After the burned bridges ...

A job seeker holds a job application during the San Francisco Hirevent job fair at the Hotel Whitcomb on March 27, 2012 in San Francisco, California. As the national unemployment rate stands at 8.3 percent, job seekers turned out to meet with recruiters at the San Francisco Hirevent job fair where hundreds of jobs were available.
Getty Images/Justin Sullivan

Dear Evil HR Lady,

About two years ago, I did not leave my last job on the best terms. My boss and I butted heads over the smallest things. I wound up leaving because she was about to fire me. During that time, there was a long, drawn-out war, and it involved HR. The HR representative was friends with my boss, and I think he likely ruined my personnel file. 

Since then, my boss left and so has the HR rep. I reapplied to the company in a new position out of desperation -- I can't find a job anywhere today. Even though the company is large, I'm afraid of what is in my file. From your expertise, in all honesty, are personnel files looked at closely? Can HR see why you left? I burned my bridges, to say the least. I'm not sure why I reapplied because I was never really happy there.

Well, I wouldn't worry about working there again because most likely they won't hire you anyway. Here's what probably happened.

When you and your boss argued and HR got involved, it would have been documented in your file. Because this was a large company, it undoubtedly has a computer system (generally called an HR Information System, or HRIS) that keeps track of all employees. While some of these systems have room for lengthy documentation, some just have short records with names, titles, salary history, etc. However, even the old systems will ask an HR employee to determine whether someone is "eligible for rehire."

Since you burned your bridges there, HR has undoubtedly said no. Which means that even if all the people involved are gone, you were truly not at fault, and you were strictly the victim of an evil boss and his even more evil HR sidekick, you're not going to be rehired.

When you applied, they probably asked if you had worked for the company before. If in your application you indicated you had, then HR looked you up, saw a box checked no and immediately rejected your application. If you indicated you had previously worked for the company, you may get to the interview stage, but eventually HR would run your Social Security number through the system, confirm your past employment and discover your ineligibility. And even if you were eligible for rehire, your lie about having worked there in the past would make you ineligible.

On the off chance that you are eligible for rehire (and you indicated on your application you had worked there previously, so no lying is involved), whether or not your file is pulled and how closely its' reviewed is generally up to the hiring manager and the recruiter. I would definitely read a file of a previous employee before an interview. Others would go no farther than your resume and maybe look at your last performance ratings. It also depends on where your file is physically located. If it's all computerized, it's more likely to be read. If it requires calling up the document storage company and submitting a request to locate your file and send it to the office, it's less likely.

But you have said you did not like working there and reapplied only out of desperation. Though this might allow your eagerness and dedication to shine through, managers steer clear of the people who act desperately. And for good cause -- you'd likely bolt as soon as you found something else anyway.

Focus your job hunt efforts elsewhere. You'll have better success than in a company you didn't like in the first place and where you have a whole line of burned bridges.

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