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How to Communicate Criminal History to Potential Employer

Posted by Tami Riggs

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Jun 15, 2022 10:00:00 AM

AdobeStock_197066428_Job InterviewIf you have a criminal past, you have likely encountered difficulties re-entering the workforce or obtaining a professional position. A career change or job search with a conviction can be challenging. However, many find success! They can and do enter the legal field, despite the limitations a criminal record presents.

Any part of a candidate’s background that violates accepted social standards or involves dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or violence may impact interviewing and hiring decisions. Law firms typically refrain from reviewing or selecting candidates with a misdemeanor or felony conviction for drugs, assault, theft, burglary, trespass, and any offenses involving weapons. These are considered crimes of “moral turpitude.” Moral turpitude crimes disqualify a person from obtaining a Notary Commission in many states, and notary licensing laws disallow felons. Associations and organizations (including those that are not legal) may also deny testing, membership, and affiliation for applicants with a criminal background. However, there are opportunities in the legal field that do not require a designation or organizational membership. It will be important to explore possible restrictions in licensure and certification as you move forward in your professional career and educational pursuits. If you have a crime on your record, research the laws and regulations in your state so that you fully understand any job, designation, or membership restrictions.

Most entities will consider 5 aspects before making a final decision to disqualify a candidate from hire or membership:

  1. applicant’s age at time of offense
  2. elapsed time since conviction
  3. nature and type of offense
  4. relevance of crime to position
  5. evidence of positive change

Don’t be afraid to discuss your background, employment history, education, job training programs, community support, and other relevant rehabilitative efforts. You may be asked for more detailed information, so be prepared to explain your circumstances. Answer honestly when directly asked about any past transgressions. This will support your credibility and character. There may be employers who will overlook a criminal record, when legally possible, to hire the right person. A long string of convictions in the look-back period could be viewed as negative factors in the context of decision-making. On the other hand, youthful offender adjudications, first offender offenses, and offenses older than 7 years are often mitigating factors, as they do not reflect an ongoing pattern of illegal behavior.

School transcripts, certificates from job training, proof of employment or volunteer/service work, and letters of recommendation can be submitted to reinforce positive change, community engagement, and commitment to personal and professional growth. How you communicate your past makes a difference, too. Demonstrate a mature perspective, insight into your behavior and attitudes, and evidence of rehabilitation. No one wants to become entangled in the criminal justice system, but nearly everyone who does generally learns a great deal from the experience.

When communicating a conviction to an employer incorporate the following:

  • Display a positive image and project confidence as a worthwhile candidate and asset.
  • Communicate information that highlights your skills and match these to the abilities the employer needs.
  • Offer a brief explanation of your crime, including only the necessary details.
  • Take responsibility for your actions and acknowledge poor choices; do not make excuses or offer justifications.
  • Discuss positive things you have done to overcome the legal issue and actions you continue to take to remain productive.
  • Tell the employer what your experience has taught you – social skills, conflict resolution, communication, respect for authority, living responsibly, conformity to regulations, ability to take direction and turn it into action, goal setting, etc.
  • Confirm any third-party support.
A good response to any question regarding a past offense:

“I’m glad you asked me. I want you to feel comfortable hiring me. The crime had nothing to do with my previous employers. In my past, I was involved with XYZ. I made poor decisions. As a result, I was convicted. While under supervision/during my incarceration, I took the opportunity to enroll in and complete rehabilitative and educational programs. I now have relevant training and experience. I want to grow professionally and learn as much as possible, and I have a plan in place to obtain my career goals.”

Keep in mind that employers might uncover other things during a background check or prescreening which could potentially keep you from being considered for employment. This is not limited to a criminal past. Positions that involve sensitive consumer information, billing, and money may mean that your credit background could also come into question. Creditworthiness is typically associated with reliability and organization. Therefore, it is common for employers to perform a credit check, especially for positions that deal with company finances or confidential data. Late payments, missed payments, charge-offs, defaults on loans, or accounts in poor standing can potentially signal irresponsibility and mismanagement. Evidence of good driving is another indicative aspect of many pre-employment background checks. A license devoid of traffic violations, points, and accidents is often equated with a responsible and respectful potential employee.

Many elements of an application are considered during the hiring process. In addition to a criminal, credit, and driving history, hiring managers will also review previous experience, educational background, and references, along with your response. Don’t get discouraged! Some employers hire formerly convicted individuals, and you can still have an impactful career. Provided you maintain a clean record going forward, there will come a time when your criminal past becomes stale enough for it to carry less weight. As you rebuild, it is possible to show that you are safe, reliable, and trustworthy. You might have to consider entry-level positions in the beginning, but this can signal to employers your ongoing commitment to establishing a better life.
Tami Riggs 125px Tami Riggs
Director of Outreach and Career Services

Tami has an extensive and varied professional background that spans criminal justice, paralegal education, and international school marketing and communication. Her career has been guided by a focus on developing strategic partnerships that facilitate school growth and student opportunity. She holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Criminal Justice from Texas State University.

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