Job Search and Networking: Applying for a Job with a Criminal Record

Lesson 10: Applying for a Job with a Criminal Record


Applying for a job with a criminal record

A job applicant writing out why they were convicted of a criminal offense.

Applying for jobs when you have a criminal record can often be a frustrating experience. In this lesson, we’ll go over how to navigate the application process and overcome some of the more difficult aspects. 

Watch the video below to learn some useful strategies for making the best of the application process.

Tell the truth about your criminal record

When applying to jobs, it’s important that you tell the truth about your criminal record. If you lie about it, you'll endanger your chances of getting the job.

Imagine that you don’t include your record on an application and they offer you the job. After you accept, they'll run a background check and discover your convictions. Odds are that they’ll take back their offer after learning you were dishonest with them. It’s always best to be upfront about your record, even if it seems like it might lower your chances.  

An employer refusing the handshake of a job applicant.

Introducing yourself in person

One method of applying for a job is introducing yourself to the employer directly. This is really only possible with smaller businesses where it’s easier to get in touch with managers or owners, but it does have a number of benefits. By talking with them face-to-face, they can get a better idea of who you are as a person, rather than going off of your application. You also have more leverage in how you bring up and discuss your record, giving you an opportunity to better explain things.   

A job seeker explaining her criminal history to an employer.

Dealing with applications

With larger businesses, introducing yourself in person isn’t always an option, and some employers may even find it annoying. In these cases, you need to fill out a written or online application instead. Depending on where you live, the application may feature a question asking if you’ve ever been convicted. Sometimes this is referred to as "the box." It’s usually followed by a section asking you to list your charges and the dates they occurred.

In recent years, a campaign called Ban the Box has emerged, with the goal of making it illegal to include the box on applications. Certain states, like Connecticut, Illinois, and Hawaii have already outlawed the box, with many other states and counties following in their footsteps. You’ll want to research to see if your state or county has adopted this law. 

If the application asks about your record, it’s crucial that you read the question carefully and take note of the specific information they want. For example, they might ask if you have any felony convictions. However, if you only have a misdemeanor, you'd answer with "no." You don’t want to include any unnecessary information that might hurt your chances of getting an interview

A monitor that reads "Have you ever been convicted of a felony?", along with a person clicking no.

Regardless of how you go about applying for a job, we hope these steps will help you to land an interview.