In 2010, 73 percent of human resources professionals said their company conducted a criminal background check during the hiring process, and that number has likely increased over the past few years as more information is becoming digitized. Most people don’t have anything interesting on their record, but job seekers who have a criminal record may feel that past convictions will start them off on the wrong foot. Because background checks are becoming more common, we’ll explore some ways to best present yourself to an employer if you have a criminal record.
- Consider getting your criminal record sealed – Depending on what crime you committed, you may be able to get your record sealed. Sealing or expunging your record doesn’t erase any information, but it does limit who can access it. You can talk with an attorney or legal professional to determine if sealing your record is an option, or you can visit your state government’s website.
- Volunteer opportunities can speak volumes – Exploring volunteering options can provide many benefits for job seekers. First, it can show a company that you are focusing on the future, not dwelling in the past. Also, volunteer opportunities give you a chance to develop solid references that can put in a good word if your prospective employer calls for a reference.
- Be knowledgeable about your conviction – It’s important to know exactly what you’ve been convicted of, as inaccurate information can be harmful in the interview process. If you show an interviewer that you understand the charges and accepted the penalties, it can put you in a better light than those who don’t acknowledge or show remorse for their crimes.
- Participate in re-entry programs – There are plenty of programs that help job seekers with a criminal record re-enter the professional world. In Minnesota, there are certain groups like the Minnesota Second Chance Coalition and 180 Degrees who work to get people with a criminal record a job by focusing on education, training and support. These programs can be listed on a resume and discussed in an interview to show that you are committed to developing professional skills and have a desire to learn.
- Consider where you apply – During the application process, you’ll likely be asked if you have been convicted of a crime. Read the section carefully, as some employers only ask for a certain time period (i.e. last five years) or for certain levels of crime (only list felonies). If you’re applying at a larger company, you might have a tough time explaining your past convictions to a hiring manager. Oftentimes at larger companies, human resources professionals without “hiring power” conduct an initial interview. Second and third interviews with hiring and on-site managers are then conducted, and it can be difficult to explain your conviction to a person in charge if you have to go through multiple interviews. By applying at a smaller company, you increase the likelihood that your initial interview will be with someone with greater hiring power and will give you a first-hand chance to explain any convictions.
- Honesty is the best policy – It’s always best to disclose any past criminal convictions, as neglecting to do so can be cause for termination, even months after you get the job. With that said, don’t start the interview by jumping into your past legal troubles. Prepare what you plan to say before your interview in case it comes up. Also, consider discussing the prior conviction after the company had expressed interest in you. When discussing your conviction, it’s important to walk the line between accepting responsibility for your actions and explaining yourself. For example, I knew a colleague back in college whose house got busted for having a party. He took the fall for his roommate who purchased the keg because the roommate was a criminal justice major, and a ticket for “supplying to minors” would result in his expulsion from the program. The roommate paid my colleague for the ticket, but now he has to explain the supplying to minors ticket during interviews. He said he often has to tiptoe the line between explaining his side of the story and accepting the consequences for making a rash decision to support a friend. He is prepared for the question, and tries to turn his answer into a positive outlook on his character. He admits that it doesn’t always work, but being prepared and answering honestly help explain a conviction that looks bad on paper.