Aaron C. Kramer is a proud grandfather, avid reader, semi-skilled fisherman, enthusiastic blogger and Gentleman of Leisure. Before his retirement, Aaron was a communications specialist and consultant for a number of corporations and non-profits. When not firmly ensconced behind his laptop, he can be found anywhere used and interesting things are sold.
Mary, Mary Quite Contrary
My granddaughter wasn’t the wildest young lady ever to attend an institution of higher learning but I’d bet good money that she wasn’t the perfect picture of genteel, proper, Victorian restraint either. Well, it came to pass one inauspicious Friday evening that my granddaughter, let’s call her “Mary”, found herself unceremoniously tossed into the back seat of a police cruiser- her transport to the local drunk tank.
She’d been collared for public intoxication, largely for questioning the arresting officers’ decision to stop, search and test her and her friends, all of age, walking home a party. She was arrested with seemingly unnecessary roughness, something a number of independent (non-friend) witnesses stepped forward to assert. Unfortunately, Mary was premed and now she had the arrest on her record.
When she began applying, one school in particular caught her eye. The final stage of the application process involved her writing an essay about one formative event in her life- something truly influential rather than a self-aggrandizing puff piece. Despite warnings and objections from friends and family, Mary decided to own her arrest and the accompanying ordeal by writing her essay about that- an actually formative, shocking experience. She pulled no punches and wrote the whole thing up in thorough, vivid, gruesome detail. She is now in her fourth year at that school and will no doubt soon be donning the lab coat and stethoscope.
The point here isn’t to brag on what a wild party animal and great arrest-essay writing, soon-to-be doc my granddaughter is. It’s meant to make clear that mistakes, setbacks and even arrests aren’t some automatic and forever obstacle to a happy and productive life. However, there’s also no question that an arrest and/or conviction, particularly for a felony, has to be taken seriously and without a game plan in place, a blemished record can really hamstring a job search.
Research and Rights
The first step is research. While some employers, the federal government in particular, will generally perform a country-wide background search on an applicant, and perhaps a state search as well (particularly for more sensitive positions), private employers usually stick to state searches. And the rights, statutes and limitations which apply to both a potential employer and a potential employee regarding criminal background searches vary from state to state. Find out what the regulations are in your state.
Depending on where you are, written consent may be required before the state can perform a probe into your past and in others it’s your right to request a copy of the same results your employer gets. Being totally familiar with what a search of your record will reveal is very important- it protects you from being blind-sided by some charge and gives you an idea what you’ll need to explain to a potential employer.
Some of the stuff is universal, though. For instance, never lie about having a felony. Checking the felony conviction box “Yes” on an application doesn’t mean that you won’t get hired, but claiming you’re felony-free when you’re not will absolutely get you fired and even arrested if your deceit is discovered (and finding a felony record isn’t hard).
Your Future Boss and Checkered Past
So how should you handle having an imperfect record? If doing so is an option, it’s often best to reveal sensitive, touchier stuff as late in the application process as possible- letting your potential employer get to know you as a person first is very helpful. When the issue comes up on a written application, it’s OK to write “Ask me about this” or “Will discuss during interview” or something to that effect. Sometimes curiosity alone will get you an interview.
And keep in mind that everyone has made mistakes, even the intimidating management type interviewing you. Depending on the charge, like a drug or alcohol-related charge for instance, some interviewers make think, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.” They may have had their own experience with that sort of thing and/or may have friends or family who’ve dealt with substance use, abuse or dependency issues. Most important is to emphasize that while obviously you wish you’d never made whatever mistakes you did, what you’ve learned from the experience has been very important.
Whatever the charge, emphasize how important such an eye-opening ordeal and the following rehabilitation was in teaching you about responsibility and the importance of a well-ordered life. Of course, those things should be true- if they aren’t true, you should ask yourself why. Many employers will appreciate someone who’s honest about their past and their mistakes, and someone who’s had to overcome some obstacles in their life.
Check the internet for both national businesses and companies in your area that have committed to hiring those with records. Plus, local businesses, non-profits, charities and other agencies that deal directly or peripherally with released prisoners, etc., will often have lists of felony-hire friendly organizations. Even consider checking in with rehabilitation groups, halfway houses, methadone clinics and so forth for those lists if necessary. Most importantly- keep at it and don’t get discouraged. Good luck and good job hunting.