Addressing Your Criminal History in a Job Interview

A criminal history isn’t necessarily a dealbreaker for many positions. But it can make prospective employers nervous, so you will probably need to discuss your convictions at some point in the application process. Fortunately, this also opens an opportunity for you – you will obviously have a gap in your employment history and resume. Be prepared to show what you learned, how you’ve changed, and how your experience makes you a better employee. Here’s how to address your criminal history in a job interview.

Know the Law

In many cases, there are state laws regarding what questions potential employers can ask about your criminal history and when they can ask them. For example, Illinois law prevents employers from asking about your criminal record until after you are scheduled for an interview or extended a conditional job offer, except under certain specific circumstances. Learn which laws cover your specific situation, and consider walking away from potential employers that do not follow those laws.

Read Your Rap Sheet

Request your rap sheet from your state authorities. This is the legal document that lists your criminal history. First, check it for errors and reach out to your attorney to correct any misinformation you find.

Then, take a close look at each conviction. Note when you were convicted, whether the crime was a felony or a misdemeanor, and whether the conviction was sealed or expunged. Different employers ask different questions, so you might only be required to reveal felonies, for example, or convictions within the past three years. If you have a sealed or expunged conviction, check with your lawyer. These are seldom required to be disclosed.

Compose Your Pitch

Even if the topic of your criminal history never comes up, you may wish to disclose it, especially if you were convicted of a serious crime. You should also be ready to answer questions if they arise. Prepare a simple explanation that lays out, in two minutes or less:

  • what you did
  • how long, and where, you were imprisoned
  • what you learned
  • how you changed
  • what you have to offer the company

Be aware that many hiring managers are not experts in legalese and that your official charges may sound like your crime was even scarier than it actually was. For example, if you were charged with aggravated assault during a bar fight, say so. Otherwise, your interviewer might picture you menacing coworkers with a handgun.

Interviewing can be tough. If you have a criminal record, it can feel impossible. Yet increasingly, employers are willing to take a chance on someone with a criminal history. Review your rap sheet, and then be truthful about your past while stressing the changes you made and the good you can do for the company today.

Ready for a new job?

If you’re ready for a new opportunity, SURESTAFF can help you find a light industrial position in Illinois, Indiana, or Wisconsin.