The process of getting a job can be a challenging, stressful, and overwhelming experience for even the most qualified and experienced prospective employees. From multiple interviews with various team members to negotiating a competitive salary and a comprehensive benefits package, the process can be intense, and prospective employers want to know that the person they hire is not only qualified, but also will be a good fit with the culture of the workplace. If you are in the process of looking for a new job and you have a criminal record, you probably dread the moment that the interviewer asks about your criminal past. Although mistakes from your past may prevent some employers from hiring you, others may be willing to take a chance, particularly if you are honest and upfront about your criminal records, what you have learned about the mistakes that you have made, and how you will be an asset to the company. If you believe that you have experienced employment discrimination because of your criminal record, you are urged to contact an experienced employment lawyer as soon as possible.
When Do I Need to Discuss My Criminal Record?
Different states have different requirements when it comes to disclosing information about arrest records. For example, in California, Michigan, Illinois, Massachusetts, Hawaii, New York, Rhode Island, Utah, and Wisconsin, employers are not allowed to ask prospective employees about arrest records. However, in every other state, including New Jersey, employers may ask about prior arrests and criminal records. In addition, some employers have a policy that if an employee provides false information on an application or during a job interview, including a failure to disclose information about a criminal record, the employee may be terminated. That means, if you live in New Jersey and an employer asks for a background check during the interview, you should be honest and tell him or her about the mistakes you made in the past.
There are a number of things to consider when sharing this information with a prospective employer. For example, some interviewees wait until the end of the interview after they have had an opportunity to make a good impression and highlight their qualifications before sharing information about their criminal past. Others wait until the subject comes up naturally, or if the interviewer asks if he or she has had to overcome a difficult situation. You should generally avoid bringing up your criminal record at the beginning of your interview, when you want to make a positive impression and build rapport with the interviewer. If you wait until the end of the interview, make sure that it is not the last topic that you discuss. Find a way to end the interview on a positive note by highlighting reasons why you are the right person for the job.
Do I Need to Go into Detail about My Criminal Record?
Although you cannot avoid addressing your criminal record during a job interview, experts recommend that you only answer the questions that are asked. Do not volunteer any additional information or details about the crime that could be particularly damaging. For example, if the interviewer only asks general questions about the criminal record, do not provide additional details that could jeopardize your chances of getting the job. Ultimately, you want to reassure the employer that your criminal behavior is a thing of the past, that you have learned from your mistakes and that you are a stronger person. If you completed rehab, got your GED, or another degree while you were incarcerated, highlight those accomplishments as well.
Prior to your interview, you should review your record of arrests and prosecutions (RAP) sheet, which is a legal document that records your criminal history. Although employers cannot access your RAP sheet from a background check, you should know what is on the RAP sheet, and whether there are any convictions that have been sealed, including any convictions that occurred when you were a minor, which you will not have to disclose. You should also know some employers will only ask about major felony offenses, so you should not disclose a minor misdemeanor if the employer does not ask about it.
What Tips Should I Keep in Mind When Discussing My Criminal Record?
Although having a criminal record can make the interviewing process a bit more complicated and stressful and may reduce your chances of getting hired if another equally qualified person who does not have a criminal record is going for the same position, it does not have to completely derail your chances of getting hired. By keeping the following tips in mind, you can make a great impression, despite having a criminal record:
- Review your criminal background. Prior to your interview, obtain a copy of your official criminal history from your local police department. By closely reviewing this document, you will know how many times you were arrested and that you can provide basic information about the charges to the interviewer, including whether you were convicted of a felony or a misdemeanor.
- Be prepared. After you have reviewed your criminal background, make sure that any incorrect information is corrected before your interview. In addition, if any of the charges against you qualify for restriction or expungement, complete this process as soon as possible. If charges against you were dropped, obtain copies of the court records that confirm the dropped charges. If you wait to do this until after your interview, this may reduce the chances of you getting hired.
- Be honest. Always answer the interviewer’s questions truthfully, but do not provide more information than necessary. For example, if the interviewer specifically asks about convictions, do not provide information about any arrests that did not result in a conviction. In addition, do not voluntarily provide information about misdemeanor offenses if the interviewer only asks about felony convictions. If your offense was minor, it is still better to disclose the criminal offense than for the employer to find out about it on a background check. This can damage your credibility and cause you to lose out on a job opportunity.
- Take responsibility for your actions. Demonstrate that you have learned from your mistake and that you take full responsibility for your actions. If your past actions involved a DUI, tell your employer that you have completed an alcohol rehabilitation program, and that you have been clean and sober since then. Talk about how your criminal behavior is a thing of the past, but that you will never forget the consequences of your actions and the impact it had on your life.
- Have a positive attitude. Rather than focusing on your conviction and what led you to commit the crime, talk about what you have learned and how the experience has made you a stronger person. If you successfully complete a drug treatment program, tell the employer how the treatment helped you and inspired you to help other people. Talk about the ways that you have turned your life around, including obtaining a college degree, doing volunteer work, and other jobs you have had that demonstrate your reliability.
- Demonstrate your involvement in the community. This shows a prospective employer that you are responsible, trustworthy, and eager to give back to your community. Although some volunteer agencies do not accept people who have a criminal record, there are a number of ways to get involved and build positive relationships with members of the community. From coaching a sports team to serving on a board for a non-profit organization, employers will appreciate the fact that you are involved in your community. If there is a person that holds a leadership position in the community, such as a pastor or a member of the police force, who has a personal connection with you and can attest to your good character, ask if he or she would be willing to write a testimonial on your behalf, and include this with your application.
- Make sure your resume stands out. Make sure that you have a professional-looking resume that stands out among the other applicants and highlights your skills, accomplishments, and work history. There are a number of resume writing services that can help you write a resume, review your resume’s appearance and content, and determine whether your resume will make a good impression and stand out.
Cherry Hill Employment Lawyers at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C. Represent Clients with Employment Issues
If you were not considered for a job because you have a criminal record, you are urged to contact the Cherry Hill employment lawyers at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C. Our dedicated legal team will work closely with you to determine whether your rights have been violated and assist you with the claims process. Having a criminal record should not prevent you from being able to earn a living. Call us today at 215-569-1999 or contact us online for a free consultation. Located in Pennsauken, New Jersey, and Philadelphia, we serve clients in Cherry Hill, Haddonfield, Marlton, Moorestown, Mount Laurel, New Jersey, and South Jersey.