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How To Handle Past Legal Issues When You’re In Recovery and Looking for a Job

Whether you’re one month or two years sober, it’s the difficult part of your past that may show its face long after you found recovery – your criminal record.

Despite these challenges, as your recovery gets stronger, it’s important to continue making changes in your life – restoring relationships, going back to school, finding a job. Often the stigma of addiction and the legal difficulties that may have accompanied your past can complicate the process of securing employment and may create roadblocks as a result. Although you cannot erase your legal history, it’s important to know how to handle that information appropriately in your professional life.

Beyond anything you can do to begin your job search is finding your own personal confidence. Remember what you have just done – you’ve beaten your addiction. You’ve recovered. This is an accomplishment that has changed your life, changed your relationships, and will open doors far into the future. An important factor in any employment setting is confidence – by getting your footing right personally, and transferring that to your professional ability, you’ll have the right demeanor to move forward in securing the job that’s perfect for you.

Where You Look

The first and quite possibly the most important factor in searching for a job in recovery is where you decide to look for employment. As you search for future employment, make sure to look wisely. If any job presents places or situations that may cause triggers or cravings and trivialize your recovery, look elsewhere. There are plenty of jobs, so you must keep your confidence strong, reinforcing that you are deserving of a job where your recovery will be strengthened – not weakened.

The second thing to remember is not to settle. Don’t settle for a job that is simply tolerant of felonies or rough legal records – put yourself out there. Eventually, the right employer will give you a chance, and you will be grateful that you didn’t choose to settle and instead pushed yourself to achieve all that you knew you could.

Your Resume

Your resume is not the place to disclose your legal history, it is the place to showcase your professional expertise. You don’t need to use every document or every forum possible to disclose your recovery or your legal history for transparency’s sake. Instead, put your energy into documenting the best of your work experience and all that makes you qualified for the job at hand. Best practices for resume writing suggest the following elements be included in a great resume, along with your education and experience.

  • Metrics: What numbers do you have to show for your work? The eye naturally goes to hard data, and including metrics will help your best accomplishments shine through.
  • Testimonials: What do your coworkers, professors, or professional mentors have to say about you? Think about adding a section so employers can take your colleagues’ word for it – you can still add references, but this will help validate what you say about your skill set and the value you add to the workplace.
  • Achievements: What have you done that you’re proud of? Whether you’ve established a new team at work, won an award, or have done something great in your community, include it here.

Showcase your problem-solving, your resiliency, and your ability to accomplish and complete a task. This will show your work ethic and will speak to the value that recovery has brought you – hard work.

The Interview

In any job search or interview, whether you’re in recovery or not, being unprepared shows. Make sure you practice, rehearse and prepare not only nailing your experience, education, skill set and goals, but also details you may want to discuss about your recovery and legal history. By practicing verbalizing the situation and any criminal record, you can tailor your approach and find an angle that will make you feel comfortable during and after the interview.

As you practice, think honestly about your criminal record – what happened? What did you learn from the experience? How will that experience benefit your future employee? How has your past shaped you as an employee?-Tori UtleyAs you practice, think honestly about your criminal record – what happened? What did you learn from the experience? How will that experience benefit your future employee? How has your past shaped you as an employee? By thinking through the answers to these questions, your confidence will be boosted and your thoughtfulness will show in an interview. Frame your experience positively – you have the opportunity not only to get a job for yourself, but to tactfully educate others about recovery. Recovery is transformational and it’s transformed your experience into something actionable – something that will help you for the years to come in and out of the workplace.

If you aren’t comfortable sharing everything about your legal history, then find a way to share what is necessary while remaining genuine and honest. Transparency is key, but transparency doesn’t mean unthoughtfully sharing anything and everything. Be tactfully and strategically transparent, while anticipating the details of your past that may need to be shared, and those that are irrelevant to you in the present.

According to Catherine Hoke, the Founder of Defy Ventures, the following presents an example script on how to disclose your legal history in an interview:

“I’d like to bring your attention to the fact that I served [X] years of time at a correctional facility [X] years ago OR I received [X] charge. Here’s what I learned from it [list 2-3 learning lessons]… Here’s how I changed my life [point to 2-3 tangible examples/proof of change]… Here’s how I’ll bring value to your company [mention 2-3 ways you’ll contribute]…”

In addition to the script, Hoke suggests keeping this disclosure to two minutes or less and memorizing it. By keeping it short and sticking to your script, you can say what you need to say about your past and move seamlessly into the present and future – what you’ll bring to the company and why they should hire you. By being honest you will gain the trust of your audience, and your ability to move from past to present will show your resiliency – a valuable trait in any workplace.

During the interview, be confident and calm – look your interviewer in the eye and speak clearly. After the interview, shake their hand, thank them, and keep a smile on your face. Your pleasant nature, your honesty and transparency will speak to your integrity and character as a future employee. These are elements that speak to the power of recovery, and the right employer will see the value. Make sure to follow-up within the first 24-48 hours with an email, which will further show your professionalism and will leave positive impression.

The Right Employer

By following these steps in your job search, and by being thoughtful when you disclose your legal history, you’ll ensure the best side of you is shown – and it will speak volumes to your character, integrity and honesty. At the end of the day, the right employer that adequately values those traits will hire you, which will be the best fit for your recovery and for the company you’ve been hired into.

Above all else, remember that recovery is transformative. The shame, stigma and label of being addicted do not follow you into the workplace – this is your time to show yourself and the workforce that you are more than your past and that recovery has given you the confidence and ability that will transcend into your professional life.


Image Courtesy of iStock

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