How to Gain Employment with a Criminal Record

Man in suit and handcuffs

Finding a stable job in today’s economy can be as taxing as the job itself. If you have any kind of criminal record, however, the task is significantly more challenging. Modern databases have simplified employers’ abilities to perform criminal background checks, and this stage disqualifies a large amount of eager and well-to-do potential employees.

Even though states are starting to pass ban-the-box laws, which are meant to prevent employers from rejecting applicants because of their criminal pasts by prohibiting them from asking the question, it’s still not illegal for employers to run a criminal background check. Ban-the-box laws are only meant to prevent employers from blackballing an application based on their criminal history – they’re still able to run a background check after the first or second interview with an applicant’s permission.

Before employers run a background check – which could include a credit, criminal and employment report, depending on your state and the database service the employer uses – they must inform you in writing and receive your written authorization.

Part of the problem with standardized screening is that severe offenses are often cataloged alongside minor crimes, and employers are not always willing to give applicants with prior convictions a fair opportunity for employment. While there are many jobs where you can work with a criminal record, there’s an equally staggering number of jobs that have been deemed unsuitable for those with felony convictions.

In spite of these setbacks, however, there are proven paths and resources to help you gain employment with a criminal record. Some of these measures involve simply understanding the laws governing your employment, but others revolve around utilizing your talents and skills to market yourself.

One of the most important steps in this process is becoming familiar with the legislature and enforcement that has shaped the world of post-conviction employment.

For example, an arrest without a conviction that is older than 7 years old won’t show up on your public record, however a non-conviction arrest that occurred within 7 years of your arrest will be available on your record. Furthermore, depending on the severity of the crime that was committed, the age when you committed the crime and the amount of time that’s elapsed since the incident, you may have the ability to have your criminal records sealed which will give you the ability to not have to disclose your criminal record when applying to jobs.

It’s also important to familiarize yourself with the laws that pertain to finding a job with a criminal record as some professions are barred based on specific offenses, such as teaching or daycare work for those with convictions related to child abuse or misconduct. Other jobs, such as those related to law enforcement or federal positions, typically have an automatic rejection policy for those with felony convictions.

Other positions, still, are open to those with felony or misdemeanor convictions, provided the proper channels are used. When applying for a job, be sure to disclose the entirety of your criminal record. Although it may be uncomfortable or seem counterproductive, being honest and frank about your past will prevent future misunderstandings and potential terminations. In fact, failing to disclose details of your criminal record is just as serious as falsifying educational information.

On a related note, pursuing higher education is one of the best ways to improve your odds of finding work, and also distancing yourself from a criminal record’s impact. You should seek out a degree outside of the previously-listed “banned” fields, and perhaps look into engineering, computer science, or vocational training.

You may also be able to receive assistance in finding and applying for job positions that don’t require a squeaky-clean record even if you’ve been released from jail for years. You should speak with your probation or parole officer to find a local group that can help you or look online by checking out the National Institute of Corrections (

Another path to employment involves circumventing the hiring process entirely, and striking out to create your own business or commercial enterprise. Some fields, such as freelance graphic design or writing, allow you to work on your own and operate under an employee identification number (EIN). Although there is more risk involved in beginning your own operations in a brick-and-mortar setting, and some local legislature may require you to seek out permits for your particular venture, there are always significant economic resources at the disposal of new business owners. Many of these grants are actually offered at the state or federal level, and you can take advantage of them for educational development or business growth.

No matter which field you decide to enter for employment, your best options for finding work include openness, an approachable attitude, and knowledge of the resources at your disposal. Adhere to these tips, and you’ll find work in no time.



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