How to Address Your Background if You Have a Criminal Record
by Kim Isaacs, Monster Resume Expert

According to the US Department of Justice, more than 64 million criminal-history records are on file at state repositories nationwide. The Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that the number of prison releases is growing, with more than 500,000 ex-offenders rejoining the community each year.

Individuals with criminal histories face numerous obstacles when seeking employment, so it’s important they make the one document that can open doors — the resume — as effective as possible. Follow these tips to ensure your resume is ready to go:

Don’t Reference Your Criminal Background

The purpose of a resume is to help you secure a job interview. For your resume to work, it must highlight your top qualifications for the position and demonstrate that you would be an excellent employee. While it’s important to be honest on your resume, revealing information about a criminal background is best handled in a face-to-face interview.

Many states prohibit employers from asking about an arrest record but allow them to inquire about past convictions. (Check with your state’s attorney general’s office to determine what employers can and cannot ask you.) If the employer asks a legal question regarding your criminal history, briefly explain what happened, but keep it positive and don’t dwell on the past. Explain that you have learned from your mistakes and are currently interested in making a positive contribution to the employer’s operation.

When completing job applications that ask about your conviction record, you must be honest. Select “yes” when asked if you have been arrested, and in the section that asks you to provide the details, write something like “will explain in interview.”

Highlight Related Training/Work Experience

If your criminal background includes prison time and you took advantage of training or work opportunities during that time, you may include these experiences on your resume.

Write the name of the facility and your title (e.g., “Arthur Green Correctional Facility, Commissary Clerk”) in your resume’s Work Experience section. Treat this position as any other position and write about key skills you developed and any positive contributions you made. If you completed further education while in prison, write the name of the sponsoring institution along with the details of your training in your Education section.

Keep in mind that employers are less interested in your early career; prison-related activities from more than 10 years ago can be omitted.

Don’t Emphasize Unrelated Experience

If your work or educational experiences from prison are unrelated to your career goal, they should not be featured prominently on your resume. The most effective resumes are targeted to an objective; your related experience and training should be the focus of your resume. You may, however, add an Additional Experience section to your resume and briefly list your prison-related work or training if you need to cover a big time gap.

Use Available Job Search Resources

If you were recently released from prison and are in a work-release program, take advantage of job search services offered by your facility. A placement specialist may be able to help you find employment or offer guidance that will facilitate your search. Many states offer tax credits to employers as incentives to hire ex-offenders.

This article was written by Kim Isaacs, director of and author of The Career Change Resume book. Visit to learn more about resume services to jump-start your career.

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