How to Address a Criminal History in a Job Interview

Friday, February 27, 2015 by Karina

If you've had a run-in with the law in the past, the question? Tell me about your record? can be a very difficult one to answer. For those with a criminal background, the answer to that question can be the make or break point for the interview. While talking about your past isn't always comfortable, it's important to show interviewers that you've accepted responsibility and learned from your mistake. Doing this successfully can turn a negative into a positive.

Mention Your History Early in the Process

While you may want to show your best side to the interviewer, leaving your dirty little secret until the end when they're hooked, it's best to be honest and up front. Take control of the situation and bring up your background early on. Disclosing your past at the beginning of the interview will establish trust while making it clear that you aren't hiding anything.

You can kick off your discussion when the interviewer asks you a general question like?Tell me about yourself. Start with a few positive credentials and then change the tone to the more serious issue at hand. Be careful not to give too much information or too many details.' You don't want the discussion to be completely focused on your criminal history.

Why it's Important to be Honest

Being honest about your past shows that you're a truthful person and that you take responsibility for your actions. Everyone makes mistakes and the odds are that your interviewer has done a couple of things in the past that they aren't so proud of themselves. Readily admitting your mistake shows that you're human and that you've learned from your past.

Remember too that most employers run a criminal background check, so they'll find out about your past one way or another. Putting it out on the table prevents them from learning about your history unexpectedly.

Even if you're being completely honest and upfront, you shouldn't put anything about your past on a resume or cover letter. Only discuss your history in person. The exception is if you fill out a job application ahead of the interview and it asks about a record. In that case, you would need to disclose your history, but make a note that you can explain it in the interview.

Be prepared to tell your interviewer how long you were incarcerated and have an explanation ready for your actions. Don't use excuses or blame it on bad timing. Show them that you realize what you did was wrong and that you're excited to move on with life and make better choices in the future.

To help the interview process go smoothly, prepare your story ahead of time and practice explaining your situation like you would in an interview. Be honest, accommodating and enthusiastic. If you come across as sincere, odds are that your criminal background won't prevent you from landing the job.