Explaining gaps in your CV as a result of a criminal record

Aim of this page

The aim of this page is to look at ways of dealing with gaps in your employment history that have come about as a result of your criminal record. This may be by understanding what to put in your CV or how you explain at interview.

This page forms part of our information on disclosing to employers.

Why is this important?

Many people with a criminal record have gaps in their CV that came about because of their criminal record. It’s important to know the best ways of addressing the issue and landing yourself a job offer.

Introduction

Having a gap in your CV may seem like a real stumbling block when you’re seeking a new job. However, if approached in the right way, these gaps needn’t be a hindrance and may present you with the opportunity to look at your existing CV and give it a complete overhaul.

Dealing with career gaps in a written application

When preparing your CV or completing an application form, it may be tempting to ignore breaks in your career, in the hope that potential employers won’t notice them. However, recruiters view applications carefully and may disregard your application straight away if your CV is full of unexplained gaps.

If the gap is a result of being in prison or losing your job as a result of a conviction, then the good news is you don’t need to state this explicitly in your application. This is your chance to sell yourself – highlight the positives and leave out the negatives.

How should I set out my CV?

When considering your CV, try to avoid using the standard chronological listings of job dates and previous employers. This format will draw more attention to gaps in your work history or limited work experience. Instead, use a functional CV format which highlights your abilities and skills for the job you’re applying for. Remember not just to focus on what you’ve done in the past but what you’re looking to do in the future. An example of a functional CV is set out below.

Fuctional CV example

Although a functional CV is less common, it’s generally used by applicants who are looking for a career change. Therefore, don’t view it as something that will stand out in a negative way. The National Careers Service website has examples of different CV styles.

How can I explain short gaps?

If the gap in your employment history is short and sandwiched between longer periods of employment, you can often deflect attention by giving the dates of employment in years rather than months. For example 2002-2006, rather than January 2002 – October 2006.

How can I explain bigger gaps?

If there is a bigger gap in your career, maybe as a result of a prison sentence, then don’t try to conceal the gap but instead use it to show how you spent your time constructively and developed new qualities to bring to the workplace. This may not mean saying that you’ve been in prison, but it does mean explaining what you did at the time. Things that you might have done which can boost your CV include training courses you completed, new skills you’ve learnt, volunteering you’ve done or projects of your own that you’ve carried out. These will all demonstrate how you have occupied your time effectively.

You could explain gaps by stating that you were ‘unavailable for work’. It’s important to bear in mind however that an employer will probably ask you to explain what you mean by this if you’re invited to an interview. If you’re going to explain it in this way, you should plan in advance how you would answer this type of question.

If the gap comes from being in prison, but you worked whilst you were there, then include this work on your CV but put down the corporate entity’s name you worked for instead of the prison. For example, put that you worked for DHL instead of at HMP Maidstone. If you acquired new qualifications in prison, then put these on your CV but again, list the awarding body or college rather than the prison.

If you really want to address the gaps in your written application, then do so in a covering letter rather than in your CV. Read our guidance on when and how to disclose for more details.

Explaining career gaps during an interview

If you know that you’re going to discuss the gaps in your CV during an interview, think carefully about the questions an interviewer might ask.

Remember, good interviewers will have been trained to look for gaps in CV’s. They will probably go through your CV or application form and will want to know about the gaps. Resist the temptation to lie as it’s fairly easy for organisations to verify whether the information you’ve given is true.

When you’re providing details of the gaps in your CV, avoid lengthy explanations that will cast you in a bad light. If you’ve had a long gap in your employment history then it’s going to be particularly important that you can explain really well why you’re the best candidate for the job. Fairly or unfairly, employers will worry about hiring anybody coming back to the workplace after a long time off. Technology and processes change quickly and your challenge will be to show that you have been keeping up to date with new developments, this might have been by reading trade journals, doing courses etc.

Also bear in mind that this might be the first time they find out about your criminal record. Prepare your answers so that you can talk about your criminal record in the most positive way possible. We have tips on disclosing your criminal record in person

Dealing with a career gap if your conviction is spent

If your conviction is now spent, then having to explain a gap in your employment history might result in you inadvertently disclosing your spent conviction.

The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act allows you to withhold information which relates to ‘circumstances ancillary to a spent conviction’. You could therefore decide to hold back any information which might lead to your having to disclose your spent conviction but you can’t lie to hide the gaps in your career. You’ll need to think carefully about what you say as many employers will seek to clarify what you tell them. Also, if you think that an employer may find out about the conviction in some other way, you may choose to tell them, even though legally you don’t need to. For further information see here.

Personal experiences

The personal stories below have been posted on theRecord, our online magazine.

‘Life’s about reinventing yourself not finding yourself’  – Read Jeff’s story about his search for a new job at the age of 51

Discuss with others

Read and share your experiences on our online forum

Key sections include:

Below you will find links to useful websites relating to this page. More specific details (including addresses and telephone numbers) of some of the organisations listed below can be found here.

More information

  1. For practical information – More information on disclosing to employers
  2. To read personal stories – You can read stories about this posted on theRecord, our online magazine, under the tag looking for (and keeping) employment
  3. To discuss this issue with others – Read and share your experiences on our online forum
  4. Questions –If you have any questions about this, you can contact our helpline.

Get involved

Help us to add value to this information. You can:

  1. Comment on this page (below)
  2. Send your feedback directly to us
  3. Discuss your views and experiences with other on our online forum
  4. Share your personal story by contributing to our online magazine, theRecord
This page was last fully reviewed and updated in August 2016. If you’ve spotted something that needs updating, please let us know by emailing the details to advice@unlock.org.uk
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