It’s illegal not to declare a criminal record if asked in a job interview, and although that might mean you have to work a bit harder than other candidates in the course of the process, you shouldn’t consider your conviction an insurmountable barrier in the pursuit of a career that suits you. There are plenty of ways to make disclosure work for you: follow these tips for transforming your record into a conversational starting point which leads in positive directions when you come to be interviewed.

There are a number of ways to disclose – in writing, over the phone, or face-to-face – and it mostly depends on the employer’s process (as well as what you feel most comfortable with) but often it’s a question that comes up at interview.

Honesty is at the core of how your employability will be affected. You need to be able to tell your interviewer clearly and calmly

  • The seriousness of your offence
  • When it happened
  • What was happening in your life at the time
  • What’s happening in your life now

As you prepare, put yourself in your interviewer’s shoes. Imagine the kind of concerns they might have about your conviction, and think about how you can assuage those concerns.

Without glossing over important details or appearing to evade the question, do your best to steer the conversation in directions that will highlight your appealing traits and personal as well as professional successes.

Stay calm and collected in face of a hostile interviewer. Even if you think they’re being unreasonable and judgemental or making assumptions, it’s important to demonstrate that you can keep your temper under pressure, particularly if it’s related to talking about your record.

The interview is likely to open with a request for you to tell the interviewer a little about yourself. Kick off with a few positive comments – mention experiences, credentials, or perhaps a qualification your proud of – before moving into an explanation. Jobsite and career adviser Monster suggests you use the following as a template for explaining your conviction:
“I’d also like to bring your attention to the fact that I served [X] years of time at a correctional facility [X] years ago. Here’s what I learned from it [list 2-3 learning lessons]. ... Here’s how I changed my life [point to 2-3 tangible examples/proof of change]. ... Here’s how I’ll bring value to your company [mention 2-3 ways you’ll contribute]. ...”

Write out your explanation to begin with, and practise delivering it in a way that sounds fresh but without hesitation or anxiety. It’s best to limit your explanation to a couple of minutes or less, and then rather than waiting for a reaction (which could make you seem nervous) launch into another minute or so on what the positive developments were during and following your time in prison.

Don’t underplay the nature of your crime to the point of dishonesty, but if it was minor and would benefit from a clarifying explanation, spend a moment on that, too.
do mention mitigating circumstances, but don’t make excuses for your crime in a way that might be perceived as shirking responsibility.

Before you even begin applying for jobs, make a list of all the things you’ve learned and achieved in prison. Perhaps you underwent training or developed new skills, maybe you had access to valuable forms of education or counselling. If you’ve left prison with an attitude that has changed for the better, or if you’ve overcome problems that plagued you in the past, explain and demonstrate how you’re capitalising on that progress.

And in the days and weeks leading up to your interview, undergo any and all of the confidence-building that work for you. Self-assurance plays an invaluable role in persuasive delivery, regardless of your background or record.

For more interview tips see our handy video guide: