The economy may be recovering, but it’s still a tough and competitive job market out there—to the point where it’s more difficult than ever to find a good job if you don’t have a perfect past.
How can someone with a criminal record, a resume of too-many part time jobs, and credit in shambles hope to compete?
Believe it or not, it is possible to get hired today even if you do have an imperfect past. The movement to implement “ban the box” policies in jurisdictions across the country shows a growing belief that someone shouldn’t have to spend his or her entire life paying for one or two youthful mistakes.
By using the steps laid out below, you can give yourself a fighting chance in today’s competitive job market, despite the mistakes you’ve made in the past.
- Run a background check on yourself: This tip is something that every single job searcher should keep in mind before heading out to interview for a new position.
As the first step of your job hunt, run a background check on yourself and see what employers are seeing. If you have been convicted of a crime before, chances are good you’ll see it on the report. However, be on the lookout for criminal history that doesn’t match your past.
It’s fairly common for employment background checks to have errors, and if you actually have criminal history, one of these errors can turn your one or two youthful indiscretions into the beginnings of a repeat criminal lifestyle.
- Know the rules of expungement: If the skeletons in your closet pertain to criminal history, know the rules of expungement in your state. There’s a chance that you will be able to apply to have your criminal records sealed, in which case they will not turn up on background checks. You eligibility for expungement will depend on the magnitude of the crime you committed, how long ago the offense took place, and whether or not you’ve had repeat offenses since. If you are able to expunge a criminal charge, run another background check on yourself to make sure that it really isn’t coming up on the report.
- Consider moving to an area with “ban the box” legislation in place: If you have a criminal record, you have a better chance getting a job in a “ban the box” jurisdiction than you do anywhere else. In these areas, employers aren’t permitted to ask about criminal history on job applications. That means that you can get a job interview and make a good impression without the skeletons in your closet painting you as a pariah.
Employers can still run background checks, of course, but “ban the box” policies at least give ex-offenders a fighting chance.
- Be honest: Never lie on a job application or an interview. If you are asked about your criminal history, you need to tell the truth and do your best to explain the situation. The same holds true for bankruptcies, poor credit, or other issues in your past. Employers these days will find out this information one way or another, thanks to background checks. If you lie, the employer will toss your application out of consideration because they aren’t interested in hiring someone who isn’t honest to them. If you tell the truth, you might lose your opportunity, but you might also find someone who appreciates your honesty and is willing to give you a chance in spite of your past.
- Know which jobs to target: It’s inescapable that the things you have done in your past will impact which jobs you can be considered as a competitive applicant. For instance, if you have a DUI offense in your past, you will not be hired for a job involving driving. And if you have a bankruptcy in your past, or if you have disastrous credit and debt in the here and now, you will never be the best candidate for a job involving the handling of money.
Knowing these rules—both written and unwritten—will help you to save time by only targeting the jobs you can feasibly hope to attain.
- Know which companies to target: Similarly, some companies will give you a better shot if you have a rough history than others will. For example, larger and more established companies are generally less likely to hire someone with a criminal record—often reflected in corporate policy or bylaws.
Newer and smaller companies with less rigid rules, however, might be more willing to recognize that you are trying to rebuild your life after the mistakes you have made in the past.
- Work the law of averages: Most applicants these days have to send out dozens or even hundreds of resumes and job applications to get just a small handful of interviews. Applicants with criminal records often have an even lower average. In other words, you have to commit yourself to getting a job and really work the law of averages. The more applications you send out, the better a chance you have of finding someone willing to give you an interview.
- Be on your best behavior: If you have an imperfect record, than overall politeness and demeanor is even more important to your job chances than it is to the average applicant’s. Dress well and present yourself as a professional, intelligent, friendly, and thoroughly engaging person. This extends to the Internet, as employers may be checking your social media accounts. Making a good first impression with an employer is pivotal to overcoming the black marks on your record and ultimately getting hired.
Ultimately, as you search for a job, just remember to keep your chin up. There are people who will write you off because of a criminal charge or financial struggles, but there are also people who will want to help you succeed. Find those people, land the job, and move on with your life. It’s easier said than done, but it can be done with effort and persistence.