Can You Get a Job With a Criminal Record?
Updated March 3, 2023
Many people who have been in trouble with law enforcement at some point in their lives want to put that experience behind them and contribute to society through gainful employment. Having a criminal record, however, can often seem like a barrier to getting a job, especially since many companies perform background checks on candidates.
In this article, we explore how you can get a job even with a criminal record, the kinds of jobs you could look for and how to prepare for questions about your past.
Can you get a job with a criminal record?
Many employers are willing to hire people who have a criminal record. Whether it makes a difference can depend on the reason you have a criminal record and the type of job for which you are applying. You may be more likely to find work doing something unrelated to your prior conviction. For example, if you were convicted of embezzlement, you may be more likely to find work as a mobile app developer than an accountant.
Laws and regulations vary by state. In some states, there are restrictions on how far an employer can go with a background check. "Ban the box" laws in various regions restrict employment applications from asking if you have a criminal record. Some places don't allow employers to ask about arrests that did not lead to a conviction. Other regulations may prohibit employers from looking at any criminal activity that is more than five years old or considering certain types of convictions.
How to prepare for a background check
According to the Clean Slate Initiative, nine out of ten employers do background checks. Here are some ways you can prepare for that background check if you have a criminal record:
Check your criminal record. Be sure you know what's on your record and check for errors.
Get your criminal record expunged, if possible. Depending on the laws in your state, you may be able to have certain records expunged. This means they may not appear on a background check.
Prepare a response. You may be directly asked about your criminal record in an interview or after a conditional offer has been made. Make sure you’re prepared to discuss it. Depending on the nature of the record, you may want to talk about how you have grown and changed since the incidents occurred. Maybe you learned important life lessons as a result.
Where can I work with a criminal record?
There are many places you can find work even with a criminal record. Many “fair chance” laws and policies require employers to delay background checks until conditional offers are made, and if they do conduct a background check, to assess any criminal record in light of its relevance to the job and other factors, like the time that has passed since the incident. Some employers may not perform background checks at all. Here are some job types you might consider:
If you have programming skills, especially with mobile apps or web design and development, you might find success getting work in an IT department or a technology company. Some large companies will perform background checks on prospective hires, but smaller technology businesses may forego the background check. This is because there is a demand for quality developers which means they are more likely to focus on your resume than your criminal record.
Construction companies are always looking for skilled workers, whether carpenters, electricians, plumbers or roofers. These are skills you can learn or may already have that can earn you a good wage depending on your skill level. You can increase your chances of being hired by taking courses to develop your skills or by applying for certifications or licenses. Be aware that if you pursue a journeyman license, some states require a background check. However, this has not prevented people with a criminal record from finding work in construction.
If you have a clean driving record and a valid driver's license or commercial driver's license (CDL), you may be able to find work delivering packages, furniture or other products. If you don’t have a clean driving record, there are legal services available to help you regain a suspended license. Both local delivery services and long-haul trucking businesses are always looking for good drivers such that they will often forego background checks to hire quality job applicants. If you don't already have a CDL, the required training and tests only take a few months to complete.
Various manufacturing industries seem willing to hire people with criminal records. These jobs tend to be on production lines, or they are related to packing or operating equipment. With some additional training, you could earn more money as a repair technician installing and fixing machines on the factory floor.
Restaurants, cafeterias and small diners are often places that will take on new employees without requiring a background check. Large chain restaurants and fast food establishments may have more strict requirements, but it's worth applying. Many people have been able to find work as a line or prep cook despite their criminal records. With experience and training, you may even be able to make a career as a head cook or chef.
If you already have marketable skills or are willing to get the training necessary to gain those skills, you might think about self-employment. Managing your own business can be hard work, but there are many rewards. You don't have to conduct a background check, you can schedule your own hours and, depending on the type of business, you could earn an above-average salary. Job types to consider include application development, computer repair, car maintenance and landscaping.
Again, there are many employers open to hiring people with criminal records. The best job for you depends on your qualifications and interests.
Tips for getting a job with a criminal record
Understand the regulations. Be aware of state or local legislation that might make it illegal for an employer to reject your application solely because you have a criminal record. Finally, make sure you understand when you have the right to explain your record after a background check.
Look for employers open to hiring people with criminal records. Look for companies or jobs that include “fair chance,” “second chance” or “open hiring.” You can find fair chance jobs by adding “fair chance” to the What box on Indeed’s search page. You’ll also see a “fair chance” label on job descriptions. (This label is based on information in job descriptions and not confirmed by employers.)
Do volunteer work. Volunteer work can be a good way to gain valuable experience that you can put on your resume and talk about in interviews. Taking time to help others through local non-profit organizations also demonstrates your desire to contribute positively to the community.
Get training. If you don't have all the skills you need for the job you want, or you want to improve your chances of getting that job, consider investing in training. Not only can training prepare you for work, but it can also make you more attractive as a candidate.
Gather references. Make a list of people prepared to give you positive character references. This can help a potential employer feel confident that you are both trustworthy and able to do the job. Good references include former employers, managers of places where you have volunteered, former teachers with whom you are still in contact and religious or community leaders who can vouch for your character.
Make use of inside connections. If you know people who work for the hiring company, they might be able to advocate on your behalf. Find out if one or more of them would be willing to write a letter of recommendation to the hiring manager.
Steer the conversation to the positive. If you have a criminal record, your past offenses may come up in the interview, unless local laws prohibit the interviewer from asking about them. Before you go to the interview, think about ways you can steer the conversation from talking about your past to the positive things you have learned.
Be truthful. If the company has performed a background check it is best to be honest about it.
Be willing to start over. Depending on your circumstances, you may have to rebuild your resume to show employers you are willing and able to work and reliable. This might mean having to take jobs for which you are overqualified. Your willingness to do this can signal to employers your commitment.
Contact organizations for help. There are non-profit organizations that work with people who have criminal records and are trying to secure employment. They understand the law and the hurdles you face and can help you navigate the job market to find employers willing to hire people regardless of their past.
Explore more articles
- 19 Careers in Education Management (With Duties and Salaries)
- 15 Popular Careers With Horses
- What Do Oil Field Nurses Do?
- How to Get Your First Job in 8 Steps
- How To Figure Out What You Want To Do (With Steps and Tips)
- 16 Rewarding Jobs for Psychologists in a Hospital Setting
- How To Become a Journeyman Plumber (With Steps and Tips)
- Myers-Briggs Indicator: 16 Personality Types in the Workplace
- How To Become an Ambulance Driver in 8 Steps (With Skills)
- Exciting Job Options for People Who Love To Create
- 22 ICT Jobs To Consider Pursuing (Plus Salary Information)
- What Is Level 3 Support? Definition and Examples