Jobs for felons and other criminal backgrounds: Tips for students and grads

Jobs for felons and other criminal backgrounds: Tips for students and grads was originally published on College Recruiter.


College graduation should be one of the most exciting days of your life, but it can seem like a nearly impossible task to find jobs for felons, or if you have any kind of criminal record. Don’t be discouraged. While a majority of employers perform background checks on potential hires, you can take steps to prevent previous mistakes from holding you back as you enter the job market.

Have your criminal record sealed or expunged

The first thing you should do is look into having the criminal record sealed or expunged.  Every state has its own laws specifying which offenses and which offenders are eligible to clear their record.  If you are eligible and are granted an expungement or sealing from the court, the law in most states will allow you to deny the existence of the arrest and/or conviction on a job application and in an interview.  Attorney Melissa Clark who operates recommends that before you start applying for jobs, it is a good idea to find out whether you are eligible for an expungement or criminal record sealing.  “The process can take six or seven months to complete in some states, like Florida, and it is best to get the process started as soon as possible,” said Clark.

Consider many fields of employment

Explore a diversity of fields

If a record sealing or expungement is not currently an option, you can also look for jobs in a field that is more likely to be forgiving of your record.  This can vary depending on the nature of your offense.  Attorney Mathew Higbee who operates says that some employers are concerned about legal liability that can be associated with hiring someone with a history of violent crime.    “Certain fields, such as those involving children, elderly or other vulnerable individuals, are very likely to deny employment if your offense involved any form of violence, threat of violence or resulted in harm to a victim that is part of a susceptible class,” said Higbee. As another example, positions that require handling money will be less likely to ignore a theft offense than other jobs that do not entrust money to someone in that particular position.

Carisa Miklusak, an entrepreneur, workforce strategist and speaker, sees restored citizens succeed in some fields more than other fields. According to Miklusak, those fields include logistics, manufacturing, graphic design, counseling, driving, painting, landscaping, cooking, tech and engineering, sales and marketing, and certain government jobs. “A number of companies are known to hire restored citizens,” she says. Some organizations she listed off include Xerox, Sprint, Manpower, PetSmart and Kohl’s.

Also read: Advantages and disadvantages of becoming an entrepreneur after college

If doors are shutting in your face, you may have to build your reputation by taking a job that may be a step or two away from your ideal.

Be honest about your past, but know your rights

Be honest about your criminal background if askedDo not lie about your criminal record on job applications or during an interview. Be honest and straightforward regarding your past.  Many employers will conduct a background check at some point in the hiring process; it is better to explain your conviction in the beginning than have to explain why you were not truthful later on after you have received a job offer.  You should emphasize what you have learned from the incident and what you have accomplished since. While you should be honest about your criminal history, make sure you focus on your accomplishments, such as participation in school activities, volunteer work and relevant work experience or training.

Miklusak says it’s important to include anything that will appear on your background check. “In fact, you should consider running your own background check so you know what an employer sees. It’s always better to proactively discuss your situation with an employer, rather then addressing it once they find from your background results.”

Miklusak advises job seekers to never offer any information that isn’t requested on the job application. “You are not required to disclose anything that is not on your formal criminal background. For example, if you were accused of a crime but then ultimately not charged, or falsely arrested and then cleared, you are not required to disclose this history. You are also not required to share details that are not asked of you directly.”

In some states, it is illegal to ask about your criminal background on the job application. Familiarize yourself with your state laws that regulate what employers can and cannot ask you during the hiring process. Select your state from the drop-down list here to find out:

If you are asked an illegal question, politely decline to answer, while driving the conversation back to your job skills. You may say something like, “I don’t believe I should be answering that, given state regulations against that sort of question. I’m more than happy to answer anything related to my experience and skills, however.”

Related: Tips for entry level job seekers to combat bias in hiring

Present yourself as the perfect applicant

A criminal record can be an additional barrier when trying to land your dream job, and therefore it is imperative to ensure you make use of everything available to make yourself stand out in a positive way from the applicant pool. This includes networking, perfecting your resume and cover letter, and gaining relevant training or experience.

It is also essential that your resume and cover letter is perfect.  While this is true for all candidates, it is especially important if you have a criminal record; you do not want to give potential employers another reason to toss your application aside.  You want to stand out as the most qualified applicant.  If you are currently unemployed, you may also consider accepting an unpaid internship or another position that will provide you with relevant training and experience to include on your resume. Ensure your resume is up-to-date and free of errors, and make sure the cover letter you submit is tailored for the specific job and company.

Related:  Latest rules for resume writing from expert career consultant

Make sure your likability is off the charts

Toni Newborn, J.D., is Diversity and Consulting Services Manager at the City of St. Paul. She thinks it is important to be very likable during the interview. Like all humans, recruiters and hiring managers are drawn to people who are friendly, positive and likable. She suggests “forming a relationship with the interview panel.”

Meet with colleagues to reduce bias

Likable does not mean happy-go-lucky or being a jokester who makes them laugh. “A candidate can be likable by being a little vulnerable and being open,” says Newborn. Try hard right away to find some level of commonality with your interviewers. People appreciate others “who are genuine and who do not present themselves as fake.  Try to be relatable to the interview panel.”

Related: Recruiting experts explain networking and personal branding, and where to start

Another trick you can use is to request to meet any team members who are not in the interview room. If they give you a tour, make sure you are smiling, friendly and ask good questions. Don’t linger to have a long conversation with each person you meet—they’re busy and you should respect their time. You can ask, however, what they like about their jobs, or how long they’ve worked there. If you go through the tour simply saying “Hi, nice to meet you,” you are instantly forgettable. You want the staff to like you. They may not be on the interview committee, but the hiring manager is definitely watching your behavior as you interact with them. If their staff are engaging with you in a positive way, your likability score goes up.

Networking is important for all jobseekers, but it will be even more beneficial when you have a blemish on your record that may otherwise keep you from getting your foot in the door. Check with your school to see if they have any scheduled networking events in your area.  Having someone within the company or the field that knows you and can speak to your qualifications will help counteract any negative effect a criminal record may have during the hiring process.

The original version of this article was authored by Jenna Thorne, an attorney licensed to practice law in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. She is a regular contributor to Article revised and updated by College Recruiter October 12, 2017.


By College Recruiter
College Recruiter believes that every student and recent grad deserves a great career.