Viola Davis says she regrets her role as Aibileen Clark in ‘The Help.’
They can’t all be gems.
Viola Davis says she regrets her role as Aibileen Clark in “The Help,” the 2011 period drama about a young woman’s relationship with two black maids that drew criticism at the time for focusing on its white characters and “perpetuating the white savior myth.”
“(H)ave I ever done roles that I’ve regretted? I have, and ‘The Help’ is on that list,” Davis told the New York Times. “I just felt that at the end of the day that it wasn’t the voices of the maids that were heard. I know Aibileen. I know Minny. They’re my grandma. They’re my mom. And I know that if you do a movie where the whole premise is, I want to know what it feels like to work for white people and to bring up children in 1963, I want to hear how you really feel about it. I never heard that in the course of the movie.”
The overall experience and people involved “were all great,” Davis added. “The friendships that I formed are ones that I’m going to have for the rest of my life. I had a great experience with these other actresses, who are extraordinary human beings. And I could not ask for a better collaborator than (director) Tate Taylor.”
Plenty of people can relate to having an embarrassing or otherwise unsavory item on their resume. Here’s how to talk about that regrettable job in interviews and on your resume, according to experts:
Don’t lie or fudge. “Honesty is always the best policy. … Trust is a big issue when it comes to hiring,” Phyllis Hartman, founder of the human resources company PGHR Consulting, told Moneyish. “Always own what you’ve done, never try to cover it up and never lie,” agreed HR consultant and Exaqueo CEO Susan LaMotte.
“As they say, the coverup is always worse than the crime,” Dorie Clark, a marketing strategy consultant, told Moneyish. “So if you were to just leave something off your resume … and people were later to discover it, it would really draw attention to it. People will wonder what you were hiding and why you didn’t talk about it.”
Use your cover letter and job interview to explain. “If you were a scientist at Theranos for three years or if you were a senior staffer on the John Edwards presidential campaign, those are things that you devoted a large chunk of your professional life to — and so you can’t wipe them away without removing some of the credentials that you are probably proudest of,” Clark said. So the best solution is to address them head on, she said — and that’s where cover letters and interviews can help fill out the full picture beyond a line item on your resume.
“For most casual observers, (that notorious project or employer is) the only thing they know about,” Clark said. “You need to distinguish yourself from the malfeasance of a tainted employer and somehow show either that you were not involved in what the problem was, or if you were, that you have learned from it in a deep way.”
Use your network to vouch for you. “If you have a tainted organization on your resume, the truth is it may get you rejected out of hand because people don’t want to take a chance,” Clark said. “The antidote for that is really working assiduously to cultivate your personal and your professional network so that people who know you as an individual, rather than simply a cog in a tainted machine, will stand up for you and say, ‘No, no, no, this person is great. Don’t be misled by this association.’”
Focus on the positive aspects — and show what you learned. LaMotte suggests you start off by explaining why you took a certain job, sharing what you learned from the experience, reflecting on what you would’ve done differently, and then ending on a positive note.
“Show what you have learned from that experience,” Clark said. “What has it taught you? How has it made you a better and smarter and more effective leader?” She points to a friend of hers, a former timeshare salesman who reinvented himself to teach online courses on persuasion. He now highlights how the timeshare business approaches persuasion in a heavy-handed way, Clark said, while showing people the right way to do it.
You could put a positive spin on even a Hooters summer job by citing a couple of specific things you learned, leadership expert Todd Dewett said. “You could shape it in a very open, proactive, not-hiding-from-it-at-all manner,” he said: “It was surprising, it was odd at times, and you know what, ultimately it was useful.”
Don’t go negative, Dewett said. “You never want to burn bridges,” he said. “There’s a wonderful chance that comes back to bite you, or it at least colors in a negative sense how you’re viewed by others.”
If the job is just taking up space on your resume, it may be OK to cut it. “If it is something that is notorious enough that it would raise eyebrows after the fact if somebody discovered it, then it’s good just to put it out there,” Clark said. But if it’s just a “meh,” off-brand job on a lengthy CV and you are contextually tailoring your resume to a certain job application, Clark said, it’s probably fine to omit. “You can downplay it easier if it was further back,” Hartman added.
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