Ask The Headhunter: Is There a Career After Conviction?
In this special Making Sense edition of Ask The Headhunter, Nick shares insider advice and contrarian methods about winning and keeping the right job, on one condition: that you, dear Making Sense reader, send Nick your questions about your personal challenges with job hunting, interviewing, networking, resumes, job boards, or salary negotiations. No guarantees — just a promise to do his best to offer useful advice.
Question: My brother was convicted of driving while intoxicated and has been fully compliant with the terms of his probation. However, the conviction is on his record. Recently, his job has become stagnant and there is an opportunity at another company. I say he should go for it, but he is concerned his conviction will come up and be a problem. He works in a small community, and he is worried word would get back to his current employer. Should he take the chance?
Nick Corcodilos: There are really two questions here. First, should your brother worry that the conviction will prevent him from getting the new job? Second, should he avoid job interviews because he might hurt his current employment?
If your brother wants to get past his record, he must distinguish choices related to his conviction from choices everyone faces. If he views himself first as a convict, he’ll never get to make the career choices others do. Your brother seems to have established a good work record and is also re-establishing his credibility and reputation. If he hesitates to move forward in his career, he’d be letting the conviction shadow him all his life. If he has spent at least a year at his current job and has shown he is a good, reliable worker, he owes it to himself to move ahead. In an interview, he should be candid, but speak only briefly about his conviction, and focus on how he will do the job to help the new employer be more successful.
If he’s rejected, he should continue to pursue other jobs. Most people are rejected in most interviews. It’s normal. If he gets the job, he will distance himself all the more from his conviction and improve his future.
There’s one more step he can take, but he must feel comfortable with it or he should not do it. This is a bit extreme, but unusual situations sometimes require that we stick our necks out.
If his conviction appears to be an issue, I’d make this comment to the employer:
“I made a terrible mistake X years ago and I regret it, but I also take responsibility for it. I realize a black mark like this on my record may make you hesitate to hire me. And I understand. So I figure it’s up to me to make it as easy as possible for you to hire me. I’ll make this commitment to you: If you decide to hire me, take me on probation for whatever time period you think is fair. If for any reason you’re not happy with me, I’ll leave, no questions asked. I make this offer to you because I’ll do a great job for you and you’ll want to keep me on the job. The rest is of course up to you. If you like, I’d be happy to show you how I’d do this job in a way that would make the work more profitable to you…”
I really believe that it’s best to tackle a problem like this head-on, and to make a commitment that shows your brother respects an employer’s natural concerns. Legally, the employer may not be permitted to discriminate against him for his conviction. But we all know decisions get made based on a manager’s gut — and that’s what your brother must deal with, unless he wants to sue if he gets rejected.
As for the second question, any job interview puts a person at risk if the old employer finds out. Your brother should politely ask that his interviews be kept strictly confidential. But he should assume word will get out. He must be ready to tell his current boss that he is exploring an opportunity because his skills are in demand. Sure, it’s a risk, but it also shows that other employers are looking beyond his past to see his marketable qualities. His employer might even consider promoting him to keep him.
Your brother must decide for himself to take the chance.
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This entry is cross-posted on the Making Sen$e page, where correspondent Paul Solman answers your economic and business questions