Did you know that nearly 10 million people in the UK have a criminal record?

“You become cautious about applying for jobs, because the opportunity can sound great, but as soon as you’re asked to tick the box, you wonder if it’s worth it. On one application, a recruiter found out I had a conviction, and immediately retracted his invitation for me to go to an interview.”

That’s what a young man, aged 20, told us. He had a minor conviction from his youth. He has the experience, the drive, and yet a silly mistake stopped him from getting a job. “When I’ve had the chance to explain the background of my conviction, people have understood, but with a ticked box, you don’t have a chance to explain. And I’ve really sorted myself out since then.”

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Think about it, if an employer is holding two CVs with exactly the same experience and qualifications, but one has ‘ticked the box’ of having a criminal conviction on their application – we know which one’s going in the bin. The dreaded word ‘criminal’ conjures up the worst thoughts possible when really, you could’ve just stolen some doughnuts from Sainsbury’s when you were 13 and didn’t get your pocket money. No of course that’s not what you should be doing but, y’know, it could happen.

Campaigns such as Ban the Box ask for disclosure later in the recruitment process, so skills and experience are considered first. Many employers have supported the campaign and removed this box, but there’s still a long way to go. So whether this affects you or a friend or sister or cousin, there are people out there that want to help! We spoke to a load of experts, recruitment consultants and campaigners to find out the best way to go about it.

What do the recruiters think?

Paul Owen, MD of recruitment company Sales Talent Spotters, acknowledges the fact that even without ticking that box, the concept that there are ‘no risk hires’ is wrong. “Every single new hire has risks; experienced, proven people carry different risks, and one mistake you’ve done in your life should not count you of of the mainstream.

“We’ve all made mistakes, and while clearly the severity of the crime does matter, I’m not convinced that minor convictions should count more than a poor track record of staying in jobs or high levels of absence from work. We’re human. We make mistakes, particularly when we’re young.”

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Advising young people in this situation, Paul says you can’t complain about unfairness, simply recognise that you have to work harder to prove yourself better than others. “Be honest about it 100%, find employers that accept those convictions. Get a job, and prove yourself.”

Who’s gonna help you?

Just as we’re here to give you support on finding a job, there are organisations out there who specifically deal with people who might need a little more help. Unlock helps people with convictions to move on in their lives, one of these being helping them into employment.

Director, Christopher Stacey said in reality there are certain professions that will take these minor offences more seriously (think working with children, vulnerable adults, etc), but there are others that won’t. But the first thing he explains is that people don’t always understand their criminal record.

“People tend not to understand it,” adds Christopher. “It’s best to apply for a copy of police record and work out what the employer is asking of you. It might only ask you to disclose unspent convictions, so if it’s spent, you don’t have to disclose it. You’ve really got to understand what your criminal record is.”

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“If you shoplifted when you were 16, and six years later want to become a teacher, up until a year or so ago you would have to forever disclose that to employers, but some things don’t have to be disclosed now. You need to learn this stuff.”

The young man we spoke to who was affected by his conviction used the Ready for Work programme to help him find a job: “I went and did a placement for a big business through that and showed that I could work; my conviction wasn’t a problem there.”

So how do you actually disclose it?

Once you’ve worked out if you have to disclose it, next up is how you do it. The hard bit some might say.

“Yes, a lot of employers do ask on application,” says Christopher from Unlock. “Ban the Box is a way of knowing they’re not going to judge you on that application. Ticking a box might sound obvious, but when you have done that for 20 job applications, people wonder what’s the point in ticking it.”

Business in the Community did extensive research on this issue, and found that employers often wanted to give young people a chance, but they needed to be sure their concerns had been answers by the job applicant.

Waiting to disclose it in person

Christopher says it must be disclosed, but if you don’t want to tick the box on application, you MUST flag it up at the interview. “Tell them exactly why you didn’t tick the box, and let them come to their own view. We do try and guide people through what decision is best for them, and sometimes this is the right one.”

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Teresa Scott, founder of Kennedy Scott Employment agrees: “The best way to tell an employer about a past conviction is always face-to-face. It is important to talk about life now, and how different it is to how it was when the offence was committed. Demonstrating motivation, for example a desire to provide for themselves or a family or set an example to peers, and looking to the future is important.”

Prepare to answer all questions 

Faye from BITC says that understanding your conviction is the first thing to do, “everyone should do their research to make sure they know what to disclose, and then use a disclose calculator to find out.” She explains: “It’s important that you’re prepared to answer any questions. You need to be ready to tell the employer about the seriousness of the offence, when it happened, what was going on in your life at the time, and what’s changed in your life since then.”

“Practise makes perfect. Find out exactly what your criminal record says and what you need to tell an employer and then practise it. Write it down and talk it through with someone you trust and respect. Get yourself comfortable with sharing your story in a way that sounds like you.”

Be honest and detailed

“Employers will want you to take responsibility and show you’re not going to make the same mistake again. So avoid making your conviction sound minor or like no big deal,” Faye adds. “Try to put yourself in the employer’s shoes: they might not feel the same way as you about it, so think through what might concern them about your criminal record and prepare to answer those concerns.”

“Remember though, you’re also there to sell yourself for the job. Disclosing your criminal conviction is important, but make sure that you’re still talking about your skills for the job at every opportunity!”

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Teresa adds: “Employers always value honesty and it is ten times worse if someone avoids telling them about a criminal conviction and it is later discovered in a CRB check. In my experience, ex-offenders with the right attitude often manage to secure work after proving themselves through an initial work placement.”

Attach a letter with that tick 

“It’s vital for ex-offenders to openly accept responsibility for doing wrong in the past when trying to persuade an employer of their commitment and desire to move forward with their lives,” says Teresa. “This shows the journey taken and employers will often become more open to seeing a conviction as ‘in the past’ and give someone a second chance.”

“If you don’t have a chance to present yourself in person, which is always preferable, it’s advisable to provide a brief explanation for a past conviction through a full disclosure letter, rather than simply ticking the box and hoping for the best.”

For more information

  • Ban the Box campaign is run by Business in the Community, calling on employers to create a fairer opportunity for people with criminal convictions. By asking about convictions later in the recruitment process, candidates are judged on their skills first, not their past.
  • Unlock is a national charity helping people with convictions, and directly supports over 25,000 people each year by phone, letter, email and their online services. They have an online forum written by and for people with convictions, and online magazine with inspirational stories, and a helpline that provides confidential and expert support on the phone. Unlock has extensive online resources, including a disclosure calculator and local information sessions.
  • Ready for work programme is BITC’s national programme to support disadvantaged people into employment, with business involvement every step of the way. Businesses support the participants through training, work placements, and their progress into employment.

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