Addressing Criminal History on a Job Application

Work With Dads

Helping Dads with Reentry

Employment Tips | Addressing Criminal History on a Job Application

Fathers leaving prison and reentering the community face often daunting challenges. They have to reconnect with their children, manage relationships with the mothers of their children, deal with child support obligations, find stable housing, get a job with a living wage, avoid the “old crowd,” develop social skills, and train for better employment.[38]

Fatherhood practitioners recommend beginning the transition process long before a father leaves prison:

  • Help fathers improve their self-awareness, knowledge, and skills in areas such as parenting, relationships, communication, and employment.
  • Work with mothers and families. Provide couples with relationship skills classes if possible and establish links to community-based services the fathers can work with upon release.
  • Counsel men to be upfront with potential employers about their criminal record. Given current employment data systems, employers will likely find out about an applicant’s past criminal record if he does not divulge it up front.
  • Develop relationships with local employers, who may be open to hiring fatherhood program graduates.

Employment Tips

Helping ex-prisoners obtain employment is not easy, but the following suggestions can help:

  • Become familiar with the laws that affect employment of people with criminal histories.
    • Employers can receive a Work Opportunity Tax Credit by hiring ex-felons.
    • 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.
  • Employment programs that emphasize job-training opportunities appear to be more useful in helping released and paroled offenders become employed than programs that focus more on soft skills.[39]
  • 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.
  • Research the requirements of local employers accepting job applications, such as:
    • Is a medical examination required? Does it involve urine testing or other screening for drug use? (As part of their employment programming, the Fathers Support Center in St. Louis, MO conducts routine drug testing of participants before referring them to job interviews.)
    • Are applicants fingerprinted?
    • Does the employer run a routine check with law enforcement agencies for applicants' criminal records?
    • Does the employer obtain reports on applicants from a consumer credit reporting agency?[40]
  • Ensure that participants are fully trained and ready for employment before recommending them to employers. Placing job-ready individuals could lead to the placement of more individuals in the future. If your early job placements prove inadequate, it will be hard to maintain an ongoing relationship with that employer.
  • Assure employers that you will follow up if any issues arise after a job placement. Employers are more responsive when they know there is an accountability measure in place.[41]
  • Nurture relationships with employers to build a core group who see 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 who want to learn new skills.
  • Build relationships with companies, organizations, and employment agencies to develop internships and apprentice positions for the previously incarcerated.
  • Create a job pool through personal relationships within the private and public sectors.

Addressing Criminal History on a Job Application[42]

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

  • Skip the question. This might lower the chance of getting an interview.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 up front.

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

  • State the crime. Be honest, but do not go into specific details.
  • 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.
  • Show remorse and empathy for any victims.
  • 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.