EAST LANSING, Mich. — Many states have passed or are considering “ban-the-box” measures when it comes to job applications, barring employers from asking candidates if they’ve ever been convicted of a crime. Now a new study finds that if a employer does happen to learn of a prospective employee’s criminal record, the best thing the candidate do for themselves is simply apologize.

Researchers at Michigan State University (MSU) conducted a series of three studies in which over 500 participants weighed in on the employability of ex-convicts.

Person filling out job application
A new study finds that people with a criminal record should apologize to prospective employers if asked about the crime during an interview.

The ex-convicts in question had provided one of three types of responses for their past behavior: an excuse, a justification, or an apology.

Each of the three studies found that providing a sincere apology for any past offenses or deviant behavior was the most constructive method for establishing future trust on the job.

“Apologizing for your past criminal offense seems to be the most effective strategy in reducing concerns about your underlying trustworthiness as a person of integrity,” says lead author Abdifatah Ali, a doctoral student in psychology, in a university news release.

While justification (i.e., saying that there was a valid reason for one’s past behavior) was generally more constructive than making excuses, it was dramatically less so than expressing genuine contrition.

Providing excuses was found ineffective because it demonstrated that the ex-convict hadn’t learned from their mistakes, which reinforced the notion of them being seen as a criminal.

This study provides interesting insight, particularly because there hadn’t been “any evidence-based strategies of how to best present themselves in those situations,” notes Ali.

As nearly one in three Americans have a criminal record of some sort, this issue is more pressing than ever.

In recent years, over half of U.S. states and many jurisdictions have introduced “ban-the-box” legislation in which employers cannot inquire about a candidate’s prior criminal history on a job application.

While the question of criminal history can be addressed later in the hiring process, it is believed by many that ban-the-box initiatives help improve the employment prospects of a prior offender.

Nonetheless, many legislators have fought against the enactment of ban-the-box measures, including in Texas and Indiana.

The study’s findings were published in the Journal of Applied Psychology.

About Daniel Steingold

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