How to get hired with a criminal record

Last updated: April 12, 2024
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Eleana Bowman
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How to get hired with a criminal record
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Your career influences your financial security, work-life balance, and ability to provide for your family and pursue your goals. Your resume, education, and work experience are the most important factors in finding a job, but other factors — like your criminal history — also play a role.

But your past doesn’t need to hold you back from pursuing a great career.

This article explores how to get a job if you have a criminal record. It covers everything you need to know about looking for, applying for, and landing the position you want.

How does a criminal record affect your chances of getting a job?

When you apply for a job, you’ll submit a resume that lists your work history and education. This information will be reviewed by the company. If they like what they see, they may contact you to conduct an interview.

At some point, either before or after the interview, the employer will likely ask to conduct a criminal background check. This will show them your criminal history, your record of arrests and/or criminal convictions, and potentially even your credit information and other details. About 90% of all Fortune 500 companies conduct background checks before hiring.

If you have a criminal history, your employer will be able to see that record when they conduct a background check — which could affect your chances of getting hired.

For some jobs — and some crimes — a criminal record can make it impossible to get a job. For instance, in the United States, someone with a violent felony on their record would likely never get a job in law enforcement.

On the other hand, that person might still be able to get hired at a restaurant. And someone with a misdemeanor could still potentially get hired in a law enforcement role, depending on the jurisdiction and the type of crime committed.

In most cases, it’ll depend on the severity of the crime, how long ago it occurred, and what type of job you’re applying for.

Why do employers conduct background checks?

Employers use background checks to reduce risks to their business. This is usually specific to the industry that the business is operating in, as well as the nature of the crime committed.

For instance, a bank would likely not want to hire someone with a history of armed robbery or financial fraud. However, they might be less concerned about hiring someone with a nonviolent crime on their record.

If an employer conducts a background check and sees that the applicant has a criminal record, they will likely consider the following:

  • The type and seriousness of the crime

  • How long it’s been since the crime was committed

  • Whether the crime is relevant to the job

Generally speaking, certain industries are harder to get hired in if you have a criminal record. For instance, childcare facilities and schools are very strict about criminal backgrounds due to their proximity to vulnerable groups (children).

In general, it’s more difficult to find a job if you have a violent criminal history than a nonviolent one. The graph below shows the types of criminal histories that employers are most willing to overlook.

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Misdemeanor charges, like vandalism, as well as drug-related charges and DUIs, are the most common charges employers are willing to look past.

How to get a job with a criminal record

Applicants who have a criminal record must follow many of the same steps as anyone else in getting a job. That starts with finding good jobs in your area that are a good fit for your qualifications, updating your resume, and applying for relevant positions.

Of course, there are some unique considerations that those with a criminal record should keep in mind. We’ll discuss some of them below.

8 tips for getting hired if you have a criminal record

The following tips will help you find, apply for, and (hopefully) get hired for the jobs you want — regardless of your criminal record:

  1. Be honest about your record

Most employers will conduct background checks, which means they will see the charges on your record. So if you lie about them, an automatic rejection of your application will likely result.

Instead, always answer honestly when asked about your criminal history. You may even want to include a reference in your cover letter explaining your past and how you’ve moved on (see the next tip for more details on that).

  1. Show how you’ve changed

Employers are looking for reliable, hard-working people to help their businesses succeed. A person’s past does not dictate their future — but it’s up to you to show employers how you’ve changed from your past actions.

This might come up during your interview. If you choose to discuss it in your cover letter, you can attach it to your job application ensuring you disclose it right from the start.

Be prepared to explain how you’ve changed, what your goals are today, and how the position you’re applying for could help you pursue your dreams. It’s completely okay to admit that you made mistakes in the past. The important thing for most employers is to understand what your future might look like and how you’re committed to being a productive and professional employee.

