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Job Hunting with a Criminal Background

We’ve all done things in the past we’d rather hide. If one of your past transgressions landed you a criminal conviction, you may be eager to sweep it under the rug and move on. When it comes to finding a job, though, that’s easier said than done. Here’s some advice when it comes to job hunting with a criminal background.

1. Be honest with your recruiter

If you’re working with a recruiting firm like The HT Group, honesty is the best policy. Your recruiter is your advocate and will likely have ideas on how to help you find a job within any constraints your background may have created. Holding back essential information like a criminal history from those who are helping you in your job search will only set you back and could erode the trust you need to build.

2. Know your legal rights within each city/county/state you interview

At the federal level, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) offers certain protections that can apply to those with a criminal history. These include requiring your permission before a background check is performed and, if an employment decision is based on the information in your background check, the employer must give you a copy of the report and a “notice of rights” that tells you how to contact the company that made the report, in case any information is misrepresented.

In some state, county and city jurisdictions, there can be additional fair chance hiring laws in place that are designed to take criminal history out of consideration, at least until a job candidate is near the end of the hiring process. Some also specifically ban denying an employment opportunity to an otherwise qualified person based on the person’s criminal history. Here’s more information about the City of Austin’s Fair Chance Hiring Ordinance, which is currently the most comprehensive in Texas.

It’s important to understand these local rules on when and how your criminal background can legally be disclosed within the country, state, county, and city in which each specific job you’re applying for is located. Depending on how wide you cast your net for a job, each one could be different.

3. Apply intelligently

If you anticipate your background being an issue, take some time to learn which employers may be more accepting than others (either by choice or by law). Even though Austin’s fair chance ordinance is comprehensive, it only applies to employers with 15 or more employees. Small businesses under that threshold do not necessarily need to wait to ask you about your criminal history. Travis County, Dallas County and the City of San Antonio have enacted some fair chance protections, but only for those applying for certain government jobs.

There are a surprising amount of employers, however, who have made hiring those with a criminal history a normal part of their practice. Companies like Google, Facebook, American Airlines, Starbucks and Under Armour each have policies that promote fair chance hiring. And the U.S. Depart of Labor offers a tax credit to those who hire felons, which can be a tempting incentive for employers to take a chance on you.

It’s also important to put some thought into which positions your background makes you unsuitable. There are no protections that allow individuals with certain criminal backgrounds from working at schools or hospitals, or in certain government positions, for instance. These circumstances usually take into consideration the nature of the offense, the time that has passed since the offense, and how those factors relate to the nature of the position.

4. See what employers will see

Employers aren’t only authorized to do criminal background checks when the time comes, some can even do credit and driving background checks. So, even if you don’t have a criminal history, your past may end up haunting you. The best way to not be surprised by what an employer uncovers in one or more of these checks is to order a background report on yourself. If the issue happened more than 7 years ago, find out your rights when it comes to remove it from the report.

5. Be upfront when it’s appropriate

Work with your recruiter to address the question of your background when it arises. “Be ready with a contrite explanation that admits your fault in the incident, shows how you rectified the problem and then brings the conversation back to why you’re right for the current position,” advises Dona DeZube, Monster Finance Careers Expert.

If you follow the steps above, you likely to find out there are employers willing to overlook your past as long as they can see a bright future ahead.

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