Career Advice

5 Strategies for Applying to Jobs with a Criminal Record

Job hunting is challenging enough without a criminal record. 25-33% of Americans have arrest or conviction histories, according to estimates. No matter how small yours may be, businesses could shy away from offering you employment. Use these strategies to up your game if you are searching for a job with a rap sheet.


  • Connect the Old-Fashioned Way
  • Your Application: Be Honest and Read Carefully
  • Showcase and Reach Out
  • Address your Convictions
  • Keep an Open Mind and Remain Flexible


Connect the Old-Fashioned Way

Depending on your age, you may not remember what applying to jobs before the digital age looked like. Use your personal resources and connections to network yourself into potential employment. You can ask a friend or family member to advocate for you if they’re hiring or know someone who is and ask them to write a letter of recommendation.

Follow up on any job leads by meeting an employer in person. This may only be practicable in smaller organizations, where managers or owners are more accessible. However, instead of relying just on your application, they may get a better sense of whom you are by speaking face to face. You also have greater leverage while discussing your record, allowing you a chance to clarify things.

After applying or getting interviewed, follow up with potential employers. Send thank-you notes to your interviewers and reiterate your interest in working with them.


Your Application: Be Honest and Read Carefully

Lying on your application about the existence of your record is a bad idea; a background check will usually be performed after you apply, and if they discover you lied to them, they’re likely to withdraw their offer. Additionally, you can be terminated for lying after you’ve already been employed. Even though it could weaken your odds, it’s always wise to be honest about your record.

It is essential that you read your record question carefully on your application and make a note of the specific information that is requested. Be aware of your rights; there are various situations where you are not required to provide a potential employer with information on your background. Misdemeanor charges, the number of years following a conviction, and others are examples of such circumstances.

“Ban the box” legislation prohibits public sector employers from asking applicants about criminal arrests or convictions, a practice that has been outlawed in many states and municipalities. Private employers are also subject to this prohibition in some areas.


Showcase and Reach Out

LinkedIn and Twitter are great places to establish a professional presence. Get involved with a trade association in the field you’re interested in entering by joining as a member. Attend industry gatherings and meet new individuals.

Consider a nonprofit organization or temp agency that helps offenders land a job. People with criminal histories might benefit from the services of several local organizations.


Address your Convictions

You can request to seal or expunge an offense from your record by asking your lawyer, public defender, or parole/probation officer. If successful, you can lawfully deny any convictions.

Commercial background check reports are often incorrect. Check your record before employers see it so you can request corrections if needed.


Keep an Open Mind and Remain Flexible

A gap in your career (due to incarceration) may be problematic, so you may need to take smaller or entry-level employment opportunities. It’s critical to consider the specifics of your conviction/s. Certain offenses will make you ineligible for certain kinds of jobs, such as banking, insurance, or customer service.

Look at occupations that do not require a background check or in industries willing to work with individuals with a previous record, such as the construction industry, culinary work, or freelancing work such as computer art and design or technology.

Companies are constantly on the lookout for employees that are honest and hardworking. The sooner you can showcase these skills in your job hunt, the more likely you are to land a position.