How to Present Your Best Self: Tips for Success in Job Interviews

These tips can help you succeed in job interviews, especially if you have to answer any difficult questions about your criminal record. Here are some suggested steps and tips:

Thoughtfully answer each interview question.

Here are some tips for addressing your criminal record and answering other tough questions during a job interview:

    Own it! Take responsibility for your actions. State the facts, but express regret for what happened. Don’t get defensive.
    Don’t go into details. Keep your answers short. Be honest, but only talk about necessary information based on the questions you are asked.
    Tell the employer how you have changed. Emphasize that the incident happened long ago and that you are a different person now. Explain what you learned while you were in prison/jail, and what you are doing differently now. Highlight any services that you’re getting to help you move on. Paint a picture of the person you are now.
    Emphasize your qualifications. Describe the things that will make you a good employee—such as previous work experience, job training programs, or classes that you’ve taken. Show the employer why you are qualified for the position and will be a benefit to the company.
    Describe your hopes and dreams. Show the employer than you are in control of your life and have short-term and long-term goals. Highlight any programs or services that you’re participating in to help you move on and achieve your goals. Emphasize that you would be very appreciative of the opportunity to work for them, and you will be the hardest worker they will ever have.[2066]
    DON’T LIE! If the employer finds out the truth (though a background check, or later on after you’ve been hired), they can reject or fire you for lying—regardless of your record and qualifications for the job!

The most important question of all is “Why Should I Hire You?” Remember, the most important thing to show is that you are qualified for the position and that you will benefit the employer’s company if they hire you. You should also be ready to explain why you are interested in the job. Be sure you have all of these answers prepared and practice them beforehand.

IMPORTANT: What if the employer asks an illegal question or asks about something that should not have been included in your background check? See PG. Error! Bookmark not defined. for more information about what you can do in this situation.

Ask your own questions.

Often, employers will give you a chance to ask them questions at the end of an interview, so it’s best to have several questions prepared beforehand. Here are some sample questions you can ask that demonstrate your interest in the position and the company—the answers will make you look better!

    What is most important for you (my boss) to be happy with me if I get this job?
    What would you like me to accomplish in the first couple of weeks on the job?
    Why did the person who had this job before leave?[2067]
    Any other questions showing that you’ve done your homework to research and learn about the company.
    DON’T just ask about wages, hours, or benefits!

Practice beforehand!

If possible, you should try to do a practice (“mock”) interview before the real thing with your case manager, social worker, counselor, or family or friends. Have the other person pretend they’re the employer and ask you interview questions, so that you can practice giving your answers. Remember, even if you have your answers prepared on paper or in your head, things will sound different when you try to say them out loud!

Be polite and confident during the interview.

Here are some things to keep in mind when it’s time for the interview:

    Dress up! Show the employer that you take yourself—and the job—seriously by presenting your most professional self. Dress like you were going to court, to church, or to some other important event.
    Be polite! Make sure to thank the employer for giving you the chance to interview for the job, and shake the interviewer’s hand. Do this BEFORE and AFTER the interview.
    Be positive and confident! Smile, make eye contact with the interviewer, and show that you are confident in your abilities to be a good employee. Go in with the mindset that you are the best applicant for the job and you will get hired.
    Take notes! Bring a pencil and paper so that you can write down any important information or questions during the interview. Always start by writing down the interviewer’s name so that you can follow up afterward!

Follow-up after the interview.

After the interview, it’s important to follow up—this will help to make sure the employer doesn’t forget about you and shows you’re still interested in the job.

    Send a thank you note. A thank-you note will help you stand out from other job applicants. It shows how professional and polite you are, and it gives you another opportunity to sell yourself or re-answer a question that you didn’t handle very well during the interview. Address the note to the person who interviewed you (this is why it’s important to write down their name during the interview).
    If you don’t get the job, you might consider calling the hiring manager to ask for feedback. You could say something along the lines of: “I know you decided to hire someone else, but I just wanted to find out why I didn’t get the job. I’d appreciate knowing the reason, because your feedback will help me in my job search.” You may get feedback that could actually influence the employer to reconsider your application. If not, you’ll at least receive some useful information that will help with future interviews.[2068] 
  1. 2066

    Electronic communication from Mary Weaver, Executive Director, Friends Outside in Los Angeles County, Jan. 29, 2015; electronic communication from Mario Rodriguez, South Bay Workforce Investment Board, Jan. 29, 2015.

  2. 2067

    Jails to Jobs, Interview Tips,

  3. 2068

    Jails to Jobs, After the Interview,