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!


5 comments on “Explaining a Criminal Background When Seeking a Job
  1. What a crock of $#@%^%!!! When I’m 1 of 200 people applying for 1 of 20 job openings, the prospective employer doesn’t want to hear it. Why should they? They’ve got plenty of people to choose from. I did my time, jumped through the hoops, kept my nose clean, did EVERYTHING I was supposed to do, and I was turned down for a job as a JANITOR AT A PORNO THEATER b/c of my background. My options are as follows: 1)keep being a criminal or 2)die in the street.

  2. In response to Randall Martinez comment: Remember, the choice you made to become a criminal was your own, now you paid the price for your mistake and you have to keep applying your good intentions, so you can keep getting positive consequences. Believe me, the deeds will add up, and the blessings will start flowing. I don’t know how old you are, but it took that many years before you decided to commit a crime; how long do you think it will take you to turn that around. Be prepared my brother, someone should have told you that good things come in due time not your time.

  3. I really thought that this article brought out some good points for people with criminal pasts to follow. I know the road may not be easy but never give up!!! How you handle yourself (your attitude & personality) goes a long way. I can personally say that I know two people close to me that committed felony offenses of murder and attempted murder and both of them have had good jobs. Some of the jobs they held since their offenses were good paying jobs. It never too late to start over; with perserverence, sincerety, and the right attitude you can land the right job for you. Remember networking with people can always help.

  4. As a felon (from nearly 20 years ago) I can say with certainty, finding a job is tough. Out of 10 places I apply for 1 or 2 will not do a background check and if they do, I’ve seen that recently they ask 7-10 years worth, mine is well over that.

    Also go back to school, sure it’s student loans but you can prove a lot with an education. Maybe it will give you direction in life and a place to go…

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