  1. Improve your resume

Your resume is your main ticket to employment, regardless of your criminal history. In fact, most employers won’t even do a background check until after they’re already considering hiring you. The first step is for them to review your resume and compare it to other applicants — so anything you can do to improve your resume can help.

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Your resume contains your past work experience, any volunteering you’ve done, and your educational background. You can improve any aspect of your resume, depending on what might need work. If you’re currently unemployed, now could be a good time to volunteer while you look for paid work (and add that volunteer experience to your resume). This could also potentially give you another professional reference.

  1. Learn new skills

Investing in skill development can help set you apart from other applicants. This could mean going back to school or obtaining professional certifications — but it doesn’t necessarily have to cost a lot of money.

Some folks choose to complete short-term courses, either in-person or online, to add to their resume and skill set. Others may simply learn new skills online for free by utilizing resources like YouTube. For instance, you could learn how to use Microsoft Office software (Excel, Word, etc.) proficiently by just watching YouTube videos.

Certifications and degree programs will usually carry more weight on your resume, but they’re not always necessary. If you can’t afford paid training, free educational resources can help you become a more attractive candidate.

  1. Get a recommendation (and professional references)

If you have a criminal record, including a personal touch on your applications can definitely be helpful.

Adding solid professional references to your resume is a great place to start. If possible, getting a personal recommendation from someone at a company you’ve worked for in the past can give you a huge leg-up over other candidates.

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When applying for a job if you have a criminal record, the quality of your references and recommendations can go a really long way.

  1. Know your rights

It’s important to know your rights when it comes to labor laws, discrimination, and the hiring process. We recommend researching your state’s labor laws to read up on the details since no two states are 100% alike. This is covered in more detail below.

  1. Find jobs or employers that are known to accept candidates with criminal histories

If you’re having trouble getting hired for the jobs you’re applying for, it might be helpful to focus on applying for positions that are widely known to be available to those with criminal records. One good example is jobs in the restaurant industry.

Our roundup of the best jobs for workers with a criminal record is a good place to start. And if you have a felony conviction on your record, see this list of companies that hire felons.

  1. Consider non-traditional employment

Traditional jobs usually require a background check, which will show your criminal history. But what about alternative employment?

For instance, if you’re working on a freelance or contract basis, you’re unlikely to encounter a situation where you’ll be asked about your criminal history.

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Freelance work-from-home jobs are a popular option here, as they allow you to set your own hours and earn money completing tasks. You could be a freelance graphic designer, writer, or virtual assistant, among dozens of other options.

You could also consider starting your own business. This would give you complete autonomy and the ability to set your own hours and rates — letting you ultimately shape your own future. And since you’ll be your own boss, there’s no need to worry about your past.

There are many labor protections in place designed to protect applicants from discrimination. For instance, applicants can’t legally be discriminated against based on their race, gender, or other protected characteristics.

However, according to the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, employers can consider criminal records when making final decisions about hiring.

That doesn’t mean that you’ll be discriminated against because of your criminal record. But it does mean that employers are legally allowed to consider your record when they decide who to hire.

With that said, some states have their own rules. This resource compares labor laws in all 50 states. It’s a good idea to dig into the details of rules in your home state to ensure you know your rights.

You can still find a great job if you have a criminal record

Remember, employers are looking for the right candidate for the role — which is more about your future than your past. A mark on your record shouldn’t deter you from applying to jobs and improving your candidacy as a whole. You may be exactly who someone is looking to hire.

When you commit to showing the distance you’ve put between yourself and what’s on your record, you can improve your odds of getting hired. And if you implement all the tips in this article, you’ll have a much better chance of finding the right job for you.

Whether you’re casually looking for work or simply exploring new opportunities, we’re here to support you. At Jobcase, we empower individuals on their journey from job seeker to employment.

For more resources, check out our Second Chances Employment Resource Hub today. And when you’re ready to start applying for jobs, head to the Jobcase Job Board to find your next career opportunity!

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