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.


Below are some basic tips to help prepare for the interview:

  • 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!


3 thoughts on “Ex-Offenders: Prepare for the Tough Interview Questions

  1. Many people who have been incarcerated are living with mental health conditions. Proper treatment may have kept them out of trouble in the first place. This article provides valuable information so that people can get the second chance they need to get on the road to recovery.


  2. I currently work with sex offenders and for a few at the end of our program, job searching and going through the interview process is an issue of concern. They understand that honesty in imperative but one question they struggle with is how much information is too much information? This blog has some very good points about presenting yourself as competent and capable for the job and not letting the inevitable questions bring you down. At our program, we hold onto the idea that the men are more than their crimes; we see them as people who have made poor decisions rather than just "offenders". Unfortunately, there are many in the general public that don’t have this same view and have difficulty getting past the label. One question I still have is, taking into account the stigmatization around offenders, especially sex offenders, do they need to work extra hard to prepare for an interview so that employers will consider them?


  3. With such high levels of recidivism in our country, this article provides crucial information for those needing desperately to get back on their feet. The topic in question is seemingly rarely spoken about. It could quite possibly be because ex-offenders are so discouraged by the intimidation of difficult questions that opportunities are quite frankly avoided all together. It seems crucial to have preparation in answering those tough questions in an appropriate manner to secure that job.


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