In a previous blog post, we wrote why employers should think about hiring ex-offenders. In today’s post, we’re going to provide some tips on how you should go about recruiting, interviewing and hiring candidates who may have a criminal record.

We compiled our advice after speaking to a prominent HR expert and blogger, a recruiter for a brewing and hospitality business, the head of talent for a medical waste disposal company, and the founding partner of a consultancy that helps organizations build diverse, inclusive, vibrant workforces.

Here are their top six tips on how to recruit, interview and hire an ex-offender.

1. Break Down Unnecessary Barriers

“The way I typically view criminal background checks is I prefer to stay away from them unless they would be relevant to a given position.

So we would run a criminal background check for someone in an accounting role, and if the candidate had a conviction for embezzlement or fraud, we would have to discuss whether we would want to move that person forward. We’ll also run a driving-record check for anybody who is required to drive a company vehicle. Apart from that, we don’t ask about criminal backgrounds directly.”  

Andrew Cole, SPHR, SHRM-SCP
HR Manager, Revolution Brewing

2. Consider How Candidates May Have Grown While Incarcerated

“While incarcerated, many people can gain skills that might be relevant to the job that they want to get, or they might acquire certifications and training that they wouldn’t have had otherwise. They may get a GED or learn to code or acquire a trade—all those types of things. Smart recruiters will ascertain the experience a candidate may have had while incarcerated to determine if it’s a fit for their company.”  

Tom Alexander
Founding Partner, Holistic

3. Don’t Let Convictions Become an Issue too Soon in the Interview Process

“We do employ a third-party criminal background check, but that that’s something that happens post-offer, pre-employment. If a candidate brings up a criminal past before the offer stage, our first response would be to say, ‘Thank you for sharing that, but there’s no need for us to talk about it at this time.’

We want to concentrate on seeing if the candidate is right for the role. Also, we don’t want that individual, who’s possibly already insecure about their background anyway, to assume that we instantly did not hire them because they disclosed a criminal conviction in the first interview.”

Senior-Level Recruiter; Wastewater Operations Company

4. Be Willing to Let the Past Stay in the Past

“Although I prefer to stay away from criminal background checks unless they are relevant to a particular position, we have had situations when a candidate will voluntarily offer details about their past during the interview process. A criminal past could also come up during a reference check. We don’t ask the question, but a reference could bring it up.

The only responsibility I have in that case is to consider whether this person’s past could somehow affect their work or put our employees at risk. You also have to look at how far back something was. You have to think about what the candidate’s employment history has been like since the offense. Have there been any repeat offenses? If someone had a single offense 20 years in the past, I wouldn’t hold it against the person.”

Andrew Cole, SPHR, SHRM-SCP
HR Manager, Revolution Brewing

5. Stay Away from Emotion and Stick to the Facts

“When it comes to talking to candidates about their criminal records—whether you’re sitting down and speaking with the candidate or videoing them or whatever it might be—you have to be as open, honest and unbiased as possible. Try to keep emotional connections and biases out of the conversation, so you can focus on as much of the factual evidence (which can be validated) as possible.”

Jonathan A. Ziemer
Head of Talent, North America; Daniels Health

6. Build the Proper Infrastructure

“Don’t just be open to hiring individuals with criminal records. Develop the right program around them. Take outside federal, state, and municipal support and you just found yourself a great new pool of talent no one else is even thinking about!”

Tim Sackett, SPHR, SCP
President, HRU Technical Resources