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Thursday, February 28, 2008

how can I get out of being a reference?

A reader writes:

I know you tackled the reference for someone when you can't give a good reference, but I really felt that this might be something you've come across and you could provide a bit of insight.

I am a teacher for a local college. I teach part time to professionals upgrading their skills. I've had a student in a series of my classes approach me by email demanding (yes, I say demanding because it wasn't really a request) a reference from me regarding the course. Her wording is as follows: "Would you mind writing a reference letter for me that I can use for any positions I apply for? Please and thank you..." So I feel that this is not really a request at all.

Now, I don't have a problem with her attendance or her work, but I do have a problem being a reference for someone that 1. I don't like, 2. that has never worked with or for me, 3. that I don't trust, 4. that I believe to be a true shit-disturber in every sense of the word. While her class work was excellent, she failed to bond with people in the class and I was constantly receiving complaints about her attitude - she would lie to your face and back stab as soon as you walk away... So for me, this is a really hard thing to do.

I have given references to other students who have excelled in my classes so I can't even say it isn't a practice for me - which I wanted to say, but this woman overheard a conversation between myself and a past student who thanked me for the reference so I'm a little stuck.

Her work in the class was good. She was never late for class and always had her homework problems with her go beyond the superficial...I would never refer her for any position because I wouldn't want what she stands for to come back to me.

I am trying to find a diplomatic way to say that I don't want to give her a reference - or I can provide a very barebones reference about her attendance and work in class...I just can't end the reference the way most letters are ended - with those words "I would refer..." or "I would hire..." because truly, I wouldn't.

You definitely shouldn't write a reference for someone you don't honestly feel you can recommend, and an inability to work well with others is a perfectly legitimate reason not to recommend someone. You have two choices in how you handle it:

1. You can tell a white lie: "I'm sorry but I'm overcommitted right now and can't add anything to my plate." or "I don't feel I have enough of a sense of you and your work to write a compelling letter, so I don't feel I'd be the best choice for this."

2. You can tell the truth: "Jill, to be honest with you, I wouldn't feel comfortable writing a letter of recommendation because I heard so many complaints from other class members who found you difficult to work with. I wish you the best of luck, but I can't in good faith write such a letter."

Number one is the safer and easier option, of course, and you should keep in mind that if you choose number two, you might have to deal with her complaining to the school administration. But I wish more people would choose number two, because, you know, honesty and all that. That said, I've chosen the easy way more than once in this situation.

reader stumps me

A reader writes:

I have read all of the articles about what to say in an interview when you are asked about being fired, but none of these answers fit. The problem is that most answers are based on explaining why the job wasn’t a good fit or the reorganization of the company resulted in a termination, etc. The problem is this, what if you are fired by a previous manager? I was working in one department for the company and held this position for five years. During the course of these five years I had a change in managers three times. The first two have only good things to say about my work. The third gave me two evaluations, both very positive. When I put in for a transfer to a different department, she did not want to sign the paper allowing the change because no one, including her, knew what was required to do my job day to day. I agreed to stay in the department an extra 6 weeks to train one of the other supervisors, I also being a supervisor.

Approximately three months into my new position, I was called into HR and told I was fired for not performing my job duties adequately in my previous job. After I left, no one was picking up my job duties, which included paying tickets to court systems. After a couple months, collection notices started coming in. When my previous manager was confronted, she stated that the collection notices were because I didn’t do my job, even though I could show that this took place after I changed departments. My new boss was never told that I was being fired and was quite angry when he found out. I know my new boss will give me a good recommendation, as will the 2 first managers I had in the old position. But how do I explain being fired from a previous boss in an interview, if they ask, without sounding like I’m complaining about her blaming me for something I had no involvement in? Any help would be greatly appreciated.

Wow. That company is seriously screwed up. They let someone who wasn't your current manager fire you over the objections of your current manager (or without even telling your current manager first, it sounds like)? That is ridiculous. As for the old manager's reason: Well, it's her job to ensure that new employees are trained thoroughly and work is getting done -- not the responsibility of an employee no longer in that department. Honestly, I am fuming about this.

