The Fatal Question on Job Applications

"Every day, I drop off three job applications. Everyday, I'm asked the key question that keeps me and many others like me from employment ..."
have you ever been convicted of a felony?Every day, I drop off three job applications. Everyday, I'm asked the key question that keeps me and many others like me from employment. It goes a little like this: "Have you ever been convicted of a felony or misdemeanor in the last seven years?" Man, I look at this question knowing that if I tell the truth, I most likely will not get the job. Every time, it's the same feeling -- wanting this job so bad, but knowing an old violation is keeping that job out of reach.

Today, considering the high number of unemployed, this job-screening policy is discriminating against untold numbers of qualified applicants. You may have all the experience needed for the position and may be competing against 10 or 15 others who have little or no experience, but no misdemeanor or felony in their past. You are the one most likely to be written off just because you marked "yes" on this fatal question. And to add insult to injury, once the interviewers know, they look at you as a different person -- someone never to be trusted. I've been there, and I'm there now.

I was so angry after not getting a response from one of my job hunting experiences that I had at a local grocery store, I returned to the store to see who they hired. I saw the hiring sign still posted in the store window. I went into the place and asked for the manager. When he appeared I explained that I had filled out an application for the job and wanted to be interviewed. They said okay and we sat down and started talking with them as they reviewed my resume. It was going all good until that one conversation stopper. "Have you ever been convicted of a misdemeanor or a felony?"

I said yes, and quickly explained the conviction. I had a misdemeanor I received two years ago for skating in downtown. The police charged me with vandalism because they said skating chips the cement. Hardly a major crime. Nonetheless, his happy-go-lucky attitude that he originally had changed to looking down at me. I sat there and had to sell myself twice as hard as the person without a misdemeanor or felony on their record. The whole situation changed in that moment. Automatically the entire conversation ended with a "Well, it is nice meeting you" and "We'll give you a call after we check your references." And, of course, "We are still interviewing other people."

The phone never rang and it's little consolation that I knew damn well I had more than enough experience to do the jobs I applied for. So what to do? Should one be honest and mark yes on the application even while knowing your chances of getting the job will dramatically decrease? Or, should you lie and then wait for the right time to tell them the truth, knowing that once they find out you will be looked at as a criminal and can lose your job? Experience has led me to a third solution: Leave the question blank. If you do this, you can maybe get your foot in the door and be face-to-face with an employer. Then you can tell the truth and have a chance to show them how sincere you are. Take it from someone who knows and who’s finally getting job interviews.

This article originally appeared on Silicon Valley DeBug, a youth magazine of the Pacific News Service. Art for this article is also by Michael Sandoval.