Getting a hit on your criminal record, no matter how big or small can make it feel next to impossible to jump back into the working world. If you have a record that’s going to get pulled up during a background check, you might even avoid certain jobs altogether.
Further, you might be unable to earn the experience, education, or the right skills needed for a variety of jobs due to the consequences of your record. However, putting yourself out there to get a job can start you off on a brand new journey so you can build up your resume and continuously grow over time in a career field.
Whether you’re embarrassed or certain employers won’t hire you based on your past, finding solid work isn’t easy when you’ve been convicted of a crime. But it’s not impossible.
1. Putting Yourself Out There
There are a few things to keep in mind as you start your job search. First, keep in mind that you’re not alone.
About one-third of the adult population has some type of criminal record. So, as you go to check “that” box on a job application — the one that asks if you’ve ever been convicted of a crime — remember that you don’t have to feel ashamed or embarrassed about your past.
Feel proud that you’re trying to do better for yourself and move ahead in life. When you get over your fears that might be attached to your past life of criminal activity, you can start to focus on how to land the job you want.
It’s important to know what employers are looking for, and not being afraid to put yourself out there. You also don’t have to box yourself into a “conventional” 9-to-5 job.
Don’t be afraid to try something new if you’re striking out in the corporate world. While teaching, law enforcement, finance, and government jobs may largely be off the table, there are many other opportunities to explore.
It might even be a good idea to hold off on applying for jobs right away. Instead, you could focus on building up your skills through something like a trade school or online courses to further your education. You might try performing odd jobs to gain experience that you can put on a resume.
Everything from landscaping, to driving for rideshare companies, to other freelance gigs can be great resources to eventually help you land a more stable career.
With all of that in mind, let’s dive in a little deeper on how you can get a job, despite having a record:
2. Know What Employers Are Looking for
When you fill out an application and are being considered for a job, your potential employer will probably run a criminal background check. They’re typically looking for past convictions or any dealings with the police.
Employers are often afraid that people with criminal pasts might end up costing them money or doing damage to the business, other employees, etc.
While you need to answer truthfully when confirming that you have a criminal background on the application, some employers will unfortunately look at that checkmark and disregard your application completely. This is wrong and unethical, but it happens.
It’s important to know what employers are looking for and how you can get around the potential stereotypes surrounding your conviction — not with dishonesty, but with hard work and a true showcase of the kind of employee you’re willing to be.
One of the best things you can do is to build up as many references as possible. This includes both job references and character references. If you had a steady job in the past, you might be able to get a recommendation from them.
Other options include former teachers, guidance counselors, advisors, or past supervisors. If you’re friends with anyone in your community who has a strong reputation or is held in high regard, ask them for a reference too. It isn’t impossible for someone with a criminal past to build up a lot of professional and personal references quickly, depending on who you know.
You can also work on making a good impression from the start by dressing appropriately for any interviews you might have. One of the best things you can do is the dress for the position you’re applying for. Try to avoid wearing things like T-shirts and jeans or clothes that are dirty or damaged.
During the interview, you’ll need to know how to discuss your criminal history tactfully. While you might be hoping that the topic simply won’t come up, it’s important to offer a short explanation — generally no longer than a couple of minutes — of your past.
Explain what the charges were and how long you were incarcerated, but focus most of your time on how you’ve been rehabilitated. Note that you’ll want to be more specific when it comes to charges that are vague or could lead an employer to worry.
However, remember that there is a difference between being honest and being prudent with information when you have a criminal record. If you have multiple felonies and misdemeanors, it’s wise to only answer questions that the interviewer asks; don’t volunteer additional details or discuss unrelated offenses.
You must be honest when asked a direct question about specific events, but building a case against yourself by offering unnecessary information isn’t the best use of your energy and can cast you in a negative light. Carefully assess your criminal history, then only discuss relevant details.
3. Building Your Resume After a Conviction
It’s important to stand out somehow when you’re trying to get a job. That’s the case whether you have a criminal record or not. But, if you do, it’s even more essential to be seen above other applicants as someone who is the perfect fit for the specific job.
Things like past job experience, training, and schooling help. But, even without a lot of those things, you can still set forth a good impression before you even land an interview.
One of the best ways to do that is with an impactful resume.
Resume templates can help you personalize your resume to suit the career field you’re interested in. While more traditional fields may call for a more conventional format, art- or tech-related fields may warrant a more creative approach. However, instead of just jotting down your experience and life skills on a piece of paper, why not try something new?
Online portfolios and personal websites are becoming more popular than ever because they’re no longer limited to certain industries or careers. They can offer a potential employer so much more than a sheet of paper ever could.
You can include photos and media, share more about your personal experiences and your professional skills. If you do go this route, make sure you know how to design a quality website that works quickly and is easy to navigate.
In your resume, you might even mention how your troubled past has changed and shaped you as a person. It’s a great way to form a more personal connection with your potential employer before you even meet them, and by acknowledging your record, you gain control of the situation, rather than allowing it to work as a surprise against you.
The truth is, it doesn’t matter what kind of crime you were convicted of. Because past convictions are so common, you don’t have to feel as though you’re not good enough to land the job you want.
The best thing you can do with your criminal record is, to be honest, and straightforward with a potential employer. Rather than getting stuck in your past, focus on showing them what you have to offer going forward.