Job Advice: What to Do If You Have a Criminal Record in Your Past?

by Lisa Swan

Recently, a Wells Fargo customer service representative was fired after a background check, because the bank discovered that she had had two shoplifting convictions from 40 years ago. By all accounts, the longtime employee had done a good job for the bank, and had been trustworthy. Yet because she had had a criminal record, she lost her job. The bank explained that they had no choice; federal banking laws prevent them from employing someone with such a conviction.

If you happen to have a criminal record, does that mean something like this could happen to you? And what should you do? It generally depends upon your individual situation, like what crime you were convicted of, how long ago it happened, whether it was a misdemeanor or a felony, and whether you served time in prison.

EEOC has guidelines

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission recently released guidelines on the issue, saying when employers can take criminal history into account. Employers are requested to consider the nature and seriousness of the offense, the time that has elapsed since the offense took place, and the type of job the person is being considered for.

More than ever, it is critically important that you tell the truth on your job application when asked if you were ever convicted of a crime. In some cases, you may be asked if you were ever arrested; even if the case had been dropped, or you were found to be innocent, you still have to answer that question in the affirmative.  Yes, revealing such information may potentially cost you a chance at the job, but so will not telling the truth on this issue.  If you can explain what happened, the disposition, how long ago it was, and other extenuating circumstances, employers may still want to hire you.

The past still matters

What you have done in the past could catch up with you. Nowadays, not only are background checks more prevalent, but they can occur not just before hiring. Companies may now do background checks on you even if you have worked at your position for years, as that bank employee discovered.

Granted, your record could keep you from certain job opportunities. You are most likely not going to get a bank job if you had a crime on your record involving theft, but you could potentially get another job in another industry. Also, if you had some sort of sexual offense, you may be barred from a job where children are present. It depends upon your individual situation.

Depending on what you did, how big a crime it was, and how long ago it happened, an employer may or may not want to hire you for the job. However, they may take your honesty into account. Some employers have said that while they can deal with imperfect staff, they do not want to have to deal with employees who do not tell the truth. Therefore, when asked, it is best to tell the employer what happened, and let the chips fall where they may. The last thing you want is this hanging over your head.

Tell the truth

Even if your employer does not do a background check, it is best to tell the truth if you are asked. Imagine if somebody were to rat you out to your employer? Sadly, such things have indeed happened. How would you handle it? You could end up losing your job for not telling the truth.

There is a reason that the cliché “honesty is the best policy” is frequently quoted. It is best to tell the truth to your employer when asked, instead of losing the opportunity to do so in the future. It gives you a fighting chance of getting and keeping your job.

This post was written by Lisa Swan

Lisa Swan writes for the Institute for Coaching, a premiere life and executive coaching company.

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