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Finding Work With a Criminal Record

Do you have a criminal record? Have you ever been convicted of a criminal offence?

Employers ask questions like these on application forms or in job interviews.  They may also conduct police information checks or security screenings.

If you have a criminal record, learn how to answer these questions without hurting your chances of getting the job. 

First things first

In Alberta, most employers are legally allowed to ask questions about criminal charges or convictions. 

The exception is employers in federally regulated organizations, such as chartered banks and airlines. These employers are governed by the Canadian Human Rights Act. It protects you from discrimination if you’ve been granted a pardon or a record suspension. For a list of federally regulated employers visit the Employment and Social Development Canada website.

Your criminal record can affect your ability to land a job. It may also affect your ability to cross the border as part of your job or to study abroad. But your record might not be the only barrier between you and employment. A career and employment counsellor can help you with these challenges. Start by calling the Alberta Supports Contact Centre at 1-877-644-9992 toll-free or 780-644-9992 in Edmonton.

Will a criminal record stand in your way?

Some employers may look at the nature of your offence and how long ago it happened. They may decide your record isn’t an issue. Different employers require different levels or types of screening in their hiring procedures. In some industries, such as counselling, social work, or health care, a criminal record may close some doors.

Depending on your offence, you may be able to apply for and obtain a record suspension (previously known as a pardon). You can apply for a record suspension 5 years after completing your sentence, including your probation. You may only apply for a records destruction if you were charged but not convicted or found guilty.

The truth is the best answer

Don’t lie about a criminal record and hope no one finds out. Honesty is a trait that is valued highly. Your employer will eventually discover the truth, which could cost you the job. An employer may learn about your background in the following ways:

  • Your references may mention it
  • Your parole or probation officer may visit or call you at work
  • You may need time off to attend mandatory programs or court dates

If you’re not required to provide or consent to a criminal record check you don’t have to disclose your record. This is also true if you are not asked about your criminal record. You’ll likely clear a criminal records check if you were:

  • Charged or arrested but not convicted
  • Referred to alternative measures (for example, an anger management course or community service) and have completed all the requirements
  • Granted a record suspension or were pardoned

You may be asked if you’re bondable. This means an employer can take out insurance against the possibility that you might steal. Depending on the nature of your conviction, this insurance may be expensive or hard to get. But having a record does not necessarily mean you aren’t bondable. Check with your local police department to find out how your record may affect your ability to be bonded.

When the question appears on an application form

Your goal in filling out the application is to gain an interview. The best time to talk about your record is face-to-face with a potential employer. When questions about a criminal record appear on an application form, you have three options:

  • Fill in only your name and contact information and attach your resumé to the form.
  • Complete the form but leave the criminal record question blank. Plan to talk about the issue in the interview.
  • Answer, “Yes. Let’s talk about it in an interview.”

Your record and your resumé

Don’t mention your record on your resumé.

Look at different kinds of resumés before you decide which will be most effective for you. Check out Resumé Types and The Functional Resumé—Focus on What You Can Do.

Most employers prefer chronological or combination resumés. They may screen out candidates who don’t include detailed employment histories and dates on their resumés. A carefully designed combination resumé focusing on both skills and employment history may be your best choice.

However, you may think that a chronological or combination resumé draws too much attention to any gaps in your employment history. You could use a functional resumé, which allows you to focus on your skills.

Disclosing during the interview

If you aren't asked about a criminal record, it’s up to you whether or not you mention it at the interview. Regardless of whether you're asked or choose to disclose, it's important to show the employer you’ve taken responsibility for and learned from your past mistakes. Show that you’re ready to move on.

  • Say enough to be truthful. The employer doesn’t need to know all the details.
  • Tell the interviewer what you’ve learned from your experience. Highlight the steps you’ve taken to change your life and move on. Present your future in a positive light.
  • Bring a list of at least three names and their contact information as references. Choose references who recognize and support the positive changes you’re making in your life. They could be previous employers, a religious leader, an Elder, an instructor, a former teacher, or a probation or parole officer.
  • If you’re disclosing without being asked, do so in the middle of the interview. At the beginning of an interview, it could make a bad first impression. At the end, it may be a negative last impression.

Keep a positive attitude as you move forward

When you’re dealing with a challenge, a positive outlook is important. You may be moving beyond a difficult past. You’re also asking potential employers to make a commitment to your future.

For help finding work with a criminal record, visit the John Howard Society or the Elizabeth Fry Society (for women only).


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