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How to answer criminal background questions: Interview Series

, Blue Recruit

Stop me if this sounds familiar. 

When you were younger you did something really stupid and got arrested. You were eventually convicted and you’ve been reluctant to apply for jobs because you think your conviction will automatically eliminate you from consideration. Instead, you have stayed in jobs that you didn’t like or you have relied on referrals from your buddies to get jobs. You aren’t alone. When I was a recruiter I was asked how to answer criminal history questions on job applications and in interviews by lots of people. Don’t worry BlueRecruit has got your back. 

First things first, you are not alone. Nearly one-third of the US working population has a criminal record. That means that over 73.5 million adults in the country have worried about how their criminal background will affect their employment opportunities.

The good news is with the current job market and an extreme shortage of skilled labor, most employers don’t consider a criminal record to be a deal-breaker when deciding whether to hire someone. Don’t take my word for it, here are a few results from a survey that the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) conducted:

  1. Almost 50% of HR professionals don’t feel strongly that a criminal record should determine if someone is hired. 

  2. Over 60% of SHRM members said that their companies conduct background checks 

  3. Nearly 50% of companies include a criminal background question on their application.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is also working to make sure you get a fair shake when you look for a job. 

Now that’s a lot to take in so I’ll simplify it. Roughly half of the HR people who participated in the survey are willing to give you a shot and half don’t even include a criminal background question on the application. 

Should I disclose my criminal history if the company doesn’t ask?

That data leads to an interesting question: If the company doesn’t ask about my past convictions, should I disclose them? Yes, you most definitely should. 

Hiring managers may be willing to overlook your criminal background, but they won’t be willing to overlook withholding information in the hiring process or worse, lying. They will eventually find out about your criminal history so you should be the one to bring it up. For example, there may be gaps in your work history if you spent time at a correctional facility. Full disclosure and transparency are the best policy. 

We’re here to help you create a game plan for answering the questions and getting the job you want, so let’s get started.

Step 1: Prepare by conducting your own criminal background check

Now that you know that you can get a great job with a criminal record, let’s start preparing for your job search. Before you fill out any applications or start interviewing, you should conduct your own background check. 

You should obtain a copy of your “RAP” sheet. You have probably heard the term “RAP” sheet mentioned on every crime show ever. RAP stands for Record, Arrest, and Prosecution and you will have to request it from your state’s Department of Justice. They will require a fingerprint and you’ll have to pay a fee but the information is well worth it. 

Step 2: Review your RAP sheet

This is the most complete record of your criminal history. It is important that you understand things like the types of offenses, key dates, and if they are sealed or expunged. With this information, you can give the most accurate answers to questions about your criminal history during your job interviews. You will also know what information you DON’T have to disclose. For example, what if a job application asks for convictions in the last 5 years and your conviction was 7 years ago. There is no need to disclose it. You want to be honest and transparent, but only with information that an employer has the right to know.

Step 3: Take responsibility for what you’ve done

You should be ready for the application and the interview so you can answer any criminal history questions. As your high school coach would say, proper preparation prevents poor performance. Write a simple statement about your criminal history beforehand and review it with a trusted friend. 

Then, practice describing your past convictions with a friend. Admit what you have done and don’t make excuses. Explain what you learned, how it helped you to mature, and how that maturity makes you a better employee. I get it. No one likes to talk about these things in a job interview, but being prepared will help you to effectively handle an awkward situation.  You won’t be able to turn a negative experience into a positive situation, but you can get through this.

Step 4: Wrap up the interview with a positive spin

Be sure to emphasize your work history, skills, and certifications at the end of the interview. Generally speaking, a hiring manager is focused on your ability to do the job first and foremost. It’s why you got the interview and ultimately why you will get the job.

Step 4: The Cheat Code

If you want to accelerate your job search by getting your skills and experience in front of hiring managers, sign up for our platform. It only takes 5 minutes and you can complete your profile on your phone. There is no need to prepare a cover letter or a time-consuming resume, and more than 16,000 people have already signed up. 

Conclusion

Remember a few important things about hiring managers. They have a stack of applications and they are scheduling job interviews as fast as they can. They are facing a labor shortage and they need to hire good workers. Potential employers are looking for employees who show maturity and professionalism in the interview process and your work will help you stand out while handling a tough situation. There are more than 70 million job seekers who have been through an interview process and successfully overcome a criminal conviction.

Best of luck and be sure to check out our blog post on how to answer the most common interview questions for skilled tradespeople. 

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