- 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.
Of course, that's if you can get as far as a job interview. It's worth pointing out that 24 states have still not adopted "Ban the Box" -- a practice that removed criminal history questions from job applications and delayed a stigma-fueled line of questioning until further in the hiring process. And if you don't think defeating that hurdle is all that common, the numbers tell a different story. According to MSU's report, approximately 70 million people in the United States have some record of either a prior arrest or conviction -- almost 1 in 3 adults.