Criminal record background checks are a standard part of most job interviews. If you have a criminal record, this might make you feel hopeless about ever finding a job. You’re not alone; estimates are that nearly one-third of American adults have something criminal lurking in their past. The good news is that most employers don’t consider a criminal history to be a deal breaker and discrimination laws are increasingly coming down in your favor.
Since you know it’s going to come up, what are the best tips for addressing your criminal past in a job interview?
Get a Copy of Your RAP Sheet
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Your RAP sheet – Record of Arrests and Prosecution—is a valuable record for you to have and understand. Your RAP sheet will tell you the following:
- Misdemeanor convictions
- Felony convictions
- Pending charges
- Dates and other details for the above
While a potential employer cannot obtain a copy of your rap sheet, when they request a criminal background check on you, the information they receive comes from your RAP sheet.
With a copy of your RAP sheet in hand, you can do the following:
- Answer precisely the questions asked on applications and in interviews. For example, if you’re asked about activity in the past three years, you need only disclose the items on the RAP sheet within that time frame. Or, if you’re asked about misdemeanors, you’ll have a good record of those. In addition, you can avoid bringing up items that are sealed because, while they show up on your RAP sheet, the sealed designation means no one else will see them.
- Have records expunged. Convictions are eligible for expungement when you have completed rehabilitation or served a jail sentence, whichever is relevant. Convictions that have been expunged do not need to be disclosed.
- Clean up your record. Beyond having records expunged, you can request certificates of rehabilitation or pardons. These don’t erase items from your RAP sheet, but they do indicate that you are staying out of trouble.
Practice Answering the Tough Questions
The job interview is not the place to spill your guts about everything in your past, but you also can’t pretend the past never happened. You need to be prepared to address the issue, provide context, and explain what you’ve done to move forward. Keep your explanation brief, memorize it beforehand so you don’t need to think, and transition directly into how you’re prepared to add value to the company.
Polish Your Resume
A crisp, clean, professional resume makes a powerful first impression. Use your resume to highlight your skills and achievements so you will stand out from the crowd.
Don’t Give Up
Most importantly, remember, the right job is out there for you. You haven’t come this far to only come this far; don’t give up the search.