Starting a New Career with a Criminal Record: How to Overcome Your Conviction on Resume

For those who have done time behind bars or have any convictions, your criminal record can undoubtedly be a huge drawback when applying for jobs. Despite many laws on discrimination, as well as massive efforts from both the private and public sector to help ex-convicts reintegrate with society, people will still have their trepidations about hiring someone who has been to prison. Most job openings will usually include a statement in relation to an applicant’s criminal record, with some even requiring some form of a government-backed document stating your history of incarceration or otherwise.

Fortunately, no law compels you to include information about your criminal record on your resume. This means you can always decide NOT to mention your criminal record on your resume. However, companies, in general, do background checks on potential candidates, and might even require you to pay for their effort, so mentioning it or not is basically a moot point. You can always refuse a background check, but most likely, this will only result in your application getting declined.

Honesty is the best policy

You need to be honest on your resume. If you get hired for a job having lied about your past, they may decide to let you go, or worse report you to authorities for falsification. You can even go so far as informing recruiters and hiring managers about your conviction instead of leaving them to discover on their own.

Your incarceration time will likely present itself as a gap in your employment history, which will make recruiters wonder how you’ve been managing to earn your keep for all that time. You may also have learned some skills, earned a degree, maybe even held a job while incarcerated. Whatever you do, you should never fabricate or misrepresent information on your resume to conceal the fact that you’ve been in prison. The good news is although it can be tricky—nay, scary—to include your criminal record on your resume, there are ways for you to overcome this challenge.

Choose the right resume format

Two main resume formats will allow you to create a compelling resume: chronological resume and functional resume.

When to use a chronological resume – if it’s been a while since your incarceration and you’ve done some working, studying, or volunteering since then, use this format. A chronological resume, otherwise known as the reverse-chronological resume, is the most common resume format—it lists employment history beginning with the most recent and then going backwards. This will bring the focus to your flourishing present rather than your spotted past. You may use an abbreviated career history and leave out any information before you were released.

When to use a functional resume – if your release was very recent, or if you have no relevant work experience to speak of since your incarceration, a functional resume format may be more suitable. Instead of work experience, this type of resume highlights your achievements and skills. Start your resume with an ‘Organizational Skills’ section and then provide information on how you learned those skills. Apply metrics to your skill examples to give employers more confidence in the value you will bring to the role.

Instead of the name, use the location of the prison facility

If you gained relevant work experience or learned a useful skill while incarcerated, it is worth including the information in your resume. However, you may leave out information that identifies the facility as a prison. Keep it generic by listing the state or county as your employer. You may provide the recruiter with further detail and context during your job interview.

If you completed a course or degree while in prison, list the name of the educational institution that sponsored the program, along with other key details such as your grade point average (GPA), honors and awards earned, major and minor, and year graduated.

Harness the power of the summary

Using a brief but effective summary can be a great way to open your resume because it gives recruiters more context about you. Make your summary more interesting by using dynamic and active action words and conveying relevant skills and experience in a way that emphasizes your strengths. You’re your summary focused on your future and not your past. Highlight your overarching career goals and what you plan to do in the next three to five years. Discuss the value that you bring to the table and make sure to mention prominent keywords that you can find in the job posting for better effect.

What to say when confronted about your criminal record

It pays to be prepared, so expect the recruiter to ask about the gaps in your resume during your interview. Think about the possible questions that the recruiter will ask you beforehand. Avoid over-explaining yourself—instead, prepare clear and concise answers that let you talk about your criminal record in the most positive manner possible.

For instance, you can mention that while in prison, you took the opportunity to better yourself and become a useful citizen to society. Mention any courses, training or qualifications you may have completed. If you’ve done voluntary work, make sure you mention that as well. The skills and experience gained during your incarceration can help develop your resume and demonstrate to the recruiter that you’re determined to progress.

One thing you should never do when confronted about your criminal record is lie. Keep in mind that business companies—especially large ones—can easily verify whether the information you’ve provided is accurate.

What if the recruiter never mentions your criminal record?

As long as you didn’t falsify any information in your resume, there’s no reason to discuss it if the recruiter doesn’t bring it up. However, if you’re worried that they may find out eventually, you may choose to tell them, although legally you’re not required to.

Final word

Even after taking these tips to heart, it can still be difficult to get around writing a resume with a criminal record. Let Resumeble lend you a hand in ensuring your skills and experience shine through in your resume. Submit your resume for a free evaluation today and get a free expert review from a professional resume writer. You’ll get feedback within 24 hours or less, complete with ATS score and critical insights that will help you with future applications.

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