Tackling the question: Have you ever been convicted of a crime?

Last updated: April 12, 2024
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Eleana Bowman
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Tackling the question: Have you ever been convicted of a crime?
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Filling out a job application can be an anxiety-inducing experience, especially when you come across the question: "Have you ever been convicted of a crime?" It's a moment that can turn an ordinary process into an overwhelming challenge.

Rest assured. You're not alone in feeling this way. At Jobcase, we understand the anxiety, uncertainty, and frustration that can go with this question. We're here to support you. Remember, your past doesn't define your future.

In this guide, we’ll tackle this nerve-wracking question head-on. We’ll provide the tools to understand its significance, address it confidently, and navigate specific situations such as a DUI or a misdemeanor.

Let's get started.

Have you ever been convicted of a crime? What you need to know

The question, "Have you ever been convicted of a crime?" is common on job applications. It’s not a trap, though.

It serves as a tool for employers to protect their businesses. Employers aim to minimize risk by ensuring their hires won't jeopardize the business or its employees. For example, hiring someone with a theft conviction for a cashier position might be risky.

However, certain regulations guide using this question. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has set guidelines that encourage fair hiring practices and eliminate discrimination. These guidelines discourage employers from using a criminal record as an automatic disqualifier.

According to the EEOC, when an applicant has a criminal history, an employer must consider the nature of the crime, the time elapsed since the crime, and the nature of the job. So, an employer shouldn't reject you outright for having a criminal record.

The principles of the EEOC guidelines have influenced laws across various states. Some states have passed "ban-the-box" laws, prohibiting employers from asking about criminal history on initial job applications. The aim is to allow individuals with a criminal history to be evaluated for their qualifications first, without the stigma of a past crime.

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Remember, though, "ban-the-box" laws can differ from state to state. In some places, these laws apply to public employers only, while in others, they include private employers too. States have their regulations, too. You’ll want to check your state’s regulations before beginning the application process.

While employers have legitimate reasons to ask about criminal history, you also have legal protections through the EEOC guidelines to ensure fair treatment. By understanding these laws and guidelines, you'll be better equipped to handle this question in your job applications.

Understanding what you need to disclose and what you don't

Once you’ve checked your state’s regulations, you’re a little more prepared for the “Have you ever been convicted of a crime” question. However, let’s break disclosure down even further.

Misdemeanors vs. felonies

Knowing if your conviction was a misdemeanor or a felony is important. Misdemeanors, which could range from petty theft to public intoxication, are generally less severe. They involve smaller sentences and penalties. Felonies like murder or grand theft are serious crimes that lead to longer prison sentences.

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It might be obvious that a felony needs to be disclosed. But a common question is, “Do you have to disclose misdemeanors on job applications.” The answer is yes.

Misdemeanors appear as part of your criminal history. If an employer does a background check and finds an undisclosed misdemeanor, your chances of getting the job decrease — even if the misdemeanor is unrelated to the job or happened long ago. Misdemeanors stay on your record for life (unless you’ve had them expunged or sealed).

Is a DUI a criminal offense on job applications?

A DUI (driving under the influence) is usually classified as a misdemeanor and is indeed considered a criminal offense that needs to be disclosed. States differ in their terminology, but DWI (driving while intoxicated) and OUI (operating under the influence) are typically the same.

The impact of a DUI conviction varies based on the job role. For roles involving driving, such as delivery or truck driving, a DUI could indeed be a major factor. For non-driving roles, a DUI may not be viewed as significant.

However, it's important to note that some employers might interpret a DUI conviction as an example of risky behavior or poor decision-making, which could influence their perception of you.

Job-specific considerations when disclosing criminal history

Just like with DUIs, different jobs and industries have unique guidelines for disclosing criminal history. Jobs involving vulnerable populations, such as children or the elderly, might require full disclosure of any criminal history, regardless of the conviction’s nature.

Other industries are more open to hiring individuals with a criminal past. Construction, manufacturing, and service industries often provide opportunities for those with a criminal record. These industries often value skills and reliability over past missteps.

What you don’t need to disclose

There are some charges you don’t have to disclose. If your record has been expunged (the conviction legally removed from your record), you don’t have to disclose it.

Getting a misdemeanor expunged is more common than a felony. You can also apply for “nondisclosure,” which seals your record for public viewing. Law and government officials can view the conviction, but an employer can’t.

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Understanding what to disclose is crucial when applying for jobs. Remember, your criminal history is just one piece of the puzzle.

Adopting best practices for disclosing a criminal history

Presenting your criminal history in a positive light on a job application can feel challenging, though. The key is to focus on your personal growth and your skills.

Presenting your past positively

Begin by thinking of your job application, particularly your resume, as your personal story. It's an opportunity to show where you've been and where you're headed. Here are some strategies:

  • Highlight your growth: Your potential employer doesn’t need your whole story, but briefly highlight the steps you’ve taken to change. Highlight any educational or rehabilitation programs you attended that led to personal growth. Also, if you’ve volunteered since your release, add this to your application and resume.

  • Show your strengths: Provide examples of work-related skills and responsibilities. When you’re creating your resume, it’s helpful to use a functional resume rather than a chronological resume. Functional resumes put focus on your strengths and allow you to describe how your abilities match the job description.

  • Include references: List people who've seen your transformation and can vouch for your character. Consider any work training programs you’ve attended or volunteer work you’ve completed.

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Remember, your application or resume's goal is to get you an interview. Your interview provides you with the opportunity to give a full picture and address any concerns the employer might have.

Being transparent and proactive

Even if you’re not explicitly asked about your criminal history, proactively addressing it can be beneficial:

  • It allows you to control the narrative, explaining the circumstances of your past and showcasing what you've done since then.

  • This approach turns a potential negative into a testament to your character and resilience.

For example, if you were convicted of a felony five years ago but have since completed a vocational training program, held steady employment, and volunteered in your community, sharing this journey paints a picture of change and growth.

Disclosing your criminal record won’t be easy, but you have support along the way. Check out organizations such as Prison Fellowship to guide you through the application process. Jobcase also provides insights on where to apply to get hired after a conviction.

Remember to strike a balance between honesty about your past and demonstrating your present growth and future potential. The goal is to alleviate employers' concerns and help them see beyond your past to the person you are now.

Turning the page on your past

Answering the “Have you been convicted of a crime” question can be overwhelming. We get it. The fear, the uncertainty — they're not easy to shake off. But remember, you have the knowledge you need to get the job you want now.

Through this guide, you've cracked open that formidable question, learning its true meaning and your rights around it. You've explored specific cases like a DUI or a misdemeanor and converted a potential stumbling block into a stepping stone.

Ready to rise above the question and step into your future? Start your job search now with the help of Jobcase.



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