How Can I Ace an Interview as an Ex Felon?
As an ex-offender, you have more to concern yourself with in a job interview than being on time, presenting a professional appearance and making sure to have extra copies of your resume. You have to overcome your past and establish yourself as a responsible, honest and motivated individual who can prove to be an asset to the employer. As long as you accept responsibility for your behavior and demonstrate that you have made personal improvements to help you become a successful member of the workforce, your potential employer should place his focus on your current abilities and skills — and not your criminal history.
If you filled out a job application prior to your interview and indicated that you are an ex-offender, the interviewer will likely have questions for you about your criminal history. An employer may ask you how you’ve learned from your conviction or how he can be assured that you won’t commit the same offense in the future. One way to make sure you can speak confidently about your past is to write a letter of explanation before the interview. In the letter, accept responsibility for your past choices, detail what you have learned from your experiences and state your commitment to go forward with integrity and honesty. This letter will help you organize your thoughts for the interview, and you may submit a copy to the interviewer at the end of the interview.
Body Language and Tone of Voice
Your body language can betray you during an interview. Work on speaking in a confident tone and appearing relaxed — not stressed or nervous. Verbally rehearse answers to questions about your past offense. Use the letter of explanation as a guide. Stand in front of a mirror, then pretend you are in an interview and the employer has asked you to explain your criminal history. Focus on making eye contact and resist fidgeting. Acknowledge your faults, but focus on the positive aspects of your situation. For instance, talk about how your skills and abilities — some of which you may have acquired while incarcerated — can benefit the employer. Say something such as, “Yes, I did serve time in prison for assault. At the time, I was impulsive and didn’t give much thought to consequences. Since then, I’ve learned to control my impulses and focus my energy in a more positive manner. I enjoy helping others, and value respect and excellent customer service. I know I would be an asset to your team.” The more you practice, the easier it will be to appear relaxed and confident in the interview.
No matter what you say, be truthful and forthright. Even if an employer doesn’t ask you about your past, the best practice is to acknowledge it during the interview. The best time to do this is in the middle of the interview — not the beginning or end. You don’t want to begin or end the interview on a negative note, if possible. If you can’t work it into the middle of the interview, mention it when the employer asks whether you have any questions. Tell him that you value honesty and explain your offense briefly, such as, “I was incarcerated for stealing a car when I was 19.” Explain how you’ve grown because of the experience and focus on your positive qualities, just as you’ve practiced. If the employer presses you for details about your conviction, politely state that you’d rather focus on the person you are now and mention some positive points about your personality and skills. This will shift the focus of the interview from negative to positive.
Accept responsibility for your actions. Do not attempt to blame others for your poor decisions and actions. Even if someone else was largely responsible for placing you in the situation that led to your conviction, don’t relate it to your employer. You were convicted and served time for the offense. Therefore, you were proven guilty. If you try to blame it on someone else, it will seem as if you are making excuses, not acknowledging responsibility.