I am also stumped about the best way to explain this to prospective employers in the future. As you know, you don't want to sound negative about the old employer, but it would be very difficult to find an honest way of framing this that doesn't sound negative because their behavior was so crappy. If I were in your shoes, I think I'd end up saying something like, "I worked for the company for five years and had excellent evaluations from two managers (who I can put you in touch with), but three months after I was promoted to a new position, the manager from the old position became upset that my replacement in the old job was letting things slip through the cracks and I guess thought I hadn't trained her sufficiently. I had stayed in that job an extra six weeks to train her, and my other bosses can speak to my effectiveness." But I'm not totally happy with that response, so I'm sending out a plea for help from readers: How would you frame this? How would you want to hear a job applicant frame it?

Monday, February 25, 2008

company won't give references

A reader writes:

I retired early from my last job, because of the new technology and, therefore, they were doing a reduction in force. I took several years off to update my skills and to do some renovating of my home myself. Now I feel qualified to work as a administrative assistant but the company where I worked for the last 18 years does not give references. They only will answer three questions: when I started, when I left and would they re-hire me again. This company doesn't even list an HR phone number. Do you have any advice? I am not getting hired by anybody...not even the temp agencies. Help!

Some big companies do have this policy, but you should be able to get around it by using your direct supervisor as a reference, not simply "HR." It's usually HR types who adhere to the letter of these policies; individual supervisors are usually willing to give more detailed references, particularly if you explain that your job offer hinges on it. (Contact this supervisor directly and make sure he or she is able to give you a good reference first though.) You can also offer up former coworkers, clients, and others who can speak to your work, or -- if all other wells run dry -- explain the company's policy and offer old copies of performance reviews if you have them (they're good to keep for this reason).

That said, I wonder if this is the reason you're not getting hired. Normally if a company is running into a wall when trying to get a reference, they'll tell you that (because often a candidate is able to push references to talk). Unless you have evidence to believe the reference issue is the problem, I'm more inclined to think the problem is something else -- the fact that you took several years off from the work force, or the way you're marketing yourself, or something along those lines. If you're not having any luck with the temp agencies, I'd try asking them for feedback on what you could do to make yourself more hireable; they're likely to be pretty candid with you. Good luck!

should you confess a DWI to prospective employer?

A reader writes:

I am a college student in my junior year, double majoring in Marketing and Management. In November, I was accepted for an internship at the corporate headquarters of a major retailer for this summer. I passed the drug screening and background test. However, in late December, I got a DWI while out with friends over winter break. Yes I know, very, very stupid mistake with very serious consequences, which I am dealing with right now. The case has been settled in court and I was convicted of a 4th degree, the least severe DWI offense. This is the only offense on my record.

I was recently reviewing my paperwork for the internship, and it says they will conduct a second background check 30 days before my start date in June. The job does not involve any driving. I am wondering if I should contact my recruiter and be up front about what happened, or not do anything to incriminate myself. I am somewhat hesitant to call and tell my recruiter because they are now conducting their second round of on-campus recruiting/interviewing and I feel they would have more reason to let me go and hire someone else if they found out about this now. I also feel that I have not yet established a good relationship with my recruiter, there were staff changes so this is actually the second recruiter I've been in touch with. If they do the second background check will show the DWI, but I wasn't lying on my application when asked if I had any convictions since I did not at the time. Do you think I should tell my potential employer or not?

Yes. It will come up in the background check, so hiding it isn't an option anyway. Therefore, the question is how to best manage it: Is it better for them to hear it from you, where you can provide a context, or to discover it on their own? Obviously it's better for you to volunteer the information, explain that it happened after your initial application, and explain that it was a one-time mistake that you have learned from, are shaken to the core over, and will never repeat. (Right?)

They're unlikely to withdraw the offer over it, assuming the job doesn't involve driving, but you maximize your chances by coming clean now. Good luck, and please don't do it again.

(Speaking of which, I assume you are writing to me because the Evil HR Lady announced she will no longer take DWI questions. Apparently there are a lot of drunks out there.)

Thursday, February 21, 2008

management and the Democratic primary

It's been frequently observed that there are few policy differences between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, but here's something that is a major difference between the two: management.

Ironically, it's Clinton who was originally heralded as a manager extraordinaire, to the point that she was derided for being too focused on mundane details of managing the federal government. In the most basic shorthand, Obama was being painted as a leader, and Clinton as a manager. But we've had a peek behind the myth in the last month, and the picture emerging is one of serious management failure from Clinton. Consider:

* Reportedly prizing loyalty above results, Clinton allowed a campaign manager long acknowledged by other top campaign officials as unqualified for the job to remain until a near-mutiny finally forced her hand. (Patti Solis Doyle, Clinton's scheduler-turned-campaign-manager, was apparently notorious for ineptness, including not informing Clinton until after Iowa of the campaign's dire financial situation. Interestingly, in turn, Clinton didn't bother to inform Solis Doyle that she was making a $5 million loan to her own campaign. In a well-run organization, you don't have the #1 and #2 keeping major information from each other.)

