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How to Find Employment When You Have a Criminal Record

How to Find Employment When You Have a Criminal Record


By Kim Slaughter
Career Coach, APUS

Are you currently seeking employment and have a criminal record? You’re not alone. One in every three people in the United States has some type of criminal record, and many of these individuals remain unemployed one year after their release.

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People who have made mistakes deserve a second chance and have a right to work. Finding employment when you have a criminal record can be difficult, but it’s not impossible. In fact, state and federal laws protect job seekers and can help those with a criminal record to level the playing field.

If you’ve served time, you may have employment gaps on your resume or lack the experience needed for a specific position. Whether you’re a student or recent graduate, defining your career goals and planning for them is essential when you’re seeking employment.

To successfully plan for your career, you should understand your rights under state and federal law. In addition, you need to determine when and how to disclose your charges to employers and take additional steps to make yourself more marketable.

State and Federal Laws that Protect Job Seekers with a Criminal Record

State, city and county-issued laws discourage employers from discriminating against job seekers based on a criminal background. Currently, 36 U.S. states have adopted formal “Ban the Box” laws, which delays the time at which employers can ask about an applicant’s background. Under these laws, employers must extend a conditional job offer prior to asking about the job applicant’s background.

Some companies, such as Target, Home Depot, Facebook, and Google, have adopted similar policies and have pledged to help reduce barriers for ex-offenders seeking employment opportunities. There are even opportunities for employment with the U.S. military.

Under federal law, employers cannot use criminal history to discriminate against job applicants.  Similar to the Ban the Box laws, the Fair Chance Act prohibits both federal agencies and government contractors from inquiring about a job applicant’s background until a conditional job offer has been extended. Other federal programs that help ex-offenders include the Federal Bonding Program and the Work Opportunity Tax Credit, which help limit barriers for ex-offenders seeking employment.

Occupational Licensing Laws

Occupational licensing can be difficult to obtain with a criminal background. Currently, 17 U.S. states have laws in place that allow job applicants to contact licensing boards prior to enrolling in any type of training program. These laws ensure that applicants’ criminal records do not preclude them from obtaining a license.

There are 33 U.S. states that have enacted laws to help job applicants with criminal records work in fields that require a state license. In order to obtain a state license with a criminal record, you should understand the state laws associated with occupational licensing.

When and How to Disclose Your Criminal Record to Employers

Always review the language on the employment application carefully. Some state laws allow applicants to avoid disclosing convictions older than seven years. For those who must disclose their charges, knowing when to provide that information is key to a successful interview.

Once a conditional offer is extended, employers can request background information. Remember, you’ve already come this far in the interview process. Being honest will only demonstrate your moral integrity.

If you have proof of rehabilitation, share this with employers as well. Some states permit administrative certificates of rehabilitation or certificates of restoration as evidence for employment and/or licensing.

It is not necessary to share every detail of your background with an employer. Instead, at a minimum, you can share your arrest date, disposition date, crime or offense, sentencing, and proof of rehabilitation. Share enough to explain what your potential employer will find on the background report while focusing on the positive contributions you’ve made to turn your life around and explain what the experience taught you, which will demonstrate your potential positive impact in the workplace for the employer.

Additional Steps to Take Before Applying to a Job

Having a criminal conviction does not mean the end of your career, nor does it mean that you are forever barred from future employment opportunities. Understanding employment laws protects you during the application and interview process, but there are additional steps you can take to bolster your chances of landing a job.

First, you should understand your background report. It is critical to know the specific charges against you so you can explain them to a potential employer. Plus, it will demonstrate honesty and good character to your interviewer.

Second, identify your career goals. Be realistic when choosing a career path by determining whether your goals require additional education, skills, or experience. Then, do your research.

Tap into Other Resources to Make Yourself More Marketable

Having the education and experience for a position, as well as understanding your rights as a job seeker, helps you during your job search. But there are other resources you can tap to make yourself more marketable.

Volunteering is an excellent way to account for gaps in employment, gain experience, develop a network and demonstrate a strong work ethic. Volunteering also helps bolster community support and opens the door for mentoring. By seeking out individuals to build your network, you’ll gain credible references and may be able to tap into the hidden job network only available through making personal connections.

For additional assistance, check out our university Success Center, which has resources to help you build your resume, develop your network and identify career opportunities. Another great online resource is CareerOneStop, which offers free resources and tools, community support, and information for job seekers.

Seek University Support in Your Job Search

To aid your job search, consider reaching out to the Career Services Department. Career Coaches foster a safe, supportive environment for students to discuss employment goals and concerns. Coaches are also equipped to support your individual needs and offer assistance with resume building and interview preparation.

It’s easy to become overwhelmed with career planning, so consider partnering with a Career Coach. We can help you pinpoint possible careers, develop a plan and stay focused on your goals. Career planning is worth it, and so are you.

About the Author

Kim Slaughter has worked in the field of higher education for more than eight years. Kim currently works as a career coach for APUS. As a career coach, she assists students and alumni accomplish career goals through identifying career strengths and key educational experiences to demonstrate strong differentiation for the job market. Kim earned a M.A. in Psychology in 2020 from AMU and a MBA in 2011 from Shepherd University.



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