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How to Find a Job After a Criminal Conviction

by Ellie Williams, studioD

While a criminal conviction can complicate your job search, it doesn’t prevent you from finding employment. Some employers will look past a criminal record, especially if you can demonstrate you’re committed to changing your life for the better. Before you begin your job hunt, determine how you’ll explain your background so that employers know hiring you is not a risk.

Know Your Rights

Acquire a copy of your criminal record to ensure it’s accurate. Some records contain duplicate charges, charges that were dropped or information belonging to someone else. If you find errors, you can have them removed so they don’t further hinder your job search. Also, read job applications carefully before disclosing information about your criminal background. Some employers only ask about convictions within a certain time period, such as the last five years. Others only ask about felony convictions and not misdemeanors.

Research Employment Laws

Determine what information you must disclose and how employers can use this knowledge. Under federal law, they can legally ask about your criminal record, but they can’t deny you employment because of it without just cause. For example, if you were convicted of fraud or embezzlement they can legally deny you for a job working with money. Laws vary by state, however, with some prohibiting employers from inquiring about criminal records and others restricting the use of this information during the hiring process.

Be Honest

Even if you’d rather not discuss your criminal record, it’s important to be forthcoming with employers. Many conduct routine background checks and may turn you down for lying rather than for your criminal past. Demonstrate honesty and integrity by explaining the circumstances surrounding your arrest and conviction, including how long you were in jail and how long you’ve been out. Explain what charges you were convicted of and what they mean. For example, a felony conviction is more serious than a misdemeanor.

Focus on the Positive

Instead of dwelling on your conviction, emphasize what you learned from the experience, how it changed you and what you’re looking forward to now that you’re starting over. For example, tell employers that the incident inspired you to seek treatment for drug addiction and that you’ve been clean for two years. Or, discuss how you’ve since gone back to college and earned your degree. Tell employers you’re eager to turn your life around and that you appreciate them giving you the opportunity to explain your record and demonstrate what you have to offer as an employee.

About the Author

Ellie Williams has been a journalist since 2001. Her work has been recognized by her state's press association and by her local chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Williams graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts in mass communications and humanities, with minors in French and theater.

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