10/12/2012 05:42 pm ET Updated Dec 12, 2012

Should a Criminal Record Be A Deterrent to Hiring?

If your candidate has a criminal record, does this automatically put them out of the running for the job? What if they're the right fit in every other respect, except their prior rap sheet? With unemployment remaining steady around 8 percent, it might seem harder than ever before for candidates with a past to land a great job.

However, a recent CareerBuilder survey showed 51 percent of employers have hired someone with a criminal record. This seems surprising considering how hard it is for candidates with even spotless records to get a foot in the door of a great company.

Perhaps more employers are realizing the wide candidate pool they exclude when they pass over a candidate with a history. According to the National Employment Law Project, nearly 65 million Americans have some variety of criminal record. That's quite a chunk of the population you might be ignoring in your hiring efforts.

A criminal record shouldn't be a reason to exclude talent from your company. But it's important to understand your candidate's background before you can truly embrace them into your company. Here are a few things to think about when considering candidates with a record before they sign the new hire paperwork:

Be careful of discriminatory questions
Criminal records and hiring can be a tricky subject. Considering arrest records during the hiring process is even barred in many states. This is especially true when it comes to asking about misdemeanors. However, the EEOC allows employers to inquire into felony convictions when looking at applicants.

The important takeaway is to understand the law and how it applies to your company and candidate. Discrimination is very serious and you want to be able to give all candidates a fair chance to add value to your company.

If the candidate has a felony conviction and you need to know, here are a few questions you can ask:

How long has it been since the offense?
Was the felony conviction last year or twenty years ago? The time between the conviction and the present is a good barometer for how long it's been since the candidate's inappropriate behavior. We all learn and grow as the years pass, and if the criminal conviction was far in the past this doesn't mean they won't be a great employee in the future.

What was the nature of the offense?
It's important for employers to know the nature and severity of a candidate's offense. Asking about the offense is also a good way to judge a candidate's behavior, whether they're sitting across the desk or on the other side of the webcam in a video interview. The best candidates will face the question head on and give you concise, confident, and honest answers about their past. They won't ramble or make excuses, merely tell you the facts and move on from the subject.

You might also want to ask what the candidate has learned from the experience. We all learn important life lessons, sometimes in unusual places. Perhaps the candidate has gleaned important takeaways from their past mistakes. Give the candidate a chance to show you how they've grown beyond their criminal record.

How will it impact job performance?
This is the most important question, and it's one you as an employer should be asking internally. Is there a specific reason why a candidate's criminal record would impact their future job performance? If there is, you might want to be cautious before hiring this candidate. It not, these candidates should be given the same unbiased consideration as any other applicant.

Employers are looking for talent with the right skills to fill open positions and bring value to their company. We all make mistakes and a candidate's actions in the past shouldn't hold them back from achieving success in the future. If you take the time to use best practices to consider candidates with a criminal record, you might just find the perfect person for the job.

What are some ways to better consider candidates with a criminal record? Share in the comments!

Josh Tolan is the CEO of Spark Hire, a video powered hiring network that connects job seekers and employers through video resumes and online interviews. Connect with him and Spark Hire on Facebook and Twitter.