Ask an Expert: I Have a Criminal Record and Nobody Will Hire Me

Criminal Record

Every day, we get questions from people seeking special assistance with their job searches. One common theme is job searching with a criminal record. How much should you disclose and when should you disclose it? How do you explain your criminal record and still land a job? How do you address it during an interview?

There are so many variables that make finding a job even more complicated if you have a criminal record. And in a challenging job market, many feel like they don't have a chance against job seekers with clean records.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that in 2009, more than 7.2 million people were under some form of correctional supervision including probation, prison, jail, and parole. More than 97 percent of all U.S. prisoners are eventually released, and communities are absorbing nearly 650,000 formerly incarcerated individuals annually, according to a report by the Council of State Governments.

Lisa Pollan, site coordinator at LIFT-DC, works with more than 1,000 clients annually, largely in the area of employment assistance. Pollan says LIFT-DC encourages all of its clients who were formerly incarcerated to collect "evidence of rehabilitation." This evidence should prove to employers that the client has changed since their offense and is now a responsible member of society. Evidence of rehabilitation can include:

  • letters of recommendation from employers or advocates
  • proof of training program completion/certificates (including from period of incarceration)
  • participation in a mentoring or support group

In terms of filling out job applications, LIFT-DC counsels clients to do the following:

Only answer what is asked: If a question asks if you have been convicted of a felony, you can say no if you only have misdemeanors. If a question asks if you have been convicted of a felony in the last seven years, and you were convicted 10 years ago, answer no.

Answer truthfully: A company may hire ex-offenders but have a policy of terminating anyone who lies on an application.

Demonstrate change: If you answer a question about your record by writing, "Yes, but I got my GED while I was incarcerated," you show that you are educated, focused and want to make positive changes in your life. You can also attach a written explanation of your situation, and proof of your rehabilitation.

LIFT-DC spends time crafting scripts with clients that they can use on applications and in job interviews to explain their period of incarceration and the steps they've taken to change. (E.g.: "I was arrested for a drug-related offense. Since my conviction, I have not used drugs for 10 years. I completed a 1,000-hour substance abuse treatment program. During my period of incarceration, I obtained my GED and HVAC certification. I even taught HVAC courses to my peers after I received my teaching certification. I am now looking for a position where I can utilize the education and skills I've gained.")

We realize this is just the tip of the iceberg on this issue and we hope to tackle more columns on this issue including resumes and interview questions for those with criminal records. If you are in this situation, be advised that employment laws and regulations, regarding those with criminal records, vary by state. Check with your state's Department of Justice regarding expunged records and the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission regarding your local hiring regulations.

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