On the Job

During Interview, Address Prior Conviction Head-On

By Kenneth Bredemeier
Special to washingtonpost.com
Friday, April 4, 2008; 12:00 AM

Since almost all employment applications ask job seekers if they have been convicted of a crime, the question arises about what employers do with the information when the honest answer is yes.

Well, it varies. If the offense committed is related to the work at hand, a red flag could easily be hoisted for any employer. Committing a money-related offense isn't much of a credential for getting a job at a bank, is it? But what about other damning offenses for which you've paid your debt to society?

I was convicted of a DWI two years ago, the result of a brief episode of stupidity rather than a pervasive drinking problem. My probation is completed and I have no lingering legal concerns. Unfortunately, I'm currently being downsized after 14 years with the only employer I've ever worked for. Any suggestions about how to address the DWI question if and when it comes up in an interview? Is it possible for me to even get an interview with a DWI on my record?

Karen Usher, chairman of TPO Inc., a Tysons Corner human resources firm, says that "if the job is not related to doing what he did (to get convicted), he can be reasonably confident that he'll be judged on his merits."

This worker might have trouble getting a job that involves driving for an employer, but otherwise should be in the clear, assuming he has credentials for the job he is seeking.

"If you've done your time," she says, "and the issue is not related to the job, you can't be discriminated against." Of course, she acknowledges, companies could reject a job applicant and say that it was for some other reason.

She says that this worker and others with similar blemishes on their life's history "first need to understand what he does and doesn't have to answer. He might say, 'Yes I had the conviction, but there are no lingering issues. And I'm very interested in this job.' "

She says that ought to be the end of the questioning on the subject, but adds that if the interviewer for some reason presses the issue, such as by asking, "So how many times did you get away without getting caught driving drunk?" -- well, that's an uninformed question.

"I'd get up and walk out," she says. "Assuming he has a good work record, he should be a good employee."

Kenneth Bredemeier has six years of experience writing about the workplace. On the Job, a column addressing real worker questions about office relationships, corporate policies and workplace law, is written exclusively for washingtonpost.com.

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