* Despite every delegate being painfully precious, her campaign somehow neglected to file a full slate of convention delegate candidates for Pennsylvania's primary, falling 10 short of the full 103 expected. "For a national campaign stressing competence, experience, 'ready day one,' one might expect a full slate in what could be a key state," a Philadelphia Daily News column noted.

* After deciding to bank almost everything on Texas, the campaign running on competence didn't bother to research the delegate apportionment rules there and discovered just a few days ago that the state's convoluted rules mean that even an overwhelming win could give her just a small edge (if any) in delegates. This is the kind of thing that's good to know when designing a strategy.

* As we all know now, the campaign apparently had no plan for after Super Tuesday - and is just now opening field offices in Texas and Ohio, upon discovering ground organization would be needed. This is crazy: While thinking the fight would be wrapped up by Super Tuesday might have made sense last fall, the campaign has had months to adjust its strategy after it became clear that Obama was catching on in a big way and just ... didn't.

Now, there's no question that Clinton is up against an extraordinarily adept candidate in Obama. But the inability to make sound decisions about where to put resources and where not to, to ensure a staff is functioning smoothly and effectively, to adjust to new conditions and information, to budget, to know the rules and strategize accordingly -- that's mismanagement and incompetence that strikes at the heart of the Clinton brand, and I find it scary to think of it at work in the White House.

Conversely, Obama -- who was never billed as the manager candidate -- has built and presided over a remarkably effective organization, with rigorously disciplined ground operations churning in every state, an astounding and historic fundraising machine, and a methodical advance on the candidate whose win was supposed to be a foregone conclusion.

If you're the hiring manager deciding between these two candidates (and we all are), the choice seems pretty clear.

coworker makes higher salary

Sorry for the silence. I've been fighting a horrific flu but am slowly returning to life again.

A reader writes:

I am an Executive Assistant for the CEO of digital printing firm. I worked in this position since 2005. I also worked as his assistant when he was SVP of another firm for 4 years prior to his coming to this firm. When he took this CEO position back in 2005 he called me and asked if I would leave my job at that time, as Admin Asst with major pharmaceutical firm. I left that job to come and work for him.

Here's the issue. Our COO's assistant moved to another position in the company. He was looking for another assistant and he hired a young lady that was EA/right hand for a major news anchor until he died last year. Of course, I was part of the interview process and my recommendation to hire her played a part in her getting the job. I heard from someone else in the company that she was hired making at least $10,000 more a year than my current salary. I don't have the real figure but this assistant made a comment to me a month ago that I should get significant salary increase to bring my salary up to hers...she made this comment to me unsolicited and she apparently knows what I currently make. We are friendly with each other personally and professionally and I feel she was trying to look out for me by saying this to me. My review meeting will be in a few days and I want to know what to say if my pay is not significantly increased to at least be on the same level as the COO's assistant. Our standard raise percentage is 5% and that will not bring me up to the same salary level as the other assistant.

What should I do/say to the CEO if I don't get a significant raise, well over that 5%, without mentioning the salary for the COO's assistant? I can definitely prove my value and worth in this company. He would be lost without me here and has said that to me several times. I've been with the CEO since 2005 and with him prior to that at the other firm. Plus, I am the top EA in the company, and I don't think it's fair that my salary is not commensurate with what I do.

This is sticky. Would you believe your salary wasn't commensurate with what you do if you didn't know the other assistant's salary?

Basing your own salary request on someone else's salary is problematic because people's salaries vary for all sorts of reasons -- one person was a better negotiator than the other when first being hired, or the job market was tighter when she was hired, or she has a particular degree or skill set that the company rewards, or the budget for her department is different than yours, or her boss is a nightmare and the company pays people working for him a premium.

