The research published in the Journal of Applied Psychology analyzed the reactions of more than 500 participants parsing job applications or watching video of job interviews, across three separate studies. The studies offered different response to the question of prior criminal activity. Applicants could either...
- Make excuses for their actions -- "I was not responsible for the incident because I was at the wrong place at the wrong time."
- Justify their actions -- "I accept responsibility because I should have not been involved, but I got involved because I was trying to help a family member."
- Apologize for their actions -- "I should not have been involved and I understand what I did caused harm. I apologized and promised it would never happen again."
Compared to the other responses, the apology overwhelmingly won over the sympathy of job interviewers, followed by justification. Abdifatah and his co-authors Ann Marie Ryan and Brent Lyons found that making excuses decreased chances of getting hired significantly, since that course failed to minimize any of the stigma associated with past criminal activity.
Abdifatah's research sought to address how job candidates with criminal records come off to an interviewer. From a potential employer's perspective, honesty is important, but so is a redemptive arc and presenting yourself in a non-threatening way. Like it or not, those with criminal records have additional psychological barriers to cross. “From a counseling standpoint there aren’t any evidence-based strategies of how to best present themselves in those situations,” Abdifatah said.