With an increasing number of employers conducting routine background checks on applicants, it’s unlikely you can conceal a criminal record when job hunting. Even if you have charges pending and haven’t been convicted, employers might discover and use this information. Your best course is to own up to your record instead of ignore it. Be prepared to explain the circumstances leading to your arrest and offer compelling evidence that you’re a trustworthy employee.
Understand the Law
A pending charge is different from a conviction, so it’s important to know what’s on your record and how employers might see it. A conviction refers to when a person pleads guilty to a crime or is found guilty in court. An arrest pending trial means someone has been arrested for a crime but hasn't gone to court. While some states prohibit employers from using arrest history when making hiring decisions, they usually allow them to ask if you have been arrested pending trial. In many states employers can also consider pending charges when deciding whether to hire you.
Say What You Must
Typically, it’s better to disclose a criminal history before the employer uncovers it during a background check. In fact, some employers say they’re more likely to hire a person who reveals this information upfront. However, when completing an application you probably don’t need to list arrests that didn’t lead to convictions, including those pending. If an employer asks if you have any charges pending, be honest, even if you think there’s a good chance the case won’t result in a conviction. If the employer hires you and discovers you lied, he might fire you even if the charges were eventually dropped.
Explain It Clearly
If you attempt to downplay your arrest, employers might feel you’re not being forthcoming or that you’re trying to hide the severity of the offense. Tell the employer in plain, clear language what you were arrested for without using technical terms or legal jargon. Be as succinct as possible, but do answer the employer’s questions and clarify anything he doesn’t understand. Then shift to why you’re excited about the job and what you have to offer. Focus on what you bring to the table instead of on your legal challenges.
While some employers are open to hiring people with a criminal record, many will need substantial proof that hiring you isn’t a risk. Recruit friends, colleagues and associates to serve as character references. Although employers typically want business references, offering people who will vouch for your character can help you minimize some of the stigma associated with having a criminal history. Also, consult organizations that specialize in helping people with a record find jobs and form valuable alliances through networking. You’ll benefit from advice and personal connections that can open doors that might otherwise remain closed because of your record.