Skeletons in your Closet Print
Written by Abby Kohut   

This week I received two questions about how to explain prior convictions (i.e., felonies or misdemeanors) during interviews. While the answer depends on many different factors, the good news is that like any other hurdle, a conviction can be overcome in many cases.

There are a variety of factors that go into the decision each company makes about whether or not to hire you if you have a conviction. Factors include the amount of time that has passed, the type of conviction, and the type of job you will be performing. Your success with getting hired will also depend on the types of companies you apply to work at as larger companies tend to have more robust screening procedures.

If a recruiter asks you to fill out an application before the interview, read the criminal background check questions carefully. Most of the time, the question is "Have you been convicted of a crime?" If you have been convicted of any misdemeanor or felony (including driving convictions), your answer should be "Yes". If you say no and the company finds that you lied when they complete your background check, you may not be hired, no matter what the details of the conviction were. After all, lying on your application isn't the best way to leave a good impression.

Some candidates may be tempted to answer "No" and then take the risk that the company won't actually perform a background check. The problem with this approach is that if you do this, you'll never be off the hook. Your new company might later implement a new background check policy that retroactively checks all previous hires and finds out that you lied on your application. Do you want this hanging over you or would you rather be hired by a company that knows about your mistakes and forgives them?

If you answer "Yes" to the question, be prepared to respond verbally or in writing about the details of the conviction. Again, my recommendation is that you start by being honest about what happened. The recruiter you are sitting with is a person too and while they may be bound by corporate policy, they might be understanding.

Being honest about something you are not proud of will be difficult, but in my opinion, it's the way to go. I make similar recommendations to people who have been fired from jobs. Explaining the situation and following it up with what you learned from the experience plus how you have corrected the behaviors seems to be the best approach. We have all done things we are not proud of – it's the actions we took afterwards that matter.

If the company offers you a position, a good question to ask the HR department is whether or not the conviction information will be given to your new manager or whether it remains confidential between you and the recruiter. If it were me, I would rather not work for a company who would tell my supervisor because I would be concerned about being treated differently based on that information.

Absolutely Abby’s Advice:
Owning up to your past is something you need to get used to. Everyone has something in their background that makes them less than a stellar choice for a particular job or organization. If you keep at it, you will eventually find a company who will acknowledge your past history and be willing to hire you despite your blemish. Strive to be positive, professional, and polished so people will see past your skeletons.