Job Interviewing: Overcoming the Unavoidable Felony Question
With a firm handshake, you introduce yourself at an interview and talk confidently about your experience and background. All is well until the dreaded question comes: “I see you were convicted of a felony. What makes me think you won’t commit another felony?”
Now how you do answer that?
Several Reconnect clients who have gone through the job seeking process say that it’s critical to be honest and upfront about one’s past. With so much personal background information available to anyone online, lying about a felony or avoiding the subject will likely end one’s chance at landing the job.
One Reconnect client suggested addressing criminal history as quickly as possible once the interview has started. Doing this will help build trust with an employer.
She articulated, however, that you want to keep your answers simple and not dwell on too many details. As one Amicus staff member reminds clients, the object of acknowledging a criminal history is to establish honesty, not go to confession.
One simple technique Amicus teaches is the ARM method:
Acknowledge: You need to describe the circumstances truthfully and accurately. You need to immediately “own” the conviction and take responsibility for your actions.
Remorse: You want to show your remorse and indicate sorrow for the victim as well as others impacted by the crime or your conviction. Another thing to do is to tell the employer what you have learned or realized (i.e. “I wanted fast money and now I see that was wrong).
Move on: Your conviction is in the past. At this stage, you want to talk about positive actions you have taken to improve yourself and turn your life around. Holding down a series of jobs, pursuing higher education and related training – anything that shows steps you have taken to change. It is also useful to discuss your new goals and how the mindset that led to your time in prison is gone.
Sometimes your situation dictates that your criminal history will follow you into your new workplace regardless of your actions. A Reconnect client spoke about his experiences on Intensive Supervised Release, a Department of Corrections program designed to manage and closely supervise offenders in the community who have been identified as “high risk.” As part of the supervision his parole officer or halfway house would contact a potential employer regarding the job and detail his criminal background to the employer. Though this might sometimes be a positive interaction, he notes that it adds another dimension to the already stressful job searching and interview process and provides yet another incentive to be as open as possible about one’s background.
The interview process is more than just the felony question though.
Maxxe Johnson, a Reconnect client, admits that he always gets somewhat nervous before an interview, but that he can help manage the nerves through solid preparation.
Another Reconnect client stresses the need to research a potential employer beforehand. He suggests that you not only formulate pertinent questions related to the company but also display a sincere interest in the company.
To help clients better prepare to seek work, Amicus offers resources, job referrals and a “Heads Up Strategies” class, which addresses the issues that arise when seeking employment. Participants will practice interviewing and learn tips about effectively addressing one’s criminal background and focusing on one’s strengths. Heads Up Strategies also focuses on an often-overlooked element to the job search process – developing strong work habits and personal skills that will enable a new hire to keep a job and establish a strong work history.
Heads Up Strategies facilitator Julie Jefferson notes that the employment-seeking process isn’t usually going to be easy for someone with a felony on their record, but she reminds her students that people with criminal histories do get jobs. They just have to work harder, interview smarter and stay focused on it longer than the average job seeker.