Explaining a Criminal Background When Seeking a Job


“I have a felony charge from 11 years ago. How do I explain that to an employer?” – Bill from El Paso, TX


For anyone with a felony criminal record, getting a job can be a challenge, and it is one currently faced by an estimated 13 to 14 million Americans. In fact, convicted felons have an unemployment rate of between 50 and 75 percent. With patience, persistence and a good attitude, however, you can find the right opportunity with a criminal background by following these steps.

If selected for a face-to-face interview, use positive language and body language and keep a good attitude. Be prepared to discuss your conviction, keeping these strategies in mind:

  • Take ownership of your past mistakes (e.g. “I made some bad choices.”) and express what you learned without giving away too many details.
  • Show that you found positivity in a negative experience (e.g. “I used this as a wake-up call to get my life on track in the following ways).
  • Express how you are focusing on the future by providing positive short- and long-term goals (e.g. “I now have new goals focused on working hard and accomplishing the following.”)
  • Ease the employer’s concerns by making an effort to reduce their risks when hiring a person with a felony record.
    • Check with your local Department of Labor to see if it offers any federal bonding programs for people with felonies returning to work (www.bonds4jobs.com).
    • Provide quantifiable evidence that you are reliable, such as “I understand your concerns in hiring a person with a felony, and I would like to provide you with some information to show I am reliable and trustworthy. I have been volunteering for one weekend a month for five years at my church.”
  • End your interview by asking a very important question: “What makes a successful employee in your organization?”
    • Take notes of the employer’s response and show that you have these qualities:  “Let me give you examples of how I have the qualities of a successful employee.”
    • After describing what you can contribute to the position and the employer, conclude the interview on a positive note: “I hope that you can look past my conviction and focus on the ways I can be a successful employee and give me the opportunity to work for you.”

After the interview, immediately write a thank you letter. If you are not selected for the position, continue to follow up with the manager to explore future opportunities and consider offering to volunteer at the organization.

The reality is finding a job is not easy for anyone in this current economy. Be open to entry-level positions or lower pay in order to get yourself back in the race. Once you’re there, you can build up a work history and solid references that will help you get an even better job down the road. To be successful, you must remain dedicated to your job search from beginning to end. And remember that with each step you are making progress and getting closer to your goals.

Good luck in your job search and future endeavors!