Elyssa Duncan
Community Specialist
Posted September 30, 2020

Filling out an application and resume with a record

These are the best practices for how to tailor your resume and fill out an application if you have a criminal record. Follow these tips to showcase your strengths and positive attributes during your job search.
Elyssa Duncan
Community Specialist
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Filling out an application and resume with a record
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If you have an arrest record or prior conviction, finding a job can be tough! It can be frustrating to overcome so many obstacles while you're just trying to get your life back on track. That's why I've compiled the best practices for how to tailor your resume and fill out an application if you have a criminal record. Follow these tips to showcase your strengths and positive attributes during your job search. Best of luck!

Get noticed for your resume, not your record

For many jobs, an employer requires a professional resume as part of your application. Resumes are an extra valuable piece of your application that speaks directly to your skills and strengths. You want to make sure it is honest and accurate, free from any errors, and relevant to the position you are applying for. You do not need to list every job experience or skill you have—only ones that are applicable to the available job.

There are different types of resumes, but two common formats include chronological and functional.

  • Chronological resumes are a more traditional resume style that lists work history with the most recent position on top and details about each company.

  • Functional resumes focuses on your job-specific skills and relevant work experience over length of employment. This type of resume is a better choice since it doesn’t highlight excessive gaps or breaks in your employment history.

Important things to incorporate into your resume

  • Contact information
    This should always be at the top of your resume and include your full name, current address, phone number, and email address. If you don't have a permanent address, use a location where you can confidently receive mail or a rented post office box.

  • Objective + summary
    This is typically 2-3 sentences that demonstrate how your skills and accomplishments make you a good fit for the role. Keep this short and pointed.

  • Work experience + accomplishments
    Describe your key job responsibilities at any previous employers. You may use this section to feature any work programs or assignments you may have participated in. Also, call out if you received any special recognition or promotions.

  • Education
    List the education and training you have completed. Include school or program name, city and state, dates attended, and any diplomas, degrees, licenses, or certifications you have earned.

  • Volunteer work + activities
    Use this section to exhibit any volunteer or community work you have done since your release. This is where you can mention if you are involved in a church group, book club, and other hobbies you enjoy. This section is a nice conclusion that adds a personal touch and humanizes your application to a potential employer.

Additional resume tips

  • Make sure your email address is professional
    No slang, curse words, or double meanings. The standard professional email address includes some sort of: [email protected] format.

  • Emphasize if you are bilingual
    This is an advantage in many industries, and speaking a second language can be hugely beneficial.

  • Always proofread multiple times
    Ask friends, family members, or someone you trust to look over it. It’s always better to have a second (or third) set of eyes to look over it.

  • Clean up all social media profiles for your job search
    According to Jails to Jobs, 79% of employers “use social media to screen potential candidates." Make sure all posts, photos, and videos are "work appropriate" and if possible, set your profiles to private.

Tips for filling out an application

There can be bias and unfair stigmas around those with criminal records. Because of this, there are many suggestions on how best to complete an application and answer the question, “Have you ever been arrested or convicted of any crimes beyond a simple traffic ticket?”

Be honest

  • When filling out an application, it is almost always best to be upfront and transparent about your past at the very beginning. If there is space to explain your conviction, state what the conviction was and how long ago it happened. Be sure to explain that you’ve turned your life around for the better and welcome an opportunity to discuss it in person. Focus on the future rather than the past.

Read the wording carefully

  • Always read the questions carefully. For example, it may ask if you have any felony convictions - but, if you only have a misdemeanor, you'd answer "no." You don't want to include any unnecessary information that could hurt your chances of getting offered an interview.

Know your state's laws

  • States have different requirements about declaring your criminal record on job applications. Make sure to check with your individual state’s laws for what is required for you to disclose. In general, minor, non-violent misdemeanors like traffic or speeding tickets do not cause concern or can typically be left off your application. Always make sure to double-check and ask for clarity upfront to avoid any issues.

Have you heard of 'Ban the Box'?

There is legislation in some states called Ban The Box. Started in 2004 by a national civil rights union composed of formerly incarcerated individuals and their family members, this “campaign challenges the stereotypes of people with conviction histories by asking employers to choose their best candidates based on job skills and qualifications, not past convictions.”

It urges employers to give those with a criminal record and fair chance and to be free from discrimination. Over 45 cities, including New York, San Francisco, Atlanta, Boston, Philadelphia, and others, have removed the question regarding past convictions from their hiring applications. For the most current participants of Ban The Box, you can get more information here.


For more work-life advice with a record, follow the topic #secondchances.

Do you have any additional tips to share? Let the community know in the comments below.

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