What I recommend is doing some research on industry norms in your area for your particular work and seeing where you fall relative to those. In fact, up those a bit, because you're not average, right? Hopefully you're better than average and it's reasonable to ask the company to pay you a bit better than average. But if your research leads you to discover that your pay is pretty in line with what makes sense for your industry and the only issue is that your coworker makes more than you, you can (and should) still try for more, but consider that it might be okay not to get it. Not an insult, just a pretty typical result of the way different people negotiate different packages for themselves. And at that point, you'd want to think about whether you're happy with the job, whether you think you could do better elsewhere, and what the job is worth to you, not your colleague.

(And always keep in mind that negotiating a higher salary is much easier before you've accepted the job than it ever is again.)

Good luck!

Sunday, February 10, 2008

explaining a firing when interviewing

A reader writes:

A few months ago, I was asked to resign from a management position. I’ve begun consulting on my own, but still find it difficult to explain how and why I left that last job. I’m not without fault in being asked to resign, but I believe that my boss long hoped I would and was trying to push me in that direction. That may sound paranoid or delusional on my part, but there are some facts that support me.

For nearly two years, I was working sixty to eighty hours each week and sometimes seven days a week. Despite the hours I worked, I let some things slip and took too long to complete some other projects. The stress I felt also contributed to my making some bad decisions. I spoke many times to my boss about my schedule, time management, and the need for assistance. In response, he would tell me that I wasn’t managing my time well, and that the stress and problems were due to my own shortcomings. I believe now that I should have resigned earlier on my own terms, but there were many things about the company that I liked.

About a month before I was asked to resign, I was finally given an assistant, but only for five hours each week. In the two weeks before the resignation, I made two errors which my boss said caused him to lose all trust in me. I take responsibility for the mistakes I made, but what happened after I left most disturbs me. When my boss hired my replacement, he gave that person a new assistant for thirty hours each week. Recently, the assistant was made full time. In short, two people are now doing the job that I was told I should have been able to handle. I honestly believe that if I had been given that support, I would have accomplished more with fewer errors and much less stress.

I’m not trying to avoid admitting any errors that led to my termination, but I would like to be able to explain the situation without placing all the blame on myself. If I speak negatively about my former boss or the company however, I believe that also reflects badly on me. Given these circumstances, how might I best explain why I left the job?

Before I get to your question, let me say this: You're likely in no mood to look on the bright side, but it does sound like this job wasn't a good fit for you and it's good that you're out of it. Whether the problem was that the company had unrealistic expectations or that your work style simply didn't match their needs is sort of beside the point; what matters is that the fit was off. So in the long run, getting away from there (regardless of how that separation came about) is a good thing.

Now, on to your question. Your instincts about not speaking ill of your boss or the company are right on track; even if a candidate is 100% right in his or her criticism of a former boss, it never comes across well. I would start with something like, "The workload was very high and the company wasn't able to hire another person to help at that point. However, since I left, the position has been turned into two full-time positions in recognition of the workload." If they push and specifically ask if you were terminated, be honest -- but explain what you've learned from the situation. For instance, you might say, "The workload ended up getting the better of me. I generally worked 60-80 hours a week to try to stay on top of everything, but I did end up making some mistakes because of the sheer volume. What I've realized since then is that I need to communicate better with my boss when workload is a problem and figure out ways to we're on the same page about priorities if we're in a triage mode."

Good luck!

can manager prevent me from transferring?

A reader writes:

I'm one of three analysts at a very large corporation with over 40,000 employees. I've worked there for almost two grueling years. Our director is a work fiend who has amazing mood swings, is practically never satisfied, and has little regard for our personal lives. Our manager is a good guy but he has the unenviable job of being between us analysts and our director. He's excitable and is all too often eager to make us stay late and work weekends if not for work then just for optics. We're literally the laughing stock of our area for the amount of time we spend there and the times we have to eat lunch at our desks. Our joke is "The Devil Wears Polo."

Apparently my colleagues and I all think alike as we've all decided to pursue other opportunities to get the heck out. I was the first to talk to my manager about another job within the company, and received his blessing as he and my director agreed I was an asset to the company. The second guy decided he had had enough and applied for other positions within the company...receiving the same blessing as me. The third guy dropped the bomb that he was leaving the company for more money (it being understood he was also seeking better hours and other improvements in quality of life).

