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Nearly everyone has some things in their past that they regret. If you have been arrested in the past, it can make finding a job difficult. Depending on the type of offense you were arrested for, whether you were convicted, as well as the laws in your state, you may have to disclose this information when you apply for a job. In some cases, you may feel bound to discuss the information during the interview.
When to Disclose
If you were arrested, but not convicted of the crime, you may or may not be obligated to disclose that information. In some states, such as California, Michigan, Illinois, Massachusetts, Hawaii, New York, Ohio, Rhode Island, Utah and Wisconsin, it is illegal for an employer to ask about an arrest record. If you live in one of these states, you do not have to bring up or discuss your arrest record, even if you are asked. However, all of the other states allow employers to ask, and some employers have a policy of terminating employees who provide false information on their applications or during their interviews. If you live in a state where asking about the arrest record is legal, the best strategy is to either bring it up yourself or to admit your record if you are asked.
Bringing it Up
In some cases, such as if you are applying for a position and the employer asks for a background check, you may wish to bring up your arrest record during the interview. There are a few ways to do this. Some candidates wait until the end of the interview and then address it directly by telling the interviewer that they have a small matter that they would like to discuss. Other candidates wait until it comes up naturally, such as when the interviewer asks a question about how they have dealt with a difficult situation in their past.
Explaining the Situation
Once you have brought up your arrest record, you may wish to discuss the situation in detail. However, some experts, such as Kate Lorenz, writer for AOL Jobs, recommend that you only answer what the employer asks. Volunteering more information can hurt you, especially if the arrest or conviction was very serious or damaging to your credibility, like an arrest for embezzlement or another crime that occurred on the job. Provide only the detail that is necessary.
Reassuring the Employer
If you can, reassure the employer that you have reformed. For example, if the arrest was for the possession of drugs, it is usually sufficient just to state that you had a problem with drugs in the past but that the arrest was three years ago and you have gone through rehab and have been clean since the arrest. You can also discuss how you used your time in jail constructively, such as if you got your GED or earned a certification while you were incarcerated.
Natalie Smith is a technical writing professor specializing in medical writing localization and food writing. Her work has been published in technical journals, on several prominent cooking and nutrition websites, as well as books and conference proceedings. Smith has won two international research awards for her scholarship in intercultural medical writing, and holds a PhD in technical communication and rhetoric.