As an ex-offender looking for a job, you will immediately think you have a mountain to climb in comparison to anyone else looking for work, but it needn’t feel like such a struggle. With a few adaptations to how you choose to express yourself when answering certain difficult questions related to your background, and how you choose to present the issue of previous offenses, you can vastly improve your chances of employment.
The idea behind any CV is of course to sell yourself. This is the case for every person who ever applies for a job. From the moment you decide to submit a CV, you are no more inferior a candidate than the next person; you are in fact in the same position as the school leaver who is trying to convince their employer they don’t have the experience but they will learn quickly, the elderly person with lots of experience who is fighting the age discrimination battle, the disabled person fighting the assumption that they aren’t capable, and the foreign national who is fighting the language barrier – you are like any other person who is trying to turn a potential negative into a positive in order to sell themselves based on their attributes. You are not an inferior party here – you just have to work a bit harder to prove it.
Ok, so when writing your CV, how can you present it in such a way that the employer doesn’t focus primarily on any negative history? The key here is to find a balance in the focus you place on your past. Do not to hide your offence but don’t advertise it either. Don’t cover up potential gaps in a timeline where you may have spent time in an institution, and don’t lie – as soon as the employer finds out (and they will) you go straight to the bottom of the pile. Instead, you need to get the employer to look past those things. Your only aim on paper is to provide a mental image, to someone who hasn’t met you before, of who you are and what you can offer them. Focus on experiences you’ve had, any additional training you may have gained, courses you may have completed as part of any rehabilitation processes you’ve been through, personal scenarios that have given you experience that is transferable to the workplace, anything at all of this nature that has developed your skills. You may have even re-taken educational qualifications – the trick is to put a positive spin on the things you have completed to better yourself, and not allow anyone to make a judgement based on things you haven’t.
Now the CV has been submitted, you have an interview and you just know they are going to ask you what you have been doing, why there are gaps in your CV and perhaps why you may have not got as much experience as the next person.
What do you do?
At this point, your only option is honesty, but that’s not to say you should provide them with chapter and verse on every incident you have ever been involved with. Should the question come up, let your personality, professionalism, humility and determination to get past a previous history be the characteristic that they see. I’ve said it before when discussing interviewing in general – every single person that interviews another person is, either consciously or subconsciously, looking for a common ground with you. They want to like you; they want to feel like they could work with you and get on with you – so build a rapport. Don’t be cocky, don’t be over confident but leave them with enough of your character that when you leave the room they like you enough to give you a chance.
(In addition to all of this, make absolutely sure you maintain eye contact, dress smartly, articulate yourself as professionally as you possibly can and ask someone to check your CV; it is crucial that spelling and grammar is correct – the basics are key and should not be overlooked.)