How a criminal record affects your ability to get future employment depends a lot on what crime you've committed. There is a big difference in an hiring manager's eyes between someone who stole a £13 book 15 years ago and someone who recently robbed a federal savings bank. This does not mean that if you have serious crimes on your record that you are unemployable--it just means there will be some restrictions on who will extend employment opportunities.
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Every employer is permitted to conduct a background check of potential hires to find out if they've been arrested in the past 7 years and if they've ever been convicted of a crime. However, not all employers choose to do so. If the employer doesn't ask, you're not required to volunteer the information. Also, you don't need to disclose charges that were dismissed, crimes you were found not guilty of, minor traffic violations (this means speeding tickets, not involuntary manslaughter) or juvenile crimes if that record is sealed. If you're not sure what's on your record, request a copy from the Department of Justice before you apply for jobs (see Resources below).
Denial of Employment
All private employers are allowed to deny you a job simply because you have a criminal record. That is their right and something you will have to face. However, it's much better to be upfront about your record than to lie and let them find out when they do the background check. Not only will you be fired, but you'll then be ineligible for unemployment benefits, and in some cases lying about your record is a crime. Public employers in Wisconsin, Washington, Pennsylvania, New York, New Mexico, Minnesota, Louisiana, Kentucky, Kansas, Hawaii, Florida, Connecticut, Colorado or Arizona cannot deny you a job without examining the details of your conviction and how they relate to the work. Felony convictions, and misdemeanours that resulted in jail time, will most likely keep you from getting jobs that require security clearances, are related to law enforcement, involve working with children or need state licensing (bus driver, CPA, nurse, etc.). So it's best not to seek out these fields as your first choice.
What to Do
Honesty is the best policy. If you must disclose your criminal history, try to give it a positive spin. Explain what you learnt from the situation and how you're different now. Provide references that can prove to the employer that you are trustworthy and dependable. When you get that first offer, make it your goal to impress.
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