Addressing Criminal History During Job Search/Interviews

Fathers leaving prison and reentering the community face often daunting challenges. One of these is finding a job with a living wage.  

Employment increases an ex-offender’s opportunities to obtain housing and health care, comply with court-ordered debts (restitution, child support), and support their family. Studies have found that individuals are less likely to re-offend if they are released at a time when the local labor market is strong and when well-paying entry-level jobs are available.

Helping ex-prisoners obtain employment is not easy, but programs can help through mentoring and coaching on completing job applications truthfully and completely. Conducting mock interviews can also help ex-offenders address criminal history during interviews. Below are some resources to help programs support fathers with criminal histories in successfully navigating the job search/interview process and obtain employment.

Tips & Best Practices

  • Nurture employer relationships to build a core group that sees and experience the ongoing value of working with your program. Work to eliminate the stigma of hiring ex-offenders and help companies realize they can bring on eager people who want to work and learn new skills.
  • Become familiar with the laws that affect the employment of people with criminal histories. Employers can receive a Work Opportunity Tax Credit by hiring ex-felons. Additionally, the Federal Bonding Program provides Fidelity Bonds that guarantee honesty for at-risk, hard-to-place job seekers with no cost to job applicants or employers.
  • Provide wrap-around services to fully support participants before and after they are hired. This can involve developing and implementing an employment plan, providing support to overcome barriers such as transportation and housing, and following up to evaluate participants’ success at the job over time.
  • Ensure that participants are fully trained and ready for employment before recommending them to employers. Placing job-ready participants could lead to the placement of more individuals in the future. If your early job placements do not work out, it will be hard to maintain an ongoing relationship with that employer.
Spotlight On
Connections to Success

Connection to Success

Connections to Success provides services for ex-offenders in St. Louis, St. Charles, and Kansas City, MO, and Kansas City, KS. Along with subsidized employment and on-the-job training, Connections to Success involves fathers in transitional job training that combines skills-building with employment. The program identifies skill gaps across industries and has focused training on home remodeling, manufacturing, and general maintenance. The program stresses the benefits its services bring to employers, such as providing a qualified pool of talent, pre-screening applicants according to employer’s specifications, reducing turnover cost, and providing follow-up assistance for at least a year.


Is it legal to ask about criminal history on a job application?

Asking for criminal history information on an application is no longer a promising practice for most employers. It is unlawful to ask, with roughly 180 jurisdictions now having these laws in effect. Also, employers understand that proactively moving the questions to later in the hiring process both aligns with EEOC guidance and can save time and money later if new laws are passed in the employer's jurisdiction.

How should fathers address criminal history questions on a job application?

Applicants with a criminal history have at least four approaches they can take in addressing that history on a job application:

  1. Skip the question. This might lower the chance of getting an interview.
  2. Lie and say “no.”  Most companies now perform a background check on new hires and applicants. Lying on an application will almost always result in job termination or not receiving a job offer.
  3. Say “yes” and explain the crime. Depending on the type of crime and the explanation you offer, this may or may not be a good strategy.
  4. Say “yes” and write, “I can offer an explanation during an interview." Although admitting a prior conviction on an application may affect chances for an interview, this is generally the best option, as it shows integrity without disclosing too much information upfront.


What is the best way to answer the criminal history question on a job application or in an interview?

Applicants who choose to answer questions about their criminal history should:

  1. State the crime. Be honest, but do not go into specific details.
  2. Take responsibility for the crime. Do not blame others, mental health or substance abuse issues, or life experiences. Most people have had hard times in their lives, but not everyone has committed a crime.
  3. Show remorse and empathy for any victims.
  4. Share positive results. Emphasize how you have changed or become a better person since the crime or through rehabilitation. Stress educational gains and job training credentials.

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