How to Discuss a Criminal Background with Employers

There are many challenges people can face in finding employment (education, health issues and lack of transportation to name a few), but having a criminal record is one of the most significant.

Criminal background checks are a standard part of most hiring processes. Even if you’re not required to notify an employer during the application and interview stages, chances are high that a background check will take place if you’re offered employment. The best thing you can do is be prepared to discuss your criminal history and familiarize yourself with the state laws associated with hiring persons with criminal records. Here are some universal best practices about how to best communicate your criminal history.

  1. Know your criminal history. You can access records for federal offenses directly from To access state-specific records, visit the government website for your state from this list. You can also visit to access state-specific information on laws and services like expunction or sealing criminal records.
  2. Answer the question asked. Questions regarding your criminal background may vary by state and employer. Be sure to answer the question asked specifically—for example, some applications may only ask for information pertaining to “convictions” or within a specific timeframe, such as the past seven years. In those cases, you wouldn’t be required to mention an arrest that didn’t lead to a conviction or any offenses that took place more than seven years ago.
  3. Be honest. The last thing you want to do is lie about your criminal record; if found out, you run the risk of being refused employment or being terminated once the employer knows the truth.
  4. Focus on the positive. Since your conviction, you’ve been actively changing your life. Highlight the forward strides you’ve made educationally, professionally and personally. The interview is a great time to promote the positives in your life.
  5. Seek advice from others. You are not the first or the last person in this position. Try to identify professional services geared to helping persons with criminal records, such as your local Goodwill. Also reach out to others who have successfully re-entered society and the workplace and ask them what steps they took to get back on track.

On top of tips that you can use to build your career, GoodProspects includes a community of job seekers and career advancers with criminal backgrounds who can give you specific advice.