Just tonight the second guy (who has already received an offer) was called into a meeting with our manager with, eventually, our director "stopping by." My friend said it was very staged and that our manager and director pulled a good cop, bad cop routine trying to talk him out of transferring...they downplayed the other positions he was interviewing for, tried to point out the exposure he can get by toughing it out with our current group, and even threatened to make it impossible for him to leave by getting our division VP or the CFO to torpedo his offer(s). They promised things were going to change where the work wouldn't be so arduous but I've been hearing that since I started.

Do you think this is an elaborate bluff out of desperation so they can save face considering their whole group is walking? Is there any exposure on the part of our director for threatening to torpedo my friend's offer? I have considered quitting countless times but this is an industry I've always wanted to work in so I've always reminded myself I was paying my dues.

Without knowing the dynamics of your company in regard to transfers, it's hard to say whether it's a bluff or not. I don't doubt he's being motivated by wanting to save face and/or not wanting to have to hire and train three new people, but the question is whether there's anything he can do about it. The good news is that if there was something he could do, he probably wouldn't be relying on trying to cajole your coworker; the fact that he's doing that makes me suspect he doesn't have a lot of power in this situation (although perhaps this is just his opening round).

The safest way for you three to proceed is likely to cover your asses to whatever extent possible -- make sure your manager's blessing still stands, keep copies of positive performance reviews, etc. Depending on the nature of HR at your company, you could consider talking to the HR people about your concerns that your director may try to stand in the way of you moving elsewhere, but only do that if your knowledge of your HR department tells you that won't inflame things. You should also focus on remaining positive and upbeat and building relationships to whatever extent possible with departments you're interested in moving into. Good luck!

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

recovering from nervous rambling in interviews

A reader writes:

I enjoyed -- and got some great suggestions from -- your post on talking too much during an interview. Do you have any ideas on what to do if the damage has already been done? An obviously nervous, but exceptionally well-qualified candidate, who doesn't interview well but gets the job done and has a history of many successes and fabulous references?

I do! And I am grateful for the opportunity to be nice to someone after that last post.

Here's what I'd do: Send a follow-up email to the person who interviewed you and acknowledge it. Say something like, "I'm really excited about this job and I think my nerves and excitement got the better of me -- I realize I was talking way too much. I'd really like to get the chance to show you that I'm not generally like that and that I'm interested in listening as much as talking!" But be more charming than that. And probably only do this if you're sure it was a big deal, since otherwise you risk that they weren't even bothered by it.

Alternately, you can address it while you're in the interview itself. Last week, a candidate who was indeed rambling on said to me, "Please cut me off if I'm talking too much -- I sometimes do." A small part of me was alarmed to hear him characterize himself as a rambler, but of course I was already thinking that on my own anyway -- and I was glad he acknowledged it and gave me permission to interrupt when I wanted to. After that, I did cut him off a few times, his second interview went extremely well, and we ended up hiring him.

All that said, there's a bigger picture solution you should strive for, and that's to figure out a different way to think about interviews so that you're not so nervous in them. One tip is to think of the interview as just a conversation -- which is truly what the best interviews are. You are discussing the possibility of working together, and you're both interested in seeing if it seems like a good fit -- it's not just them interrogating you. Good luck!

remorselessness over lying on the job?

A reader writes:

I was terminated from my former employer after I falsely confirmed to a mortgage company that someone still worked for us who didn't. I was not telling the truth, but this didn’t present any material damage to the company image as it is perceived in the public eye. Three days later, the employer reviewed the rule regarding this in a meeting. This meeting was after the fact.

I was then terminated from my job after three decades of employment with no regard to the impeccable service that I had provided to the organization and with no offer of corrective action. Additionally the employer has no regard to how I would be able to sustain my lifestyle and care for my family.

Since then, I have been interviewing since July, 2007 with no luck. I would like some advice on how to articulate to future employers the reason why I was terminated so as to mitigate negative responses.

Maybe I am a grump, but... You lied while representing your company and feel injured that they terminated you over it? Look at this objectively: You abused your position at the company (presumably to help a friend, I'm assuming), and you raised serious questions about your integrity. I'm sorry to be harsh here, but the fact that you express no regret for lying (and in fact seem to think the company owes you some sort of support) doesn't really inspire sympathy. Yes, people make mistakes, but you don't even seem to think you made one.

The fact that they reviewed the rule at a meeting after the fact has no bearing on this; it doesn't take special meetings for employees to know they're not supposed to lie. You say it didn't do any damage to the company, but I disagree: The company cannot become known for lying about who is and isn't employed by it.

