Tips for Job Hunting with a Criminal Record


The EJC frequently gets requests for tips for job-hunting with a criminal or arrest record. Looking for a job can be difficult, especially when you have a record that follows you to every interview. But here are some steps to take when you are looking for work.

The first thing to do is request a copy of your criminal record. You can get a copy of your record from these offices: Metropolitan Police Department (MPD), D.C. Superior Court, U.S. District Court, and FBI.

After you receive a copy of your criminal record, look for any mistakes or incorrect information. Sometimes your record will be incomplete; other times, it might list the same charge twice. One thing to keep in mind is that charges while you were in the juvenile system should NEVER appear on your criminal record. This ONLY applies to the juvenile system, not juveniles in the adult system. If you do see a mistake on your criminal record, gather evidence of the error and send copies to the MPD Records Division at 300 Indiana Avenue, NW, Room 3055, Washington, D.C. 20001. Also, send it to the FBI CJIS Division – Record Request at 1000 Custer Hollow Road, Clarksburg, WV 26306. The best way to prove the error is to request the original criminal case jacket at the Superior Court or contact a lawyer.

Generally, private employers can request a background check and consider an employee’s criminal record before hiring. However, there are certain rights you have if an employer does not hire you because of a criminal background check. You have to first give permission for the employer to do a background check. If the employer denies you a job or fires you because of your criminal record, then the employer has to let you know that the reason was. Also, the employer has to tell you which credit reporting company sent the background check report. Not only do employers have to give you notice, but you have a chance to contest the report, especially if there is incorrect information on the report.

As for the job application, the main thing to remember is to answer truthfully and only answer what is asked. If you lie on the job application and the employer finds out, there is not much you can do later to contest it. It is important that you tell the truth about your criminal record, but do not leave it at just “Yes.” If you have to tell about your criminal record, then provide an explanation and describe how you changed your life. Tell them some of the positive things you’ve accomplished since then. Also, you are not required to give more information than what is asked. If the application does not require you to provide information about your criminal record, you have no obligation to provide it.

The next step – and probably the most intimidating – is the interview. The employer may ask questions about your criminal record during an interview. Breathe and relax. Looking nervous can leave a bad impression. The best way to handle this is to come prepared with an explanation. Know what you want to say beforehand. Also, take control of the conversation by focusing on the positive things you have done and what makes you qualified for the job. Show the employer that you have changed and are ready to move on with your life. Stay polite throughout the interview. While it may be tempting at times to call it quits, it’s important to have confidence in yourself and remain positive.

Written by Jeanna Lee, a law clerk for the Employment Justice Center and a second year law student at American University and cross posted in the Free Minds Monthly Newsletter.