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Arrest on your record? Make employers see beyond the résumé

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in Your Office Coach

Q: “My 19-year-old son spent six months in jail for a probation violation. He was on probation because he took our neighbor’s car without permission so that he could go see his girlfriend.

“Recently, he was turned down for a warehouse position after the employer learned about his arrest during a background check. How should he handle his record when looking for a job?” Concerned Mom

A: Because there are many ways to find work, I can’t provide a one-size-fits-all answer to your question. However, I can offer two definite rules, plus some general guidelines.

The first rule is that your son must never lie on an application. In some situations, he may be able to leave the “arrest” question blank and explain later. However, when this is not possible, he should take advantage of any opportunity to provide an explanatory comment or cover letter.

The second rule is that he should never allow interviewers to discover this information for themselves, as he did with the warehouse job. Instead, he must be prepared to discuss his arrest in a way that will ease their inevitable concerns, emphasizing the lessons he learned from this misadventure.

Since “borrowing” a car and violating probation are signs of poor judgment, interviewers are likely to assume that your son would be an irresponsible employee. To counteract this impression, his answers, attitude, and appearance must convey maturity and dependability. He will have to master effective interviewing techniques if he wants to outshine other applicants.

Networking will be a better job search strategy than submitting blind applications, because your son needs to be seen as a person, not a set of facts on a form. A reference from a common acquaintance can help to increase his credibility with interviewers.

The good news is that your son is young, and his offense was minor. Once he has a track record of successful employment, people will be less interested in his youthful indiscretions.

Want to get your interview off to a good start? Here are a few tips: How to Make a Good First Impression.

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