Theranos Raises the Question of Bad Companies on Your Résumé

A new piece on CNN Business shows that former employees of Theranos, the disgraced blood-technology firm, are having trouble landing new work.

As documented in John Carreyrou’s excellent “Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup,” Theranos deceived customers and investors about the effectiveness of its blood-testing technology, which founder Elizabeth Holmes insisted could diagnose a variety of maladies from a single drop of blood. In secret, the company was running blood tests on hardware produced by other companies, all while failing to iron the bugs out of its own products.

Many employees who worked at Theranos before its collapse insist they knew nothing about the deception. “They really did keep people in their own little bubbles,” one former worker, who wanted to stay anonymous for obvious reasons, told CNN.

Whether or not they realized the situation at the time, these former employees are now struggling to land jobs, with other companies leery about hiring anyone with “Theranos” on their résumé.

The Theranos situation (at least as it applies to the employees) also brings up an interesting question: What do you do if you have a “bad company” on your résumé or CV?

If your tenure at the firm was relatively short, and you left before the collapse/indictments/general awfulness, you can probably leave the company off your résumé and online profiles with little consequence. If an interviewer asks about the gap, don’t lie about it (never lie during job interviews; it has a nasty way of blowing back on you); chances are good that a prospective employer will choose to focus on the skills and experiences you’ve chosen to list.

If you want a “gapless” résumé, or if you worked for the “bad company” for a long time (anyone from Enron still out there?), things get a little trickier. You’re (hopefully) not responsible for the negativity your old firm might have pumped into the world, but the association might make a recruiter or hiring manager hesitate nonetheless.

In this case, emphasize your accomplishments. Did you create an awesome mobile app, or lead an excellent team in rebuilding a website? Put that down. Did you learn new skills and gain valuable experience? You’ll want to note that, as well. Your work as an individual will shine through the dark cloud that your former firm left behind.

Plus, scandals have a way of fading; something that’s radioactive on your résumé today might not emit the same kind of negative energy five years from now, or ten. If you were an ex-Uber employee trying to get a job in 2017, at the height of that startup’s interlocking scandals, you might have run into some trouble with hiring managers and recruiters; but in 2019, just as the company is about to go public and make thousands of employees into millionaires, having “Uber” on your résumé likely wouldn’t raise any eyebrows.

As long as you weren’t personally involved in the scandal that wounded or killed your former company, chances are very good that your tech career will continue. In a few years, even those with “Theranos” on their profiles hopefully won’t have problems.