Pursuing a Career in Leadership When You Have a Criminal Background

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By Katie Brenneman

We all make mistakes, and sometimes our bad choices have lasting repercussions. For example, more than 70 million Americans have some type of criminal record, which can impact their job opportunities for years to come. There’s a long history of stigma associated with criminal backgrounds, as those who have been convicted of a crime are often looked upon with distrust and suspicion. As such, those with a criminal background may feel as though they can’t take a chance career-wise.

The good news is that the times are changing, and an increasing number of employers are willing to give people with a criminal record a chance at redemption. Hiring managers today may overlook the criminal record of the right candidate, as long as they have a solid performance record and strong references. The type of offense also plays a role, however, and research indicates that the greatest leniency is given to those who committed nonviolent, misdemeanor offenses unrelated to financial crimes.

However, even those with a felony charge on their background can find fulfilling employment and work to overcome the limiting beliefs that are so often associated with a criminal record, if you have the mind to do so. Here’s what you need to know about pursuing leadership positions and opportunities, whatever your personal background.

Current State of the Employment Scene

In many ways, job seekers in our post-COVID world have more opportunities for advancement than ever before. Research indicates that we’re in the midst of an “employee’s market” of sorts, where job seekers can afford to be picky. Today’s wide-open job market has employers switching up their hiring tactics to attract more applicants, meaning that even those with a criminal record don’t have to settle for entry-level positions or pay.

If you made mistakes in the past and have a criminal record to show for it, you can still apply for managerial or leadership roles, at your current company or elsewhere. Regardless of your past mistakes, you can utilize your skills in a positive manner and inspire others in your new leadership position. Do you have what it takes to rise above the bad choices of the past?

Attributes of a Successful Leader

According to the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL), it’s not difficult to identify a strong leader. The characteristics and qualities of a good leader include empathy, integrity, and the ability to communicate in an effective manner with a wide variety of people. Leaders must also be able to think quickly on their feet and delegate tasks with respect and gratitude.

Considering the aforementioned traits of an effective leader, you may find that your criminal background is in fact an asset rather than a hindrance to your career aspirations. Managers and business leaders must think quickly on their feet and stay calm in the midst of every storm — in other words, they must be resilient. With resilience, you can better control your emotions no matter what (or who) you’re dealing with, from probation officers and judges to hiring managers and beyond.

While some of us are born with this trait, there are various ways to learn how to be resilient, no matter what your past looks like. Reframing the problem into smaller, manageable tasks can help build resiliency, for instance, as can making time for yourself. When you’re feeling overwhelmed or stressed, take a few minutes to sort through those emotions, via journaling, breathing exercises, or another method altogether.

Overcoming Obstacles and Nailing the Job Interview

Whether you have an innate sense of resiliency or have developed the skills over time, you can stand out from other prospective applicants by repurposing your past. By showing employers how you overcame adversity and are a better person for it, they’re more likely to take a chance on you. For aspiring leaders and change agents, however, nailing the job interview may require even more work.

It’s long been said that first impressions are everything, and it’s especially important during your job interview. Make sure to dress appropriately and be on time, for starters. In an effort to ace the job interview, you may also want to prepare well in advance, and be ready to answer difficult questions about your life and criminal background. Be honest about what happened, and don’t make excuses. Hiring managers respond well to honesty, and you’re more likely to get hired if you appear forthcoming, sincere, and trustworthy, even though you may have made mistakes in the past.

Key Takeaways

No matter what you’ve gone through in life, don’t let minor criminal charges stop you from having a fulfilling career. Instead, take a chance on yourself and apply for the managerial position that just opened up, or the job opportunity you’ve wanted for a long time. Today’s job market is wide open, and there’s plenty of room for resilient self-starters to climb the ranks and nail that coveted leadership position, even with a criminal background.

Katie Brenneman


Katie Brenneman is a passionate writer specializing in lifestyle, mental health, and activism-related content. When she isn’t writing, you can find her with her nose buried in a book or hiking with her dog, Charlie. To connect with Katie, you can follow her on Twitter.

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