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I have a criminal record. I want to turn my life around, but employers don't always understand. What do I do?

Look for Work

It’s hard to sugar-coat it: a criminal record can make it more difficult to find work. But some strategies can help.

Think Positive

Some employers may look at the nature of your offence, or see that it happened long ago, and decide it doesn’t matter. Federally regulated employers can’t discriminate if you’ve received a pardon or record suspension.

Build a Functional Resumé

A solid resumé helps build a positive image of you and your skills. But if you don’t have much work experience, a chronological resumé may seem too short. Build yourself a functional resumé instead. A functional resumé describes your strengths without showing any gaps in your employment history.

Be Strategic With Application Forms

The best way to disclose your criminal record is in person, such as at an interview. If you have to answer questions about a criminal record on an application form, answer “yes,” and write that you will provide details in person. Or just provide your name and contact information, and attach a resumé. With online forms that only let you answer “yes” or “no,” look for a comments section where you may be able to explain more.

Practice for Interviews

If no one asks about your record, it’s up to you whether or not to mention it. If so, it’s a good idea to practice how you’ll show the interviewer you’ve learned from your mistakes. During your interview

  • Provide the nature of your offence, but don’t supply every detail.
  • Explain what you’ve learned and what steps you’ve taken to move on.
  • Use positive words to describe your future.
  • Offer a list of credible references, even if no one has asked for them.
  • Raise the issue in the middle of the interview to avoid negative first or last impressions.

Tell the Truth

If you’re asked about a criminal record, tell the truth. It shows integrity. If you lie and your employer discovers the truth, you could lose your job. What’s worse, it will make it harder to find the next one.

Obtain a Record Suspension (or Destruction) if Possible

Although it can be difficult and costly, obtaining a record suspension (previously known as a pardon) can help. You may also be able to obtain a records destruction (a purge obtained through an absolute or conditional discharge).

Finding work when you have a criminal record may not be easy. But you can do it if you are strategic and persistent. You could seek help from government and community agencies such as the John Howard Society. Women can contact the Elizabeth Fry Society in Edmonton or Calgary. It will be worth the effort!

Additional Resources