How to Explain a Criminal Record to an Employer

Whether you are leaving prison or sentenced to probation, finding a job is a challenging task with criminal convictions on your record. By law, employers can ask you about prior criminal convictions and can easily access your criminal record before hiring you. Your criminal record is public and can be accessed for free or for a small fee. With this information readily available to employers, be prepared to explain your record.

Be honest. When you fill out a job application, do not leave sections blank. If the application asks you to list prior convictions, you may want to attach a letter of explanation instead. In this case, you would put "see attached letter of explanation" on the application. Your letter should list your convictions, acknowledge your responsibility, explain how you have changed and list what steps you have taken to better yourself since that time.

Be confident. When you turn in applications or resumes, ask to speak to the manager and introduce yourself. When questioned about your past in an interview, have a speech prepared. Explain your convictions, emphasize that you have made mistakes but have learned from them and that you have matured since that time. This opens the floor for you to expand on your experience. Highlight any related experience you may have, even if you gained it while incarcerated.

Be prepared for your interview. Plan out in advance how you will answer questions about gaps in your employment or criminal convictions you have. If you have gaps because of incarceration, draw attention to any certifications or education you completed while in prison. Explain that you worked while incarcerated and how you grew from that experience.

Inform potential employers about the Federal Bonding Program. Most businesses have insurance protecting them against dishonest employees. However, regular insurance companies will not bond high-risk people, such as those convicted of a felony or theft-related offense. The Federal Bonding Program grants employers bonds free of charge as an incentive to hire hard-to-place job applicants, such as those with a criminal record. To locate the One Stop Career Center in your area, call the US Department of Labor at (877) 872-5627.

Inform potential employers about the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC). This is a federal tax incentive for employers to hire people who have consistently faced significant barriers to employment, including those with a felony conviction. Employers can receive as much as $2,400 in tax credit for each new hire.


  • Don't lie or exaggerate; you could be fired for this.
  • Don't minimize your responsibility in regards to prior convictions. Admitting you were wrong shows maturity and readiness to change.


  • Take advantage of your local employment office. They work every day to find employment for people in your situation. Ask about classes or resources that could help you with your letter of explanation and prepare for tough interview questions.


About the Author

Currently based in North Carolina, Kathleen Palmer started writing criminal-justice related articles in 2009 for She has worked in the criminal justice and mental health fields since 1997, writing reports for federal and state courts across the United States. Palmer holds a Bachelor of Science degree in psychology and criminal justice from Radford University.