A job search is difficult for run-of-the-mill candidates — for people with a history of criminal activity, it can feel downright impossible. When you make it as far as the job interview, it's crucial to make the most of the opportunity. By anticipating and preparing for the inevitable discussion about your record, you can handle the issue with grace and assuage any fears the employer might have.
It might seem obvious, but it's crucial not to lie about past criminal activity in an interview. If the employer has run a background check or followed up with references, they may already know the truth. If not, they are likely to do so in the future. An exposed lie, even when it's tiny or insignificant, is a red flag for any candidate — for someone with a questionable past, it can be the final straw. A better strategy is absolute honesty. When you can discuss uncomfortable topics frankly and truthfully, it reassures the employer that you have nothing to hide.
Offer an Explanation
When an employer sees evidence of criminal activity on your job application, he's likely to wonder about the circumstances and assume the worst. This curiosity can be distracting, making it difficult to focus on your qualifications. To get the job interview back on track, the easiest option is to explain your record. State what you did, and provide any details that are necessary to explain extenuating circumstances. Satisfy the interviewer's concerns by answering any questions that arise.
Strike the Right Tone
When speaking about a record, tone is the trickiest thing to master. A flippant attitude says that you don't take the issue seriously, while a defensive stance suggests that you can't accept responsibility for your actions. According to researchers at Michigan State University, an apologetic tone is the best option when discussing criminal activity. If you expressed remorse to the victim, let the employer know. A sense of regret creates empathy, which humanizes you in the eyes of the employer.
Explain the Result
Employers are human, too — they understand what it means to make a mistake and learn from it. However, they are also responsible for the safety of their employees and clients. To reassure them that you're not a threat, explain what you learned from past criminal activity and how it changed your life. If you have a drunk-driving conviction, for example, you might discuss how you speak to high school students about the dangers of alcohol. This step brings closure to the issue and helps convince the interviewer that he doesn't have to worry about future bad behavior.
Past criminal activity is a barrier to employment, but it's a challenge you can overcome. With the right approach, you can put an employer's mind at ease and set your record to rest.
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