The elephant in the room: disclosing to a future employer

Author: | 18 Jul 2020

It’s a dilemma for anyone with a conviction: when and how to tell a future employer if you have a conviction. For people with a university degree, disclosure can feel just as  daunting. 

Here employment expert and trainer Jamie Grundy offers practical advice… 

Anyone reading this post is likely to be familiar with the work of The Longford Trust and sympathise with the difficulties experienced by Scholars and others, trying to find employment. For me, the conversations I’ve had with numerous men and women, released from prison and trying to find work, are very similar, it’s sad to say. I also have experience on the other side of the table: being the employer, which is why I’m often sought out.

I recently led two webinars for current Scholars on what is so often the elephant in the room: how to deal with a conviction when looking for work and advice on being strategic and pragmatic with your employment search. I offered guidance and hope about successfully moving forward with a job search when a disclosure is involved.

As the employer in an interview situation, you have a decision to make. Sometimes it’s your decision alone and other times you are part of a panel so the responsibility is shared. Other times you are merely the facilitator, the gatherer of information, and scorekeeper. It can literally be a tick box exercise designed to prove to management that the ‘best’ candidate was selected. Or it can be an acting exercise where the people who perform best at interview are hired.

Loyal and hardworking: their experiences in jail build resilience

So, where does the conviction fit into this decision making? Well irrespective of whether roles are subject to, or exempt from, the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act (1974) -a blog post in itself!- it all comes down to the employer.

“I’ve taken a few lads on who have previously been inside. Some have left and some are still with me. One has progressed to maintenance foreman and is doing an exceptional job. I’ve found most ex-offenders to be very loyal hardworking guys, eager to impress and make up for lost time. In some cases their experiences in jail have helped build their resilience to problems they may come across in work. As a manager a bit of understanding and patience is well worth the rewards of the respect and support you get in return. “

Tim Wegener, Knight Fire and Security Products Ltd / Arun Electronics Ltd

Tim’s experience is not only heartening to see, it also recognises the business aspect to it: they are hardworking, enthusiastic and loyal. Glassdoor suggest it costs about £3,000 to hire a single new employee and that it takes about 27 days to take someone on from start to finish. If you are a business owner, then surely anything you can do to reduce this cost and increase staff retention or loyalty is worthwhile, isn’t it?

Turning a potential negative into a positive USP

It is also important to be proactive. One of the best ways you can do this is to flip the conversation away from the conviction towards one of personal growth since that time. In this way, whilst acknowledging what has happened, you are placing it in the past. A timeline showing training, education and volunteering, for example – post conviction – shows a potential employer in clear terms how you have learned from the experience and that you are, evidently, a different person from the one who was convicted.

Put like this, for an employer, the opportunity to be a part of your “journey” can be extremely appealing. You are framing the conviction as your USP and inviting them to be a part of your success story.

Sometimes an employer is proactive because of personal experience

Hayley, who is a business owner, remembers how she felt when she was looking for a break:

Personally I would prefer (disclosure) at interview as this gives the candidate a chance to be honest and explain in a way they want to. I have a spent conviction from many years ago and always mention this at interview as I feel I have no skeletons in my closet. I worked for [an organisation] and someone wrote into my boss stating they were appalled I was working there as I had a criminal record. My boss did not entertain the anonymous letter, mostly because I had been upfront from the start. I still have it here somewhere to remind me of how far I have come. I now am a CEO of my own business.”

As you can see, the experiences of others both positive and negative can have a motivating effect on people with similar backgrounds facing the same challenges and prejudices. I am fortunate to be a Co-Director of Inside Out Support Wales with Longford Scholar, Chris. He tells many people referred to us that you have to be spotless – don’t give them any reason to say no. Chris also recommends going the extra mile just so they can see you are serious. This was Chris’s own experience. When he was first released he volunteered for months as a support worker, before they offered him a role. He’s testament to a proven way to get hired.

While writing this blog I asked for opinions on social media from what employers prefer when faced with an applicant who discloses a conviction. The overwhelming majority of responses I had were that they prefer applicants to be upfront, and they prefer some context. This suggests the importance of both a disclosure statement and disclosing early are the things that an employer prefer. This is what Hayley did and she was able to see the benefit, as was her boss.

Some other application stats….

No two job applications are identical of course, but it is important to note that if you have been unsuccessful it may not always be because of the conviction. Online recruiter Monster suggest that 59% of graduates can take up to two months to find employment. And Talent suggest that only 13% of applicants get to the interview stage. Part of the reason for this is because an employer will only look at a CV for an average of 7 seconds before a decision!

I state these figures here, not to dissuade you from applying but to recognise that there will be reasons in any job application where will be other reasons, non-conviction related, why an application is unsuccessful, just like any job search. The trick is to shrug these off and move forward with purpose.

Staying positive

To this end, it’s important to end on a positive, and I choose that word carefully. ‘Positive’ as a word has its roots in fifteenth century philosophy where it came to mean ‘dealing only in facts’, and also ‘confident in opinion’. Both I feel are relevant for this conversation. Positive is the mindset you need to adopt and keep, as reaffirmed by Chris, my colleague:

The mindset you had pre-release, getting back on your feet, working, making a change… it’s important you focus on the end goal, the prize. The new life you envisaged whist you were inside your cell, dreaming of a better life. That life is most definitely still within reach.”