Pleading Guilty and the Permanent Record

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I had a lot of excuses for getting the ticket. I was not driving the car that I usually drive so there was no Bluetooth for hands free phone use.  The call was from one of my children and I always answer those calls.  I wasn’t exactly sure it was illegal to talk and drive in the spot where I was driving.  I was stopped at a light when I put the phone to my ear so I wasn’t really moving.  The headset that I could have used was broken.  It was early in the morning and maybe the law didn’t apply until after noon.  I was going to put it on speaker as soon as I chatted for just a minute plus I had to turn off the radio.  And, I see lots of people texting and talking on phones when they should be driving, what about all of them?  I didn’t see the patrol car sitting there until it was too late.

None of the excuses worked.  A very nice policeman pulled me over, did not chat very much and handed me a ticket for talking on my phone while I was driving.  I was guilty.  I pleaded guilty and paid the hefty fine.  I am not a habitual cell phone talker while driving unless I am on Bluetooth so it was not a proud moment.  It is not a safe practice and I beseech all of you to drive safely.  Don’t text and drive or drive distractedly.  But this post is not about the perils of breaking the law or driving carelessly.  This post is about background checks.

Years after my brush with the law, I was being considered for a new senior role in an organization.  It was a role that required an impeccable and spotless record.  References were meticulously checked.  Confirmation of earlier jobs and transcripts to prove I had the degrees I claimed to have were collected.   And, as part of the background check, any brush with the law was examined and guess what showed up?  A blemish was found that detailed my criminal record of speaking on the phone while driving.  How embarrassing.

My criminal record did not cost me the job.  I was lucky.  However, it is a reminder that your past can haunt you.

As a venture capitalist, when it comes to due diligence, it is always surprising to see what comes up on background checks for candidates. That time they were arrested in Las Vegas, or the parking tickets that went unpaid. The dispute with the neighbor. This also extends to what is found on social media – which IS now considered part of background checks.  So this is a reminder to think before you act, and to think before you post.

The reference check is now an art form.  Yes, the background check part is crisp and easy to document.  The former employment and academic records are straightforward.  You should know what any checker will glean from those reference checks and be alert to things like arrest records and such.  You should also be keenly aware of what any checker will find on Facebook and all social media outlets.  No place is safe.  The drunken and half naked photos will have an impact.

The lesson is, more than ever, there is a “permanent record”.  It is no longer the mythical file cabinet in the principal’s office.  The permanent record is everywhere; there is no escape.   It will follow you forever and is impossible to change.

There is one way to preserve your permanent record:  Use good judgment always and in everything.  That’s all.

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