How to Address a Criminal Record in an Interview

While there’s no easy way to bring up the fact that you were convicted of a crime, there are ways to explain what happened that will do less damage to you in an interview.  It’s important to bear in mind that there are a multitude of people out there searching for jobs, or who already have great jobs, who have a blip on their record – people who have found success regardless of past infractions.  So if you are someone who has to answer to the affirmative when this topic comes up, just remember that you are not alone and that there are viable ways to advance in your career.

1. Address the Matter at the Outset

As with all issues that come up in an interview, the best policy is honesty.  While it may be easier to fudge other parts of your application or interview, here is a place where you cannot lie.  The HR department at a company has the ability to conduct quick, thorough background checks on candidates, and if it finds something that you failed to disclose, they’ll likely disqualify you.

It’s also wise to be honest on your initial application, even before the interview.  Some individuals find it tempting to hide a past crime until the interview, hoping that they will have a fairer shot if they are given the chance to explain the incident in person.  While this may be true, you cannot discount the power of a background check, and should therefore write something to the effect of “Yes; will explain further in the interview”.  And when “explaining further” in your interview, be brief. Don’t tell the whole story, just the offense and move on. Remember: less is more.

2. Take Responsibility

Owning up to your mistakes shows an employer that you know you did wrong and you’re not making excuses for yourself and your previous behavior. When asked about whether you’ve been convicted of a crime, saying something of the sort: “Yes, I have been convicted of a crime but since then, I’ve been dedicated to turning my life around.” (Explain what you’ve been doing like taking college courses, volunteering, interning, etc.) Emphasize that you are moving on with your life and will never make those same bad choices again.

3. Distance Yourself from the Incident

When inquiring into any past violations, an employer wants to make sure that you have come a long way since the incident, and that this is something that won’t happen again.  Explain to the interviewer that you made a mistake, but that you have learned from it and become a stronger individual, and perhaps a stronger candidate for the job because of this.  This is an error that remains in the past, but what carries over to the present is the lesson and life experience that you took away from it.  You won’t let anything of the sort happen again and it will not affect your performance on the job.

4. Gain Experience and Credibility

Depending on the crime, it may turn out that you just cannot land your dream job as of yet.  Try not to lose hope, but rather, take what job you can, and use this time to gain experience and credibility.  Spend your time adding further distance between yourself and the infraction, and on building a solid, flawless track record.  Doing so will convey how you’ve managed to get back on track, and you may gain some great references from your experience.

5. Reach Out to Personal Contacts

A great approach to finding a job after a crime is placed on your record is to look to personal contacts who can vouch for you, or, better yet, are more willing to take a chance on you.  Here, again, you can spend time building experience, reliability, and a sound record in preparation for your next career move.

Side Note: Depending on the state you live in, you have rights to how much information an employer can ask you in an interview. Before any interview, look up your rights according to your state and know just how much information you are required to disclose. It’s also helpful to get advice from a lawyer, parole officer, department of labor, or a counselor. These are people and offices who are more familiar with the process.

Having a less than perfect record can make it considerably more challenging when applying to jobs, especially in the current environment.  Just remember to stay positive, put your best foot forward, explore your options, and the past will become more of a distant memory and less of an obstacle.


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