by Mark Schultz
Interviewing can be a nerve-wracking experience for anyone. For ex-offenders, though, there is always that nagging thought of “when will I be asked about my criminal background?” and “how am I going to respond?” This can cause unneeded stress throughout the interview process. If you’re an ex-offender, what can you do to help ease the pressure of an interview? The key element is preparation!
Master the Basics
For ex-offenders, concentrating on basic interview tips is critical to create a positive impression. As an ex-offender, if you do a good job of making a good impression, employers may see you as more than a “criminal.” They could view you as a confident and capable employee.
- Anticipate questions that may be asked at an interview and prepare answers ahead of time. Do research and generate lists of potential interview questions. Once you have a list, you can prepare talking points that sell the skills you have that employers want.
- By practicing answers to interview questions, you become more confident, because you are very familiar with conveying your skills and strengths. The confidence you show while answering interview questions helps “sell” you as a capable employee.
- Show up early and be prepared. Showing up 10 minutes early tells employers that you are dependable and they can count on you to show up on time, if not early, when hired.
- Look professional. Image is everything. Dressing well shows employers that you take your image, as well as the image of the company, seriously.
- Be aware of non-verbal mannerisms or “quirks.” Some people have distracting behaviors when they are nervous, such as twirling hair, fidgeting fingers, or continuous smiling, to name just a few. Not only can such behaviors be distracting, but they can also portray things about yourself that you don’t intend to portray.
What About Your Past?
When it comes time to answer the interview question about prior criminal convictions, it is important that ex-offenders prepare and practice answers ahead of time. The more comfortable and confident you are with your answer, the less you’ll worry.
Here are some tips for ex-offenders to prepare for the difficult questions:
- Be honest. Employers appreciate honesty and many can tell when people are lying. Tell them what happened, but briefly.
- Omit technical terminology about the offense. Instead of stating “3rd degree burglary,” you can simply say that they were charged with stealing. Employers know that stealing is theft or burglary, but by taking the actual offense term out, you maintain your honesty without sounding so negative.
- Keep your answer fluid. Briefly state the offense(s) and then move on to positive things, such as taking classes, work experience, and staying out of trouble. You can also talk about the life lesson you’ve learned and how it applies to work. For example, you could state that you now know how your behaviors impact the people you care about, and you understand how work-related decisions may affect co-workers, supervisors, clients, and the reputation of the company.
- Talk about the skills and experiences that apply to the position, even if they are skills developed while you were incarcerated. Use the job description to find out what employers want and convey to employers that your skills match.
- It may also be beneficial to bring up being eligible for the Work Opportunity Tax Credit and Federal Bonding.
And don’t forget to follow-up after the interview!