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Looking for Work with a Criminal Record – (Employment Advice Column)

Employment Advice Column

Dear Joanna:

I’m ashamed to tell you that I have a criminal record. About three years ago, I was hanging around with the wrong people, and engaged in some illegal activity, for which I now have a criminal record.
After much soul-searching, I have begun the process of turning my life around. As part of my “recovery”, I am looking for work in the short-term; and, in the long-term plan, I am looking to build a career as an addictions and mental health counsellor.
Please could you help me figure out how I will be able to secure employment with this record as I know it is a barrier to employment.
Signed, Recovering Convict (RC)
Dear RC,
Congratulations on your efforts to build your career and a new life. I am impressed. You are strong and courageous. This is not an easy process.
Karin Lewis, JVS Toronto’s expert employment counsellor and social media specialist, recommends that you consider starting volunteering and registering in training programs/courses that are relevant to your employment or career goal. These initiatives can build your confidence and give you something positive to talk about as you build your network, as well as when you meet employers. This can also take the pressure off finding work and help to increase your network, experience and may even improve your chances of being offered work by word of mouth.

Lewis adds that Social media can be a useful tool for job seekers with a record who are looking to re-invent themselves in the labour market. Consider posting a profile on LinkedIn and other sites including Facebook and Twitter, to showcase all your new achievements. When employers check you out on LinkedIn or simply Google your name, your updated profile will appear at the top of the list and will display all of your positive attributes and activities, including volunteering, education, and contributions to the community. Your record history will be bumped down the google search list – and this part of your history will no longer be the first link to appear!
It is illegal for employers to ask candidates at a job interview if they have a criminal record, unless they have a justifiable reason to do so, however, at the interview, if you know that they will ask, be upfront, recommends Lewis. You might say something like this: “I’d like to tell you something important before we begin: I have a criminal record. I have been out for 2 years. I want you to know this. I don’t want any surprises. Since my release, I have been rebuilding my professional life by volunteering in the community (be specific), returning to school to gain skills (specify which courses)”. Describe other positive activities you might be engaged in, which indicate the efforts you’ve been making to turn around. Try to not discuss the specifics of your convictions, unless asked, and don’t allow yourself to get drawn into a discussion about your guilt or innocence. If the employer insists on discussing the issue, simply accept responsibility for your part, express regret and move forward.

In terms of your interest in a job in the social service field, Karin Lewis cautions you to get all the information needed to get into that field before starting a course, because police pre-screening might be required if you want to volunteer or work with what is defined as the “vulnerable sector”. According to the OPP website, people are defined as “vulnerable” if they are under 18 years of age, and/or “because of their age, a disability or other circumstances (…) (a) are in a position of dependence on others; or (b) are otherwise at a greater risk than the general population of being harmed by persons in a position of authority or trust relative to them”. Perhaps speak to someone who hires people who do the work you want to do and find out what they require, or check a website such as Charity Village to read what employers are asking for in their job postings.

Each country has its own legislation, departments and processes on how to remove your record. Start exploring which government department handles pardons. In Canada, we have Pardons Canada. Contact the customer service staff to see if you are eligible (contact them to find out). You can also add that you are seeking a pardon in your interview, if this is the case. It is important to be aware that even if charges have been dropped, you might still have a criminal file. In that case, it is even more important to apply for a pardon and have your record expunged.

The National Career Services (a British government site) lists a number of good tips for job searchers with criminal records, including suggesting that you do not sending out too many rushed applications — apply for fewer jobs but spend longer on them. Make sure to follow the instructions on the postings and show how you meet the job specifications. Only apply for the jobs you’re likely to get — don’t waste time on jobs for which you haven’t got the right skills and experience. Once you get your first job, if you’re a good employee, you’ll find it easier to get the next job.

I wish you much success in reaching your career goal and building your new life.


To submit your questions for this column IN CONFIDENCE, please email
Joanna Samuels, M.Ed., CMF, CTDP, RRP is a certified Life Skills Coach, and certified Personality Dimensions Facilitator who works at JVS Toronto ( as a job developer/job coach/facilitator, and is a part-time instructor of employment counselling at George Brown College.

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