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How to conduct a job search with a criminal record

Seventy-three per cent of human resources professionals said their company, or an agency hired by their company, conducted criminal background checks for all job candidates, according to a 2010 survey by the Society for Human Resource Management. That you may undergo a background check upon applying for a job isn’t noteworthy, but for job seekers with a criminal record it can feel like an inevitable uphill battle.

“While persons with a criminal record cannot be discriminated against, they may be prohibited from working in some industries such as health care and financial services,” says Bruce Hurwitz, president and CEO of Hurwitz Strategic Staffing. “Except in rare cases, employers will want to do a background check on the candidate.”

Yet not all hope is lost. Because you know a background check is likely coming, you can take steps to prove to hiring managers that you are an upstanding member of society. Ultimately, employers want to know you have the skills necessary to succeed in the civilian workforce. Here are some ways to do so:

Look into getting your criminal record expunged
Depending on the type of crime committed, it may be possible to get your criminal record expunged, or sealed. While this doesn’t mean your record is erased, it does limit who can access it. Consult a legal professional about your options or visit your state government’s website for more information. The website provides additional information on how this can be done.

Know everything about your conviction
Donna Ballman, a Florida-based employment attorney and author of “Stand Up For Yourself Without Getting Fired,” says it’s important to know exactly what you’ve been convicted of and whether the record was expunged. “Lots of people have no idea [about] the actual charges that they were convicted of,” Ballman says. “It makes a difference. If you don’t care enough about your criminal record to explain the details, employers may assume you think committing crimes is OK.”

Explore volunteer opportunities
“If people want to shake the stigma of a questionable past, they need to find at least two civic organizations to volunteer at so they have solid references behind their applications,” says David Perry, co-author of “Guerrilla Marketing for Job Hunters 3.0.” “Six to 18 months of volunteer work — and I do mean sincere volunteer work — will go a long way in getting a usable reference.”

Consider the type of company to which you’re applying
Depending on the type, size or management style of a company, it may or may not conduct a criminal background check or be more lenient in accepting applicants with a criminal past. “Most applications ask whether you have been arrested or convicted of a crime,” says Mary Greenwood, attorney, human resources director and author of “How to Interview Like a Pro.” “Some will say felony so that conviction of a misdemeanour might be allowed.”

John Millikin, clinical professor of management at Arizona State University’s W.P. Carey School of Business, adds, “For a convicted felon, it may be better to look for something in small business, where you may have an opportunity to explain what happened directly to the owner.”

Participate in a re-entry program
Programs are available to help job seekers with a criminal record re-enter society and secure employment. One such initiative is the Prison Entrepreneurship Program, a Houston-based non-profit whose mission is to “stimulate positive life transformation for executives and inmates, uniting them through entrepreneurial passion, education and mentoring.” According to Jeremy Gregg, the organization’s chief development officer, their “entrepreneurship boot camp” connects convicted felons with top executives, MBA students and politicians, and provides education, training and support. This is just one example; search the Web for local organizations that offer similar services.

Be honest
Perhaps the best piece of advice? Be honest. It’s true for all job seekers, whether you’re talking about work history, references or past salaries. It’s especially true for job seekers with a record. “If you fail to disclose a criminal record when asked, and you aren’t allowed to say it didn’t happen — as with an expunction — then the employer can fire you for failing to disclose it, even if you’ve worked there for years with no problems,” Ballman says.

Adds Millikin: “A job seeker with a felony record who has ‘paid his or her debt’ should be transparent about it without having to wear it on his or her sleeve. You should mention it after real interest has been expressed in you but before you get an offer. You should always answer questions about it truthfully, and never act as if you are hiding something, as it is worse to have it exposed in a background check.”

Debra Auerbach, CareerBuilder Writer

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