Filling Out Job Applications When You Have a Criminal Record
Job applications are used as screening tools for employers. Employers want honesty and trustworthiness in their employees, so be sure to fill the job application out completely and truthfully. If an employer finds out that you provided false information on the application after you have already been hired, they have the right to fire you.
Minnesota is one of a handful of states to “Ban the Box,” meaning that public employers (such as the state or federal government) must wait until the applicant has been selected for an interview before inquiring about their criminal record, or performing a criminal background check, except in situations where the position already requires a background check.
Private employers however, are still able to include the question, “Have you ever been convicted of a felony?” on their applications. If you check, “No,” and the employer runs a criminal background check, they will have reason to terminate the hiring process (or fire you if you’ve already been hired), because you have provided false information on the application. So, how should you answer that question? Here are a few options:
1.) Check, “Yes,” and write, “Will discuss in interview.” Most likely, the employer will find out if you have a criminal history sooner or later. Checking yes right away shows honesty, and the willingness to accept responsibility for your actions and move on with your life.
You can also check, “Yes,” and write, “I am eligible for the $2,400 Federal Tax Credit,” (if you were incarcerated within the previous 12 months), or “I qualify for the FREE Minnesota Bonding Program. Can we meet to talk about this?” These incentives, including tax credits, and insurance, have been put in place by both the state and federal governments to encourage employers to hire qualified ex-felons.
2.) Avoid the problem in the first place, and use alternative job search methods that don’t involve filling out job applications as your first form of contact with the employer. Meet the employer in person first, either through networking, an informational interview, or volunteering. Making contact with the employer in person allows them to make their first impression of you based on your personality and the qualifications you have to offer, and not your criminal background. It also gives you the chance to sell your skills, personality, and other good qualities, and not be judged based on a single question.
Let your positive qualities shine through, and don’t give the employer a chance to judge you before they meet you!
Writing a Resume: Represent Your Skills in the Best Way Possible
Taking the time to write a good resume is a crucial part of the job search. There are plenty of reasons to write a resume other than the fact that for some job applications it is required. A resume recognizes your skills and interests, organizes your information, and most of all, represents YOU better than just filling out a job application.
There are three main types of resume formats—chronological, functional, and combination. If you have a criminal record, it is important to choose the right format so that the positive aspects of your work history are highlighted. The type of resume most highly recommended for ex-offenders is the combination resume. Here’s why:
Chronological resumes organize your work history by listing each specific job you have held starting with the most recent. This type of resume creates a timeline of your work history, and highlights any gaps that you may have due to periods of incarceration. Although most employers say that they prefer a chronological resume, they do not want to see large gaps in employment, and may screen individuals based on that fact.
Functional resumes organize your work history based on the skills you have acquired through experience, but do not list dates of employment. Although it may seem like this solves the “employment gap” problem, often times a lack of employment dates is a red flag that signals to employers that the applicant may have something to hide. Once again, this carries the risk of being screened out of the application process.
Combination resumes combine the best aspects of both the chronological and functional resumes, and are the recommended resume format for ex-offenders. They also organize your work history based on the skills you have required through your experience, which makes your skills the focal point of the resume rather than a timeline. However, employment dates are included in the Employment History section at the bottom of the page. This gives the employer a chance to get a feel for your skills and potential as a worker before any attention is drawn to gaps in work history.
The following is an example of a combination resume template. A Microsoft Word 2007 attachment of this template can be found at the bottom of this page.
The material on this page was compiled with help from the South Minneapolis Workforce Center.