How to explain your criminal background
“Should I tell the interviewer about my background? When? How much should I tell them? What do I even say?”
By Torin Ellis, Contributing writer &
Richard Bronson, CEO/Founder of 70MillionJobs
July 3, 2018
One of the greatest challenges in landing a great job is figuring out how to explain your criminal background to a potential employer. Understandably, the mere thought of sharing these details can make anyone nervous and embarrassed. However, if done in the right way, you can use your background as a way to show the interviewer how far you’ve come, how much you’ve learned — and turn the negative into a positive!
Like anything else, being in control of a situation puts you at an advantage. That’s true in addressing your past. But let’s keep it real: there are some people and some companies that will not consider hiring you no matter what you say or do. You must accept this and move on. But because there are so many people in this country with a record, almost everyone has a friend or relative that’s been involved in the criminal justice system. This makes these people much more willing to hear your story, and at the right company, judge you as an individual, not just a rap sheet.
How many times have we witnessed politicians who have acted improperly make a comeback and achieve great success? The key is they know how to take control of “the narrative” and ask for forgiveness in a very sincere, effective manner. Let’s discuss how you can have the same results.
#1. The Job Application
Until recently, job applications would ask “Have you been found guilty of committing a felony?” But “Ban the Box” laws in 31 states and over 150 cities and counties have been enacted, prohibiting employers from asking that question right off the bat. Most companies won’t risk the chance of breaking the law by asking that question. Check this link to learn if this law applies where you live.
When you finally are meeting with a hiring supervisor, most people are unsure how to handle their background. Do you come clean immediately? Do you wait until asked? And if they don’t ask, do you volunteer the information? There’s no perfect answer, but here’s our advice:
- Don’t bring up your background immediately when you meet the employer. Make sure you and he or she are getting along, and that you actually want the job.
- If the interview is going well and you are interested in the job offered, then this is when you bring up your past.
- Be brief but concise in your description of what happened and when. People want to hear that you take full responsibility for your actions, that you regret things you’ve done, and that you’ve learned from them. DO NOT talk about how you were framed, how it was your friend’s fault, or how the police are out to get you. That all may be true, but it will sound like you’re not taking responsibility for your actions. Look the interviewer in the eye, and explain, “I did things in the past that were stupid, and I have no excuses. I knew they were wrong then, and I know they’re wrong now. I hurt a lot of people that I love through my actions, and they deserve better. I can promise you that I’m a better (man/woman) than I was then. I’ve learned a lot about myself and about life, and I’m never going to put myself in that position again. If you give me one opportunity to prove myself, I promise you that you’ll never regret it. I need this job and I want this job. Can you give me a second chance?” If you say this sincerely, if you really open up one human being to another, it won’t always work, but it will work some of the time. You only need one person to give you a chance. The rest is on you.
- It never hurts to describe your rehabilitation efforts and self-development. Talk about classes taken, time shaved due to good behavior, serving as a mentor, and volunteer hours in the community. Examples like these are valuable.
- Explain to the interviewer your ability to contribute and be dependable and of value. Offer to work on a probationary period allowing them to evaluate your contributions and teamwork. Assure them but do not beg.
This is a difficult thing to do, but it’s necessary, not only to get a job, but to win back friends and family who may have trouble trusting you. Be open about the past, take responsibility for it, and ask for a second chance. It’s very hard for someone to say “no” under those circumstances. Good luck in landing that new job!
Diversity Maverick and Strategist // SiriusXM Contributor // Published of Rip The Resume — Creative, high voltage, ready to pursue results.
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