your interactions with your team.
Plus, as we’ve pointed out before, scandals fade; what seems like an opportunity-killing résumé point won’t seem quite so bad in a few years, once everyone’s moved on. Your old company might have gone down in flames (or suffered through a few bad years of layoffs and depressed stock price), but there’s every chance your tech career will continue along just fine.