We often receive questions from local job seekers, either online or at Job Fairs or other events that WNYJOBS sponsors. Surprisingly, one of the questions we are asked the most is how someone with a criminal record can obtain the job they are seeking.
If you have found yourself in this situation, the good news is that legislation around background checking has changed significantly over the last 10-15 years. The government, in its desire to reemploy those with criminal records, has made it much more difficult for employers to factor this information into their hiring decisions. In general, employers must be able to make a direct link between your criminal record and the position you are seeking. For example, an employer may be able to consider a candidate’s fraud conviction in relation to a position handling company funds.
If you are a job seeker with a criminal record, there are some items for you to consider prior to becoming a candidate. This is, of course, a very sensitive topic and you really need to pursue the strategic path that you are most comfortable with. Let’s then look at some of the common decision points facing virtually anyone with a criminal record.
• Know Your Record: I have regularly been amazed in my career by individuals who are unaware of what exactly is on their criminal record. Many times, they have thought that there were items that would not appear (perhaps enough time has passed where the conviction will not show) or thought they were convicted of a higher-level charge.
• Correct Any Issues: As stated above, don’t assume your record is correct and don’t wait until after a job offer has been withdrawn to address any mistakes. You may even be able to have certain records expunged, so that they don’t appear on a background check.
• Avoid Oversharing: While I appreciate the desire for candidates to be upfront and honest with prospective employers, it is not in your best interest of finding employment to voluntarily share your record. You should consider allowing the process to work its way through and the company will, in conjunction with an employment attorney, decide whether your record can legally prohibit you from being hired for the sought role.
• Know What You Can Be Asked: I won’t go into specific details on this area because the law is constantly changing and evolving, but research what can legally be asked (either in an application or interview). Avoid providing information that you don’t legally need to share simply because you have been asked.
• Prepare Your Response: While it is probably not in your best interest to do so, you may feel the need to explain your criminal record. If this is so, then consider preparing your response in advance, so that you can most concisely communicate what occurred. Most importantly would be your response since the conviction and what you learned from the experience. This may, in particular, be a useful strategy if the conviction occurred early in your adult life.
• Focus On Where You Have The Best Opportunity: As noted earlier, you may want to avoid a situation where you are seeking a position that is directly linked to your criminal record. Not every company will do a background check. In particular, smaller organizations are less likely to conduct formal background checks than a larger company with an established Recruiting or Human Resources Department. Look for companies that will even advertise that they are open to the re-employment of those in your situation. There can even be tax credits available to employers as an incentive to employ those with criminal records.
• Build Your Resume: Due to your conviction, you may have a gap or other concern in your resume. You can attempt to offset this by adding some resume-builders, such as volunteer efforts or training completed.
• Gather Strong References: Another option you have to strengthen your candidacy is the compilation of a strong list of references. Try to include individuals such as former Managers and the recipients of your volunteer efforts.
It can be a difficult challenge for someone with a criminal record to land the job they want. The good news is that current legislation makes it easier for someone to find employment and become a productive, law-abiding member of society. It also helps if the job seeker considers some of the tips above and takes a savvy approach to finding their new job.
As always, the best of luck in your job search.
The following has been prepared for the general information of WNYJobs readers. It is not meant to provide advice with respect to any specific legal or policy matter and should not be acted upon without verification by the reader.
Joe Stein WNY Human Resources Professional
Feel free to contact Joe Stein regarding questions or comments at: Joe Stein