Worried your past arrest might interfere with your job search? Get familiar with what’s on your records — and how you can stay calm and get employed.
You’re an upstanding citizen now, but you haven’t always been. Everyone has a rebellious phase, and for nearly one-third of Americans, this means being arrested by the age of 23. What are the long-term career consequences of that bender in Mexico with your friends?
Any infraction, even one that’s not a felony, can count against you in your job search. Conducting a background check is a step any employer has to take in the hiring process — even if the hiring manager has a less-than-squeaky-clean past of his own.
Ideally, employers want a clean background, but honesty is the best policy. You still have rights, despite your criminal record, but getting caught in a bold-faced lie isn’t only unbearably awkward — it could cost you the job.
Bottom line: You’re better off having an upfront discussion to establish trust. (Click here to tweet this quote.)
While a criminal record can disqualify you from employment, if you address it proactively, you’ll improve your chances of being hired. The key is being aware of what records are involved in a background check and what your records show. Records can include:
1. Court and police records
You can pay $65 for a copy of your FBI rap sheet in any state. This shows times you interacted with the police in that state (provided you were entered in the system), regardless of whether or not you were convicted. While a rap sheet is worth your investment to check for errors, it’s not what employers look at.
Unless you need a security clearance, potential employers only look at convictions and pending charges. Check your court records against your rap sheet — charge by charge — and attempt to seal any underage or dismissed charges.
2. DMV records
If the position you’re applying for involves driving, your future employer may pull your DMV records. And even if you got the court record of a DUI sealed, for example, your suspended license reveals the truth. Request your DMV report to see what’s on your public record.
3. Credit reports
Although the practice is banned in nine states, 47 percent of companies still check job applicants’ credit reports.
As a consumer, you’re legally entitled to three free credit reports per year from each of the three major reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion). You also have the right to dispute errors or comment on negative hits to explain extenuating circumstances.
4. Employment history
Your employment history is tracked, and discrepancies are common. Many people forget what month and year they began and ended jobs, skip jobs or add extra. It’s an easy way to check an applicant’s honesty and attention to detail. Make your employment history accurate by visiting The Work Number.
5. Medical records
Depending on the job, medical records may be obtained. This is a controversial check, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t practiced. You’re entitled to view your medical records, so contact your healthcare provider to see whether it mentions the times you were admitted under the Baker Act.
6. Academic history
If you got in trouble in school, you may need to contact the academic institutions you list on your application to see what information they release.
The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 requires your school to let you access your educational records within 45 days of anyone requesting to view them. Ask to amend any inaccuracies.
7. Google and social media results
Sometimes, the most obvious background check is the one we pay the least attention to. Google yourself.
After you go through the trouble to request and correct the above records, it’d be a shame to find your mug shot in Google images. Check your social media privacy settings, and look into any unfavorable web content.
8. Stay calm and get employed
It’s natural to want to hide criminal activity, but you need to get in front of the situation. Bring it up at the start of your interview when employers ask you to talk about yourself or your history. Highlight two positives, then divulge the criminal history.
Here’s a template for that awkward moment:
“I took college courses in ____ and have ___ years of industry experience. I do want to bring to your attention that ___ years ago, I served __ years at a correctional facility. Here’s what I learned from it, how I changed my life, and how I’ll bring value to your company…”
Revealing your criminal history isn’t terribly enjoyable, but by speaking confidently and ending with how you can bring value to employers, you’ll get your message across before they have a chance to wonder about your past. If you do this, yesterday’s mistakes can become today’s strengths.
Catherine Hoke is the founder and CEO of Defy Ventures, a nonprofit that serves people with criminal histories nationally. Defy “transforms street hustle” by providing entrepreneurship training, executive mentoring, startup funding, career development, and job placement. To find out more about how Defy Ventures can help you or someone you love, click here.