The issue of criminal convictions is one that will likely confront most recruiters at some stage. Once you have established whether a candidate is worth hiring based on their merits, you should then find out more about their history. If you have a large group of potential candidates and want to keep interviews to a practical number, then it’s likely if one has a criminal conviction, they will be struck off the list first. However, if you would definitely hire the candidate if it weren’t for the blot on their record, then perhaps they are worth an opportunity to explain their past. The following questions to ask both yourself and the applicant will help you gain a necessary picture about their criminal background.

Date and frequency of their most recent conviction?

Many people have a varied and colourful history, but this doesn’t necessarily mean you should exclude an applicant because of prior mistakes. It’s important to establish whether offences are recent or from a past long gone. If their last conviction was many years ago, and they have kept out of trouble since the risk of them reoffending is far less than someone who has recently come off their sentence. Recidivism statistics show that once released from prison 26% of the surveyed sample reoffended within the first year. Each consecutive year in the four-year study this figure dropped lower and lower showing that the longer an individual is out of prison without reoffending the less likely they are to do so. Questions should also be asked whether the conviction was a one-off or if there were several. Someone who made one mistake, years ago and has learnt from it should be treated very differently to someone with an extensive criminal background spanning years.

What efforts have they made to turn their life around?

Following on from when the crimes were committed, is there evidence that the applicant has made a genuine effort to change and stay out of trouble? Do they now have a family or have they put themselves through an educational facility? If they have an established work history post-offence, ask for references from previous employers. This will give you a more objective perspective of them as an employee and also clear up or reinforce any niggling doubts you may have had. When you are working through a candidate’s references, take note of who’s there and also who isn’t. Frequently applicants will list a work colleague from the same department, or someone who will make them look good rather than a supervisor who can actually comment on their work ethic. Be sure to keep an eye out to see if they have clearly avoided listing their direct boss, manager or supervisor who might give an honest reference making the applicant look bad.

What was the offence they were charged with? Is it relevant to the position?

There are many different offences an individual can be charged with and some are more detrimental to potential work environments than others. One question to ask yourself should be if the offence incurred displays an inability to do the job at hand or put the offender at risk of reoffending? An obvious example of this would be someone with a history of violent offending, being placed in a security guard job. This puts them in a position where they may feel they have ‘permission’ to act on their violent impulses. By identifying and evaluating the nature of the crime, you can decide whether or not the applicant would be suitable or whether their previous charges would have a negative impact on a workplace. Remember that safety should always be paramount and dependent on the role the worker could potentially be interacting with both customers and other members of staff?

What are the details of the crime?

Crimes happen for a range of reasons and involve differing and specific circumstances. This is important to your decision making as two people with the same charge could have come to it in very different ways. For instance, if they have an assault charge was it a premeditated attack, or someone drunkenly defending themselves in a street assault? Did they steal from a corner shop as a teenager or was it an armed robbery? The context of a crime is crucial to take into consideration as it gives insight into the applicant and helps you identify their calibre as a person.

Are they sure what you have been charged with is a criminal offence?

It’s also important to clarify that what they consider ‘criminal’ is, in fact, a criminal offence. For instance, someone may assume that having traffic fines would be included as a criminal conviction. Make sure you and the applicant have a clear understanding of what they are referring to when they admit to a criminal offence. Avoiding this miscommunication saves you time and also prevents you losing out on good applicants you may wrongly choose not to pursue.

Do they have any pending charges?

Covering pending charges are a must with the applicant, as neglecting to do this leaves you wide open to mistakes. An applicant could answer all your questions honestly and simply avoid mentioning a charge that has not been to court yet! If they do have pending charges, this is potentially contradictory to their efforts to turn their life around. It also opens up the possibility of time off work due to court hearings or other related commitments.

Questions like these will help you to separate those applicants who are worth pursuing from those who are too risky to take on. In certain cases – domestic violence or sexual assault, for instance, it is obviously wise to err on the side of caution, especially in a role where the person would have contact with the public or be working unsupervised with others. However, in many cases, someone with a criminal history is just as eager to work and make a living as anyone else. Whilst you are not obliged to take on someone with a criminal offence, convictions can be a common occurrence during the filling of a job and they’ll never move forward without a chance. By asking these questions and illuminating their criminal history, you not only gain a clearer picture of your applicants you also save time in the long run by hiring quality workers.