As an HR professional, I can tell you Brett Kavanaugh is actually lucky this situation is playing out in the public media. While his vehement denial of any wrongdoing might be the right approach in a confirmation process, it would fail miserably in corporate America. Here's why...
Three Sides to Every Story: Yours, Theirs, and the Truth
In HR, we're taught this mantra early on. People are human. They're emotional. They have widely varying perceptions of events. We rarely see any situation as "black and white." That said, we do know if a person doesn't have the emotional intelligence to look at the situation and see how their actions might have contributed in some way to the problem, then they're very likely going to be someone who never takes responsibility. Being accountable and owning a part of the situation shows the ability to learn and grow from difficult situations. Kavanaugh's inability to do this in a job interview would send huge red flags to HR. That's because we're also taught that whatever defensive, negative, or questionable behavior we see in the interview process, multiply it times 10 and that's what the person will be like when they finally settle into the job and no longer feel they need to be on their best behavior.
"Experience + Learn = Grow" Model for Difficult Job Interview Questions
Something I coach job seekers on regularly is the Experience + Learn = Grow model for dealing with difficult questions. For example, Why were your fired? Do you have a DUI? What is this two-year gap on your résumé? Why have you job-jumped five times in three years?
These are just some of the tough questions people deal with. The right approach when responding is to objectively explain what happened, then identify things you might have done differently and how you will use this bad situation to grow as a professional. Nobody is perfect. But we have far more trust and respect for people who can acknowledge how their actions had an impact and what they would do differently to avoid the situation in the future. It also helps take the emotion out of the situation. Instead of sounding angry, defensive, and desperate, you sound calm, thoughtful, and humble. Which person would you rather work with? The angry one or the calm one?
P.S.--Even if It Wasn't Your Fault, Find Something You Could Have Done Differently
Sometimes, people say to me, "But, J.T., it truly wasn't my fault. I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time." Well then, take ownership of that. For example, if your boss was a total psycho and forced you to quit after months of you taking his abuse, then own up to the fact you should have started looking for a new job as soon as you realized the manager and you didn't see eye to eye. By focusing on how you would avoid being in that situation in the future, you show yourself not as the victim, but as a smart person who learns from every experience.
In a time when transparency is no longer optional, we all need new tools for being able to communicate about things in our past we aren't proud of. In my experience, using this model is the best way to deliver the message so you can move on and talk about better things.