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Whether it resulted from stealing a road sign as part of a fraternity prank or the aftermath of your confrontation with the guy cheating with your girlfriend, a misdemeanor on your record can leave longstanding consequences when you’re job hunting. After you complete your punishment, you need to address your criminal record if you want to compete in an already saturated and cut-throat job market.
Check Your Record
It’s a good idea to look up your criminal record online so you’ll know what potential employers completing a background check will find. Some employers might not check, but if you seek a job as a nurse’s aide, teacher, child-care worker or blackjack dealer, you’re extremely likely to undergo a background check. Most states have online databases with criminal docket information. In Pennsylvania, for instance, you can run your name through the Unified Judicial System and search each county to see whether you’re in the system.
If you’re in the system, you might be able to have your record expunged if you’ve completed all that the judge and probation officer have asked you to complete. If you enroll in a program for first-time offenders, such as accelerated rehabilitative disposition in Pennsylvania, your record is automatically cleared after you finish your punishment. This program is commonly offered to first-time drunken driving offenders. If you have your record expunged, some employers still can see your offenses if they demonstrate a “business necessity” for viewing them. And, if your crime has been publicized by the news media, you can request an update indicating your record has been cleared.
If you’re asked about your criminal record, don't lie. But don’t offer any more information than the employer seeks. For instance, if the job application asks whether you’ve been convicted of a felony and you only have a misdemeanor, you can indicate you have not. If the application asks whether you’ve committed a misdemeanor, you can indicate you have but that you can offer context during a job interview. Employers are often scared away by a criminal record because they don’t want to be held liable for the consequences of an irresponsible employee. Lying about your record only reinforces the belief that your actions will result in negative consequences for the company who hires you.
Express Regret, Move On
If you’re fortunate enough to make it to the job interview phase, you should be prepared to express remorse. No matter how justified you may think your behavior was that resulted in your conviction, the employer will need you to demonstrate that you accept responsibility for what you did and that you’ve learned from it. Lindsey Novak, an employment columnist with the Sarasota, Florida, Herald-Tribune recommends bypassing all medium- to large-size companies and targeting small ones, perhaps ones offering part-time work. Pour your soul out to the hiring manager, accept what work you can get and start building a resume and showing employers your misdemeanor is a part of your distant past.
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Rudy Miller has been writing professionally since 1996. Miller is a digital team leader for lehighvalleylive.com, a local news website and content provider to the Express-Times newspaper in Easton, Pa. Miller holds a Master of Arts in English from the University of Miami.