Many individuals with a criminal background view their past as a permanent barrier to finding employment. In many cases, the first impression you make is what makes the difference between the employer seeing you as someone who has overcome their past, or who lets their past define them.
For you to have a successful job interview, you will need to accept responsibility for your criminal record and understand how your interviewer may react. You need to be prepared to deal with questions about your record and negative perceptions in a positive way. Here are five tips to help you get ready for embarrassing questions about your past:
1. Take control over the situation.
Remember, you have control over the way you explain your criminal record in an interview situation. Before stepping into that interview, you have the opportunity to prepare a “conviction speech” to organize your story in a way that focuses on the positives and your rehabilitation, without going into too much detail about the crime and its circumstances. You could even bring a portfolio to the interview with letters from volunteer activities, counselors, probation or parole officers, or others who have witnessed the positive changes you have made for your future.
2. Tell the truth.
Transparency, or revealing everything up front, is valuable to an employer. If you don’t bring up your criminal record, the employer may wonder what you have to hide. Many employers don’t know what they can and can’t ask about a crime, and you will NOT be considered for the job if you do not explain yourself. Remember, “the truth will set you free.”
3. Demonstrate your value to others.
While telling your “conviction story,” it would be helpful to identify a reason for your action that you recognize was a problem, such as peer pressure or being young and dumb. Use that past influence to explain lessons you learned because of it that have now made you a better person. Focus on the future, how you plan to continue growing and learning, and how your skills will make a positive contribution to the company.
4. Take responsibility.
When you identify a reason for your action, make sure you also take responsibility for it and note that you you cannot blame anyone other than yourself for what you did. Accept responsibility, but do not dwell on what you did. Again, be brief, without giving every last detail of what you did and why you did it.
5. Keep your dignity.
As an EX-offender, you no longer have to identify yourself with the person you used to be and the crime you previously committed. It’s your chance to show you are a new person and to move forward. If you’re feeling uncomfortable, try helping your interviewer to identify with you by admitting that although you take responsibility for what has happened in the past, the details are embarrassing to talk about and you would rather focus on how you have changed since that time. Simply and briefly acknowledge your responsibility and remorse for your crime, then move on. Focus on the changes you’ve made so that your employer might also view you as who you are now, rather than who you used to be.
Good luck in your interview! If you still have questions, or if you could benefit from some assistance as you re-enter the workforce, consider joining our Workforce Development Program! You’ll work one-on-one with a Workforce Development Specialist to develop your personal “conviction speech” and a plan to set you on your way to gainful employment! Call the Mon Valley Initiative at 412-464-4000 to register for your orientation session.