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Written by Paul DruryPaul Drury

How to apply for jobs if you have a criminal record

9 min read
How to apply for jobs if you have a criminal record
Artwork by:Katya Vakulenko
Applying for a job when you have a criminal record is complicated, but not impossible. We explore the potential and pitfalls of a delicate situation.

Life goes on. There may be many circumstances that caused a criminal record, but if the justice system deems that you have served your time and you feel personally rehabilitated, then you have earned your second chance at life.

A job is an essential part of reintegrating into society, but surely no one will want to give you a chance. Why would they trust an ex-offender? Well, there is more hope than you might think. 

  • Addressing the stigma of being an ex-offender
  • The legal rights of a rehabilitated felon
  • Job sectors for those with a criminal record
  • How to mention a criminal record on your resume
  • Interview guide for ex-offenders

You need more help than you might think. The journey back to a nearly normal life won’t be easy. Hopefully we can share some advice to make you think about your choices and realize that there are more options than you think. We are not experts in this area, so we also share some further resources to tap into. Each country will have their own way of integrating ex-offenders back into the community, so it is worth doing more research into the specifics of your situation.

Addressing the stigma of a criminal record

Put yourself in the hiring manager’s shoes. You have gone on a journey of rehabilitation, but all they see is the details of your conviction. It is there, the elephant in the room, so you need to address it in the right way up front. Hiding it or not acknowledging how you have changed will only make things worse later.

This requires courage. People will judge you, but you know that you have got much to give to society. You need to make the right choices and start afresh. With a bit of luck on your side and the right person that believes in you, this is possible. You do not have to commit a crime again, ever. Be honest with everyone you meet, and someone will give you a second chance. Put yourself out there a lot as you will definitely get lots of rejections. This is normal in any job search, not just in your circumstances.

The legal rights for those with a criminal record will vary depending on country and jurisdiction, but it is true that this should not strip you of your fundamental human rights. You have a right to find a new job in many industries and you should be free from discrimination in most countries.

For example, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has guidelines that prohibit employers from automatically disqualifying an applicant due to their criminal record. An employer must consider the nature and gravity of the offense, the time that has passed since the offense or sentence, and the nature of the job in question. Other places even ban the question being asked in the first place (although it is advisable to mention).

Check your legal rights in the place where you are looking for a role. You are no less worthy than anyone else. 

How to find a job with a felony

Convicted felons will find it hard to find a job when they have a criminal record. The nature of the offense and time spent in prison (if any) will dictate the difficulty, but there are a few solid rules to follow if you want a job to get your life back on track.

Use word of mouth. As mentioned later, there are plenty of support organizations for ex-offenders, but it may well be the relationships that you formed in prison (or if not in prison, the people who are close to you). Leaning on those who know your character when times are tough is important. Let those who care about you help you out.

Take the opportunities. It is likely that you can’t afford to be too picky with the opportunities that come your way. So long as you target the right kinds of roles, be ready to take the job – if you sense that the hiring manager is right for you. It is more about the potential of the managerial relationship rather than the nature of the role.

Be proactive and positive. If a potential employer does not feel that you believe in yourself, how can they be expected to believe in you? Prepare yourself mentally for the search, get ready for it to be tough, but tell yourself that you will get there in the end.

Be honest. Even the smallest lie could raise questions in your situation. Make sure that everything you write about and say is 100% the truth – down to the smallest detail. Being honest about any less-than-impressive experience can help to build trust.

Make sure that you check out any internal issues with a role before you go through 3-4 interviews. Mentioning your prior conviction up front can avoid wasting their and your time – just in case there is anything prohibiting hiring an ex-offender.

Job sectors for those with a criminal record

There are certain job sectors that are better for ex-offenders than others.

Skilled trades such as construction, mechanics, and welding value the practical skill sets that some ex-offenders may possess or can learn. There are on-the-job apprenticeships available, and it is possible to build a reputation for reliability and delivery.

Food service and hospitality also provide stepping-stones to a career path that is reliable for an ex-offender. The roles are not complicated – the industry often requires simple hard work and dedication. Those with a criminal past often find this a way to prove their reliability and ability to hold down a job.

Self-employment and entrepreneurship may also be a potential route. If you can produce a product or a service that is useful for people, your past doesn’t matter so much. Nor do you always need to mention it. 

While there are plenty of roles in all sorts of bigger organizations with a social conscience, it is often non-profits that may offer the most interesting opportunities to rehabilitate those with a criminal record. They understand the importance of second chances and will look kindly on someone who wants to get their life back on track.

How to mention a criminal record on your resume

It is not always required to mention a criminal record on your resume. Some jurisdictions actively recommend that you do not. Whether you decide to or not may depend on the nature of the offense.

It may well be worth including a separate page which includes details of your rehabilitation and your future career hopes. You could then send this page over if there is an interest in your application, or you could include an abridged version as part of your career history.

Your criminal record will come to light at some point, so mention it in the resume, if possible. Don’t go overboard about it. Show that you have learned from your mistakes and that this next job is an important part of your future. You could also decide to exclude the criminal record from the resume but include a couple of lines about it in the cover letter. That may be a worthwhile compromise.

It goes without saying that you should investigate your rights and local employment regulations before you make decisions that may compromise your application.

Interview guide for convicted felons 

The interview for someone with a criminal record will have a slightly different focus to a normal job interview. Here are a few things to think about:

Be more honest than you think you should be. The hiring manager will expect you to emphasize your honesty, but if you are surprisingly honest it will be disarming. Whatever you do, make sure that you are sincere with any emotions. They must believe you.

Demonstrate growth along your journey. Everyone has ups and downs in life, so convince the hiring manager that you are at the start of a long upward climb. This can only be accomplished with enthusiasm, so banish any doubts that you may have.

Share references and recommendations. While you might be incredibly convincing, testimony from others will be a powerful tool. Find people who are credible character witnesses and who knew you before and after the conviction. 

Confidence is important in the interview, but no less important is the humility to know that you want to do better. Hope that you will be given a chance. You can’t expect it.

Key takeaways

Think carefully before you finalize your job search application if you have a criminal record. At what stage of the process do you want to tell your story? What information do you need to include at each stage? What are the legal requirements? So many questions to think about. The most important thing to remember is that you are not alone. Plenty of people get jobs after a criminal record and then go on to rewarding careers.

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