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If you have had a history of poor attendance in a previous job -- or if you're applying for a promotion within your current company despite a poor attendance record -- you might be nervous about answering questions about reliability, punctuality and attendance. Depending on the reasons for your absences, you may be hesitant to discuss them. An employer is not entitled to press for details on the reasons you were out or the type of sickness you had, but you will still need to answer the employer's ultimate concern: whether you will be reliable if hired.
Find out exactly what information your prior employer will give out in a background check, and discuss whether there is any possibility of working out a mutually agreed-upon response. If the employer plans to release specific details about the length or frequency of absences, or if you were disciplined for attendance issues, you will need to provide more details up front than if the employer agrees to stick to a basic name, rank and serial number reference.
Review the pattern and frequency of your absences. Decide in advance of the interview how best to explain the attendance issues. For example, if you were out for a long time in two separate instances, you might emphasize the fact that there were only two absences. If you were out for numerous one-day absences, you could focus on the fact that you never had a lengthy absence.
Plan how much detail you will provide if asked. If you had a serious illness, you may want to share that -- not necessarily the details of the illness itself, but the fact that it was severe. Most employers will understand that illness is unavoidable and bad attendance for serious reasons is not due to poor work habits. If appropriate, reassure the employer that you are fully recovered and do not expect a recurrence.
Take responsibility and admit your mistakes if your bad attendance record was avoidable. Explain what you have learned from the experience and acknowledge the impact poor attendance has on co-workers. Describe what you will be doing in the future to prevent this from happening again. If you have had a successful track record since, emphasize that to the interviewer.
Reassure the interviewer that you will be reliable, committed and able to meet the attendance requirements of the job. Ultimately the employer just wants to know you will be present and give 100 percent.
Don't over-rehearse. Although you need to prepare your response, you shouldn't do so to the point where your speech sounds scripted. Just be sincere and avoid sounding defensive.
Your attendance record can -- and probably will -- be revealed through the background check, so be honest. Dishonesty is more likely to harm your chances of getting hired than a poor attendance record.
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For more than a decade, Tia Benjamin has been writing organizational policies, procedures and management training programs. A C-level executive, she has more than 15 years experience in human resources and management. Benjamin obtained a Bachelor of Science in social psychology from the University of Kent, England, as well as a Master of Business Administration from San Diego State University.