What’s the best way to approach a panel interview if you have a criminal record?

Panel interviews seem to be increasingly common for some employers looking for more rigorous ways to screen job seekers and spot the best talent.

As the name suggests, a panel job interview is where you’re interviewed by a group of interviewers – a ‘panel’. The panel may consist of a mix of senior or line managers, a representative from HR and, in some cases, a potential colleague.

One idea behind a panel interview is to put an interviewee under more pressure compared with a typical one-to-one interview. The panel will ask you a series of questions and will consider how you cope under such demanding conditions.

What would you do if one of the questions was about your criminal convictions?

Although it may not be good practice to spring a question about convictions on you in a panel interview, we know it happens. Details of your criminal record should officially only be known to relevant personnel, i.e. an HR Manager, Line Manager etc. Therefore, if the panel consists of a potential colleague, considering what and when to disclose may prove to be a bit of a minefield. How you deal with the question will often depend on whether or not you’ve already disclosed details earlier on in the process.

If you’ve not been asked about your record prior to interview

The advice we normally give would be not to disclose until asked. However, if you disclose at a panel interview, are successful and then subsequently find out that one of the panel members will be a work colleague, this could create a potentially awkward situation for you.

This can be a bit of a minefield. You may decide not to disclose your conviction during this type of interview because you are not sure whether all members of the panel should have access to that information. However, if you are successful and then disclose, you need to be aware that an employer may feel as though you have misled them and they could revoke the job offer.

If you can find out who is on the panel, this will help you to decide whether to disclose or not.

If you’ve disclosed prior to the interview, i.e. on an application form

In this situation, it’s likely that the panel will have been given copies of your completed application form and will therefore be aware of what you’ve disclosed. It will be in your best interest therefore to use this opportunity to explain the circumstances surrounding your conviction so that all members have a better understanding of the situation and can make a more informed decision about any risk you are likely to pose.

How can you improve your chances of success?

  • Be prepared – Make sure you’ve researched the company and the job role you are applying for. If possible, try to find out who will be sitting on the interview panel and what their role in the company is. You will then be able to answer and ask questions that are relevant to them as well as the job role.
  • Rehearse your answers with friends and family especially answers to potentially difficult questions, for example gaps in your CV.
  • Engage with the whole panel. When you’re asked a specific question, maintain eye contact with the person asking it, but when you answer, address the whole panel.
  • Each member of the panel will come to the interview with their own agenda. Establish early on who the doubters might be and try to win them over first.

Panel interviews are nothing to dread. If you prepare, are armed with a positive attitude and some success stories, then you should have nothing to worry about. If just one member of the panel is particularly passionate about recruiting somebody with a criminal record, they could easily be in a better position than you to convince the others that you’re the best person for the job.

For more information

For practical self-help information – More information on disclosing to employers and, in particular, information on when and how to disclose.

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Debbie Sadler