Years ago I met a candidate who was in the running for the position of Executive Assistant. She came across as polished, professional and demure throughout all of my conversations with her, including of course an in-person interview. My client, President of a Montreal-based distribution company, interviewed his prospective assistant twice and was eager to have her join his organization. At his request, I informed the applicant that we were in the final stage of the hiring process – checking her references and conducting a criminal background check. My soft-spoken candidate suddenly became uncomfortable and shared that she had indeed been convicted of a crime a few years prior. She had been charged with an assault with a deadly weapon. She was willing to share the details of the case with my client, if he was still open to considering her for the position. Well, he was, and after the conversation they had, she was hired and spent years working at my client’s firm!
Here is another story. A job seeker I had in the running for a different company and a different position successful nailed every part of the interview process, until it was time for references and background verification part of the process. She filled out an authorization form indicating that she had no criminal record, but we soon found out that the information was not truthful. Her criminal record was due to reasons much more benign than those of the 1st story, yet she was quickly dropped from the running for the coveted position. Not because of her record, but because of dishonesty.
So, what can you do if your criminal record is not spotless?
- Select which positions you target. Most companies cannot discriminate against applicants with a criminal record unless your conviction comes into a direct conflict of interest with duties that are part of the job description. For example, if you were convicted of financial fraud, you should avoid applying for positions with financial institutions. If your criminal record prevents you from crossing the border, then you should abstain from jobs that require travel. It seems evident, but we have witnessed both numerous times.
- Don’t volunteer your criminal record (or your credit situation) with a hiring manager unless prompted. My colleague was on the receiving end of an interviewee’s long and detailed story about a crime he had convicted in his youth. It had no bearing on the position of Software Developer he was targeting, but his desire to share all the details within the first 10 minutes of the interview showed poor judgement and put a strain on the rest of the interview.
- If directly asked whether you have a criminal record, be honest. Whether you are asked on a form you are filling out, by a recruiter or a direct hiring manager, be candid. If you do not feel comfortable divulging personal information and feel that it has no impact on the job you targeted, inquire about the reason behind the background check. You may be well within your rights to refuse or better off simply walking away, but dishonesty will surely impact your chances of landing the position.
- Get the offence removed from your record! I once met a candidate who had been convicted of a DUI 20 years prior to our interview. Yes, 20 years! My client was uncomfortable hiring him for a position that required extensive travel, including extensive driving, unless the charge was removed. It took my candidate a few days to clean up his record and the job was his! Had he done it prior to the interview process, it would have also saved him numerous uncomfortable conversations.
Many hiring managers are tolerant of criminal record, but hardly any are accepting of dishonesty. Be transparent and it will lower your chances of missing out on a coveted position.