(Left to right: Vicki Reeks & Rob Bruce)
Around 9.2 million people in the UK have a criminal record. That is around a fifth of the population with a conviction for anything from a driving offence to violence.
At a time when finding the best staff presents opportunity and challenges, should employers be willing to hire someone with a criminal record?
And if you are a job-hunter with a conviction in your past, should you declare it? Or hope no one finds out?
Do Recruitment Agencies Check on Your Criminal Record?
The law recognises that people who have committed offences should be able to move on.
For that reason, most convictions become “spent” after a defined period (although when the sentence is more than four years in prison, a conviction can never become spent).
For most jobs, only unspent convictions are relevant – but it is an offence not to reveal those unspent convictions if asked.
"It is in our application pack – a simple tick box,” says Vicki Reeks, Industrial Manager with TeamJobs.
“Do you have an unspent criminal conviction? If they tick ‘Yes’, it is our prerogative to ask them what that could be.”
When the recruitment consultant recommends the candidate to an employer, that employer will often want to know about any convictions.
TeamJobs’ Technical Manager Rob Bruce said: “When we deal with aerospace companies or Ministry of Defence companies, they will ask us to provide them a basic disclosure because you will be dealing with potentially sensitive situations.”
What Kind of Offences Would Rule You Out of a Job?
A candidate with a criminal record will be wondering whether the recruitment consultant will be willing to put them forward.
Vicki says the consultant must be confident that they can recommend the person. “Our service is free. However, we are not obliged to work with any candidate that comes through the door,” she said.
“It is our selection process and it is our judgement on that individual, which means that we will represent them fully to a client.”
The most common convictions Vicki sees are for drug possession and driving offences. "I will always say, ‘Are you happy for us to disclose it?’. Nine times out of ten, people will say ‘Yes’ and we ask the client what their thoughts are.”
The breadth of what some employers do can also create delicate scenarios.
“Working with housing associations, there could be a requirement for maintenance people and gardeners,” says Vicki.
“Because they have exposure to vulnerable elderly people and young people, they have DBS (Disclosure and Barring Service) checks. At the point of registering them for that job, we will tell them they will go through a DBS check and this is their opportunity now to disclose.”
A Strong Relationship with The Agency Is Important
Not every candidate can be recommended to an employer, but a good recruitment consultant looks at each person individually.
Vicki says: “We represent people. That is what we are experts in, getting a feel for others and their personalities."
Rob adds: “We often say we spend half our time counselling people. We are not just there to find people work, we deal with issues, we help them, we see where they went wrong before.
“It makes our job quite hard at times. But it is our product. If you are selling your car, you make sure it’s serviced, MOT-d, ready to go. It is the same with us. We service our candidates, MOT them if you like and make sure they are suitable for that particular market or job.”
That willingness to work with individuals can lead to some great success stories.
Vicki says: “We worked closely with a candidate, who at 35, had been offered his first job because he’d been in and out of prison. Can you imagine his nerves and confidence?”
Does It Pay to Be Honest About Criminal Convictions?
It can be tempting for a candidate to leave a conviction off their CV and hope for the best. But that is a mistake – and not only because it is illegal not to disclose unspent convictions when asked.
When candidates are honest, it makes it easier for the agency to take the whole person into consideration.
“It is really important that we delve into their history because that is the expectation of the client, and if we uncover a criminal conviction or they declare it to us, then we present it to the client with a whole host of other facts,” says Vicki
Rob says gaps in CVs are noticed. “We can’t put people forward if they don’t fill the gaps, so be honest,” he says.
“We had a recent candidate, where it took us reference after reference – where dates didn’t match up. Eventually he came out with some issues. By being honest with us, he is working. He is fantastic to work with.”
The candidate who goes to a recruitment consultancy can have an advantage over one who applies direct.
Vicki says: “You can apply via job boards and your CV might get dismissed because you have a gap, so your best route would be to apply via an agency because you can build a relationship with a consultancy. The recruitment company can act as a middle person and has a relationship, trust and credibility with a client.”
Could There Be Advantages to Employing Someone with A Record?
One famous employer, Timpson, is proud to hire ex-prisoners in its stores. It knows that an offender, given a second chance, could be an asset.
“It is not going to be easy for them to find a job, so people are going to give you loyalty and commitment,” says Rob.
He adds: “Many prisons have rehabilitation programmes, such as engineering. They update their skills to get them back into the market. So, people are coming out fresh, skilled and looking for new opportunities.”
The Final Word
It is an area where trust – between employer, recruitment consultancy and candidate – is all important.
A qualified, focused, skilled and honest job seeker with a consultancy behind them will fare much better.