You're in a difficult situation with prospective employers because the reason you were terminated wasn't an issue of your skills being the wrong fit for the job; it was an issue of your character being the wrong fit. In order to put this behind you and be able to move on to a new job, you're going to need to come to terms with the reality of the situation, rather than insisting it was no big deal -- since that's likely coming across to employers. If you can start being honest with yourself about your accountability in this situation, the fact that you've learned from the situation will likely start coming across in interviews. But if you don't have that change of heart, I think most employers will pick up on it. Would you hire someone who thought lying on the job was no big deal?

Friday, February 1, 2008

should you say you were fired?

A reader writes:

I worked successfully for a year as a "software designer," but really acted as a project manager/technical writer. After a year, the entire department was shuffled (all but one of the supervisors left), my job duties were switched to actual software design, and I was made responsible for all sorts of technical things I really wasn't qualified to be making decisions on yet. I knew I was floundering, and so did my brand new supervisor, but nothing was explicitly communicated and before the quarter was out, I was terminated.

I know I can explain to a potential employer that I was a successful project manager and tech writer at my old position, and my old supervisor has agreed to be a reference for me, as I'm aiming for tech writing and administrative positions now. But -- how do I get to an interview when job applications ask for the reason for leaving my previous job? I've read that I should avoid using negative language like "fired" or "terminated" and should instead say something that sounds neutral, like "involuntary separation."

I think that sounds like a terrible idea. I've heard that "Will explain in interview" is just as bad.

Is a cover letter a good place to explain my situation? Or should I not bring it up at all, as that might rule me out from the get-go? What do you think? What would cause you to give a terminee a shot?

(I am operating with the understanding that the process usually goes as follows: send resume/cover letter, fill out job application, attend series of interviews....) Thanks for any advice you can sling my way!

A good way to explain this is to say that the entire department was reorganized and you left soon after that. You don't need to explicitly say that you were terminated unless they specifically ask if you were. And if they do, it's okay to say, "As part of the reorganization, the company moved me from project management and tech writing to software design, which is definitely not my strength, so we ended up mutually agreeing it didn't make sense for me." And if they push further and demand to know if it was a firing or not, you can acknowledge that it was, but put a good spin on it -- "I'd fire myself too, at software design; it's not what I do, and I agreed with the decision!" However, many (if not most) interviews won't even get to that -- you'll explain that there was a reorganization, and many interviewers won't question it further.

So basically, you wait to see if you even need to get into it. Definitely don't talk about it in the cover letter or volunteer the info, because you might be able to get away with avoiding it altogether. If you need to fill out an application that asks your reason for leaving the job, simply write "reorganization" (assuming that happened close enough to the time of your departure -- like, within a few months that it's reasonably true).

Good luck!

references and second interviews

A reader writes:

I interviewed for a position at a local university last week and felt that it went very well. I was shocked though the following Monday when one of my references called me and told me the hiring manager had called her and asked her about my attendance. (My reference is my former boss.) The hiring manager stated they were very interested in me but had “heard” that I called off a lot. My reference was very shocked by this and reassured the manager that I was an excellent employee and didn’t know where that would have come from. I was very upset that anyone would have said this about me, I have always gotten excellent references.

I have just set up a second interview for this position and I am so excited! What is frightening me is that in the first interview I asked if there would be a second interview and they said no. I am thinking it may be that they liked me but aren’t 100% sold. What do you think? What could I do to give me an edge over the other candidates? I really want this job!

If the second interview wasn't part of their original plan, it likely does indicate that they are strongly interested but want to be absolutely sure (or that they are having trouble deciding between you and another candidate).

Regarding the attendance issue: Have you had any attendance issues in the past? If you have, they might have heard that from another reference, so be prepared to discuss that in the next interview, as they might ask about it. If you haven't had attendance issues, their question might have simply been worded that way to make your manager feel telling them if you had, who knows. But either way, just figure out in advance how you'll address the issue if they ask about it. (One possibility: "I've actually always had really good attendance, and I could put you in touch with previous managers who could speak to that." Or: "I did have some health problems during that job, but that was an unusual situation and they're long since behind me now.")

If it doesn't come up at all in the interview, one way to give yourself the chance to tackle any doubts they might have about you is to say something like, "I'd love to know what reservations you might have about my fit for the position, so I can try to address them." If they bite, that can open the door for you to clear up any misunderstandings. Good luck!