Sharon* contacted me via our public helpline with a problem faced by millions of people in the UK. She was applying for a job and was required to make a criminal record declaration on the application form. “They won’t touch me with a bargepole once they hear about my convictions”.
“Hang on a minute” I said. “It’s not what you say but how you say it,” or as we say at Nacro, “how you write it”.
Top Tip #1 – Prepare a written disclosure statement
Do this even if you would prefer to make a verbal disclosure as it will help you to keep your disclosure focused and to the point. Prepare to answer a question about your criminal record in the same way as you would any other question that might be put to you at interview. Even the most confident applicant can feel nervous and under pressure at an interview. Preparing your written or verbal disclosure will increase your chances of securing a job.
Top Tip #2 – Do not use a template
Use your own words. The best disclosure statements are those which are genuine and accurately reflect your circumstances and attitudes both at the time of your conviction and at the time of applying for the job. You might feel embarrassed about disclosing a criminal record, but remember that more than one in five people of working age has at least one conviction and many more have cautions, reprimands and final warnings.
Top Tip #3 – Make it specific
When disclosing your criminal record, it is important to relate what you write (or say) to the job for which you are applying. A good disclosure statement reassures the employer about your offence(s). Try to put yourself in the shoes of the employer who is receiving this information and trying to make a judgment on the basis of the information you are providing.
Top Tip #4 – Start with something positive
Tell the employer why you are applying for the role, what you can offer, previous experience, skills, abilities etc.
Top Tip #5 – Explain your offence(s) in your own words
Tell the employer, briefly and in your own words, the offences that need to be disclosed and, if appropriate, the circumstances. Highlight any mitigating factors if relevant (e.g. addiction issues, in with the wrong crowd, loss of a loved one etc.), but only so that you can go on to explain how your circumstances have changed. It is important not to let mitigation sound like an excuse.
Top Tip #6 – Reassure the employer you are not a risk
This should be the focus of your statement. Be sure to mention any employment, voluntary work or other experiences which demonstrate a proven track record of working as a safe and responsible staff member. If your circumstances have changed since the time of your offence(s), it might be helpful to mention this. For example, if you have family or financial commitments such as a mortgage, this might demonstrate that you have too much to lose from getting into trouble again. If personal problems contributed to the reasons behind the offence(s), it might be worth stating that these problems have been resolved and your circumstances are now very different. If you have any good character references, mention these, as they will also be useful to the employer.
If you want to know what specific advice and guidance was given to Sharon about when to disclose her criminal record to her employer read our next blog or follow us on twitter @Nacro_.
* Names have been changed to protect confidentiality.