Tips for Addressing a Criminal History in Your Interviews

You have a criminal record and you’re applying for a job.  How should you handle that topic, both on the application and during your interview?  I’m no attorney, but I do have some thoughts on how you could best present yourself.

First, let’s deal with the job application.  Read it carefully.  Are they asking for a yes/no on being convicted of a felony… or… just any crime?  If it’s “felony,” and your record doesn’t include a felony, then answer with a no.  Just be truthful.  You know they’ll eventually run a background check.

If they’re only asking you whether you’ve ever been convicted of a crime, then of course you’d need to answer yes.  Again, read it carefully.  It may ask if the conviction has been within the past seven or perhaps ten years, etc.

Most applications will allow you to add some comments.  Here’s where you would indicate, “Although I do have a felony from 20xx, I welcome the opportunity to explain during an interview.”

As a side note, be realistic in the sorts of positions for which you’re applying.  Jobs in banks are pretty much out of the question if you have a theft background.  Do some checking with friends or recruiters to get a sense for the sorts of positions someone with your record might not stand a realistic shot at landing.

Now let’s assume you’ve made it to the interview.  You’ve been truthful on the application, so assuming they’ve reviewed your application, they already know you have a record.

How should you respond if they ask about it?  What if they don’t ask – should you bring it up?  And why didn’t they bring it up in the first place?

If they ask you to tell them about your criminal record, be brief, but take accountability for it.  Explain that was different point in your life.  Explain to them what you’ve learned from that experience, and express a desire to earn back the trust and respect of co-workers and your employer.  Be sure to have references who can speak to your work ethic, character, etc.

A while back I had a long conversation with an employment attorney.  We discussed the law and its practical implications during hiring as it relates to criminal history, ageism, disabilities, racism, and any number of other possible barriers applicants may face.  He indicated we’re largely a nation of second chances… that companies are more apt than ever to consider someone who shows accountability, remorse and can demonstrate what they’ve done to try to get their life back in good shape.

If the employer doesn’t ask about criminal history, it either means it’s not a huge issue for them or they’re simply not interested enough in you to even bother asking.  Bring up the fact you have a criminal history and explain it as I’d indicated earlier in today’s blog.  Look, if they’re not interested, it wouldn’t matter anyway.  But if they are interested and criminal history isn’t a show stopper, then they’ll appreciate your honesty.

Be truthful, meet things head on, be accountable, remorseful and carry a positive attitude.  There’s no guarantee that’ll get you hired, but by failing to do those things, you run the risk of being stuck in low paying, dead end jobs.  Good luck!