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How to Overcome Criminal Convictions When Writing a Resume

by Ellie Williams, studioD

A criminal history is certainly an obstacle when applying for jobs, but it doesn’t have to prevent you from fulfilling your career goals. To overcome past convictions on your record, take responsibility but don’t let them overshadow your qualifications. On your resume, focus on what you’ve accomplished and how you’re a good fit for the job.

Determine the Company’s Policy

Before you disclose a criminal past, research the company’s hiring policies. While many employers inquire about criminal convictions on job applications, some only ask for felony and not misdemeanor convictions. They might only ask about recent convictions, such as those within the last five years. If your record doesn’t fall into these categories, you don’t need to reveal it to prospective employers unless they ask. Also, determine if the company conducts routine background checks on applicants. If it does, any conviction will show up, so you might prefer to address your past upfront.

Address Resume Gaps

You’ll need to address the gaps in your work history if your conviction led to jail time. If your time was short, such as only a few months, you can downplay it by including only the year and not the month when listing dates of employment. This strategy works best if you know you won’t be required to disclose the conviction, either because it was minor or because it occurred several years ago. If you spent significant time in jail or faced a serious charge, however, you won’t be able to conceal it and will need to note on your resume why you were out of the workforce so long.

Describe Activities and Education

If you were incarcerated and completed training or education or held any positions during this time, list these on your resume just as you would a full-time job held or education received outside prison. This allows you to be honest about your time in jail but shift the employer’s attention to your skills and qualifications. For example, if you completed your GED or took college classes, note the dates completed and describe what you learned as part of your coursework and how it prepared you for the position you’re applying for. Also mention if you worked in the prison kitchen, for example, or held other jobs.

Address It in Your Cover Letter

Many job applications ask about criminal convictions but don’t allow you to explain. Similarly, if you note it on your resume without elaborating, employers might automatically dismiss you. Instead, discuss your past in your cover letter. Briefly describe the circumstances and then shift your focus to how you’ve changed your life for the better, what you’ve learned and what the opportunity would mean to you. Highlight relevant qualifications, such as a stable work history since your conviction, certifications, honors or other selling points.

About the Author

Ellie Williams has been a journalist since 2001. Her work has been recognized by her state's press association and by her local chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Williams graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts in mass communications and humanities, with minors in French and theater.

Photo Credits

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