Answering Questions About Your Criminal History During a Job Interview (Justice Involved)

Answering Questions About Your Criminal History During a Job Interview (Justice Involved)If you've completed a job application prior to an interview, and answered the "conviction question" honestly (as you should), some employers may ask you about your criminal history. But even if they don't, certain questions, like those related to employment gaps, may lead the conversation in that direction. There are also some questions where it simply makes the most sense to respond by describing your rehabilitation, such as "What accomplishment are you most proud of?"

Below are important points to keep in mind when talking to employers about your background. These techniques can favorably influence the interviewer's impression of you.

  • State, without being defensive, that you've made mistakes in the past. Do not make excuses, blame others, or downplay your criminal history. Express remorse and state clearly that you take full responsibility for your actions.

  • If asked, identify the specific conviction, but don't volunteer unnecessary details. If the interviewer begins to dwell on your crime or prison experience, politely move the conversation in a different direction. For example: "I'm embarrassed by my past errors in judgment and I'd rather not focus too much on that part of my life. I've worked very hard to turn things around, and I really believe that I have a lot to offer your company. Can we talk about that instead?"

  • Any discussion of your conviction or incarceration should stress what you learned from the experience, how you changed, and specific steps that you've taken to better yourself. Did you advance your education? Did you take any training classes? Did you gain new work experience and/or improve your job skills? Did you receive counseling? Do you have a better understanding of why you do things? Did you increase your self-management and social abilities? Did you become more responsible, focused, better able to handle challenges, etc.? Do you have new respect for authority, other people's rights, and/or the value of hard work? Did you change your attitude and behavior in other important ways?

  • Emphasize your desire to lead a productive life, and your commitment to being an honest, loyal, and hard-working employee.

  • Explain that you understand the interviewer's concerns about hiring someone involved with the justice system, but that you sincerely want to prove yourself.

Here are tips for putting the above advice intro practice when responding to three of the most popular interview questions:

  • “Tell me about yourself.”

    This is NOT the time to discuss your criminal history. Doing so would suggest that you identify yourself by your past, thus causing the interviewer to do the same. Whenever possible, it's best to explain why you're the right person for the job before getting into your criminal history. Luckily, this question allows you to do that while still answering honestly.

  • “What are your strengths?”

    If prison employment is where you used or developed your strengths, this may be a good time to introduce your criminal history in a positive way. For instance, “I was assigned to the kitchen during my incarceration, and I really enjoyed preparing meals. I enrolled in some cooking classes when I was released, and learned some great techniques that I can’t wait to use as a chef’s assistant.”

  • “What is your biggest weakness?”

    One way to answer this question is to describe the ways in which you've turned your life around. For example, "I used to be easily swayed by other people, but this got me into serious trouble. Now I carefully think about the results of my actions before following through on them. I stay away from doing anything that may be illegal or wrong, even if it results in criticism from others. I have learned that my self-respect is much more important to me than approval by people with questionable standards."

Even though these conversations can be uncomfortable, do your best to appear calm and self-assured. The interviewer will only have faith in you if you seem to have faith in yourself. This is your opportunity to shape the employer’s opinion of you, so make the most of it!

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