I have been confronted by my criminal record twice in getting jobs.  In both cases I was told that I was the “preferred candidate”, and they considered me the best person for the job. On both occasions I agreed to a Criminal Record Check and a Working with Children check. Both times I was asked to come in to have a little chat and was asked to speak to my conviction history without warning. Neither time was I told I was entitled to have a support person with me. So the first time I was blindsided. The second time I was wiser.

 The first time I assumed I had been called in to discuss the terms and conditions of my employment — start date, wage, induction — all that sort of thing. So I was totally unprepared when a panel of people sat with the results of my criminal record check in front of them and asked me to “elaborate”. 

Apart from some smaller things like “driving under the influence”, there were a couple of major drug convictions for trafficking. First they started probing — I got the feeling they wanted to make sure they had all the charges and to see if I was honest with them — they wanted me to tell them the circumstances of the crimes. I wasn’t shown the report or told what was on it.

Luckily none of the crimes were recent. I explained them in the best light possible, that I wasn’t some big-time trafficker in a Ferrari; there was no glamour in it. I had just been a small time user caught for a string of small sales that were really no more than purchasing drugs for other people, for which I got a shot rather than money. All together they added up to a trafficking conviction, but it was really small bikkies. I told them about prison.

The guy who ended up as my boss seemed happy enough to see it as part of my history. Once I had spoken to the charges, I guess he judged that I wasn’t an axe murderer and he mentioned that I had done my time and learned my lesson. He seemed to understand that these were crimes specific to drug use. I wasn’t in charge of a vehicle or machinery, nor was I to have any access to goods or money, so I guess he figured there was nothing to fear in employing me. He seemed confident to offer me the job.

However, I never felt quite comfortable with him. He hinted at it a few times and I suspected he might be the type to spill the beans to a colleague over a beer or three.

The second time I was asked about my conviction was better only because I knew what to expect. I had to work a lot harder. They wanted to know all about my drug use. How long had it been since I last used? I offered I was on methadone. How did that work? How long had I been on treatment? Was I at risk of using again? Had I changed? How had I changed? How did I make that change? I really had to lay it on thick to persuade them I was just a nice guy who had fallen in with a bad lot, but I had now turned my life around.

They were not unfriendly, but they were definitely trying to wrap their heads around it. I felt they were feeling out if I was a danger to the organisation. In actual fact, their discrimination worked for me. They had no picture at all of a “functional” drug user. Because I was well presented and spoke clearly and well, they assumed that I couldn’t possibly be using drugs still. I was clearly a long way from what they thought a drug user looked like.

In the end I was told that they would make a recommendation to employ me, but it was something that must be decided by people “higher up”. I got the job but definitely felt I was the exception rather than the rule.  No-one ever brought it up after that day, or made hints about it, so I am fairly sure they have kept it confidential.

It was annoying to have to reveal a lot of stuff about my personal life to a bunch of strangers to get a job that had nothing to do with my drug use. Some of it I felt was about their curiosity rather than being really necessary for the job. I was telling them stuff I hadn’t thought about for a long time, and the first time I was not prepared at all. I found it emotionally draining. I also don’t think I did anything wrong — I think the drug laws are ridiculous — so I get annoyed just thinking about it. 

However in the end I got both the jobs and that is what is important. My advice? You can get a job with a record, but you have to play the game.