Disclosing Criminal Records on a Job Application

Finding a job or internship can be difficult for anyone, but it can also be very challenging for individuals with criminal backgrounds. While discussing such a history in an interview can be difficult, it can also be intimidating to address it on the job application itself. Individuals who have previous arrests, convictions, or may have even served jail time, may find themselves feeling as though they have a few strikes against them before even being offered a chance to provide an explanation. Here are some things to keep in mind if you find yourself sharing these same concerns.

Read the Application Carefully

Employment applications are not uniform. Most applications you complete will be very different from one another but in some cases, you may see similar questions just asked in different ways. When answering questions that inquire about past criminal records pay attention to the information they are asking for. Some applications may only ask you to disclose previous or pending convictions, while others may ask you to identify any and all arrests. Some may ask you to disclose all felony and misdemeanor charges that have ever been brought against you, while others may only ask about a felony. Since not all arrests result in convictions, you may want to pay close attention to the way the question is worded to ensure you are checking the correct box.

Know Your Rights

Many states now prohibit employers from asking salary-related questions during the application process to help establish equal pay guidelines. Similarly, some states do not allow employers to ask questions related to criminal history at the time of application to help establish fair and equal hiring standards.  If you are concerned about criminal activity that might impact your employment eligibility, it may be helpful to familiarize yourself with the employment laws of the state(s) in which you are applying. While these laws do not guarantee employment, they do prohibit employers from asking questions about criminal backgrounds until after a formal offer has been extended; thus helping to reduce discrimination in the hiring process. It’s important to remember that acceptance of an offer does not guarantee employment as most offers are usually contingent upon the successful completion of a background investigation.

Be Honest

In some cases, discussions around a criminal history may be unavoidable. If you find yourself in this situation the best course of action may be to tell the truth. Don’t try to hide your history, and do not try to deflect the occurrence to someone or something else. Consider speaking honestly about what occurred (providing only the relevant, necessary, details) but then immediately shift the focus to what you learned from the situation. Being honest will help show the employer you have integrity and take responsibility for your actions. Demonstrating what you learned will not only show how you have grown personally and professionally but it will also allow you to shift the conversation away from the topic on a positive note.

The job search process is different for every job seeker, and while the Center for Career Development can offer guidance and suggestions to the best of our professional abilities, it is important to note that we are not legal professionals. For those job seekers concerned about disclosing legal-related matters on an application, it is always recommended you consult with an attorney or other legal representative for guidance on answering questions accurately and honestly.

Photo by Sora Shimazaki from Pexels

By Kristen Soprano
Kristen Soprano Career Consultant Kristen Soprano