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Criminal records

Finding a Job with a Criminal Record

By August 12, 2016April 6th, 2022No Comments

Finding employment with a criminal conviction or arrest record hanging over your head may at first appear to be a daunting task, but it is entirely possible. The journey to find a job can be made much easier by studying your legal rights, your local laws, and keeping a few general tips in mind when on your search.

Do criminal records always show up on a background check?

First, know the current status of your record. An arrest or conviction will not always show up on a background check. For example, if the offense occurred while you were a minor, it is likely that record was sealed when you turned 18 to prevent future difficulties, such as trying to secure a job or gain admission to university.

Further, it is not rare for nonviolent drug offenders to be granted the opportunity for either a Deferred Prosecution Agreement (DPA) or Deferred Sentencing Agreement (DSA); these terms vary from state to state. DPAs and DSAs allow the offender the chance to walk away without a charge so long as he or she completes certain requirements set by the court, such as going to rehab or performing community service. This is normally for first time drug offenders without a prior criminal record. With this option, employers will not see the drug charge on a background check.

Moreover, if you were over 18 and did not receive an DPA, DSA, or equivalent, you could still have your record expunged depending on the nature of the charge, how much time has passed, and what you’ve accomplished since that incident.

How do you find the status of your criminal record?

You can find out the status of your record a few different ways. Many states have online databases available to the public to search for arrest records; this is the easiest way for employers to find a prior offense. You can use this database (and a quick Google search of your name) to see what information is available about your arrest online before potential employers do. Another more thorough (though more costly) path is to hire an investigator to look into your background and dig up whatever he or she can find. Both of these options give you notice of what personal information is readily available to others and time to prepare to respond to any questions regarding your background if you know what’s readily available to others.

Once you’re aware of your existing record, you may want to meet with an attorney to discuss the possibility of having that record expunged. Once a record has been expunged, you no longer need to indicate its existence on job applications asking if you have a record and it will not appear in background checks performed by employers. It’s important to note that even though your conviction record can be expunged, that doesn’t necessarily expunge an arrest record.

How do employers handle arrest and conviction records?

Even if your arrest record or conviction record is visible to employers, they may not treat you differently solely for having a record. Instead, they may discriminate based on the type of conviction itself. For example, someone with a conviction for robbery may justly be denied from working at a bank, or someone who is a sex offender may be denied from working at a school or community center. If an employer is going to deny you a job based on your record, their decision must be properly justified. Factors that employers may take into account when looking at a conviction record include the nature of the offense, the nature of the job that you’re applying for, and how much time has passed since the offense occurred.

Most importantly, honesty is crucial on your applications and to potential employers. Lying during the application process could mean bad news down the line, including losing your job all together. If your record is visible to employers, practice what you will say when asked about it. Do not try to justify your offense or claim it was unfair (even if it was). Instead, focus on how you have grown and changed as a person since then. Bring up personal and professional accomplishments that show your reliability, responsibility, and readiness to work and learn.

Finding a job with a record may take some time and extra effort but it will definitely pay off. Make sure to network with others in your field and don’t be afraid to start at a lower, or entry-level position. From there, you can show off your capability and work towards advancement.

These materials have been prepared by Cohen Seglias for informational purposes only and are not intended and should not be construed as legal advice.

Shan Wu

Author Shan Wu

Shan’s professional and personal background gives him a unique understanding of academic institutions and the criminal justice system. A former federal prosecutor in Washington, D.C., he is at home in D.C. Courts and very familiar with all of the Washington, D.C. law enforcement agencies, especially the Metropolitan Police Department. His parents were university professors so he grew up in a university environment. He understands the mindset of academic institutions. As a prosecutor, he supervised in the misdemeanor crime section. This is the section of the Washington, D.C. prosecutor’s office that handles most college student cases. His understanding of charging decisions and how judges view these cases is invaluable to his student clients and their families. Shan served as a federal prosecutor in the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia for over ten years. During his tenure there, now Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Jr. appointed him to supervisory positions in the Misdemeanor Trial Section and also in a police corruption task force. His outstanding legal work in the government was recognized through numerous Special Achievement Awards from the Justice Department as well as awards conveyed by law enforcement agencies and community groups. From 1999-2000, Shan served as Counsel to Attorney General Janet Reno, advising her on criminal and civil investigations, E-Gov, E-Commerce (electronic signatures, internet gambling, internet telephony, privacy & public access issues in electronic court filings), congressional oversight, and legislative review. His responsibilities included serving as liaison to the FBI, DEA, Criminal Division, Executive Office of United States Attorneys, National Institute of Justice, and White House Counsel’s Office. Shan serves on the D.C. Bar Association’s Hearing Committee of the Board on Professional Responsibility and is a past president of the Asian Pacific American Bar Association for the Greater Washington, D.C. area. He is a 1988 graduate of Georgetown University Law Center, where he graduated Order of the Barristers, edited two law reviews, and was Co-Director of the Moot Court Program. He holds a B.A. in English Literature from Vassar College as well as a Master’s Degree in Creative Writing from Sarah Lawrence College. Following law school, he clerked for the late Hon. Jerry Buchmeyer, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, and the late Eugene Wright, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. He is admitted to practice law in the District of Columbia and Connecticut.

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