So, you’re looking to get a job with a criminal record and you’re worried that this will make your job hunting a bit complicated.
We don’t blame you.
A candidate’s criminal record is one of the first things many employers check - being anything other than squeaky clean can cause an extra hurdle in your job hunt.
Background checks, explaining employment gaps in your work history, and job interviews can all be harrowing for a candidate with an arrest or criminal charge.
But we’re here to help.
To make your job search easier and more efficient, we’ve compiled a guide to help you navigate job-hunting with a criminal record, including:
- 7 Job Search and Application Tips for Ex-Offenders
- 7 Resume and Cover Letter Tips for Former Convicts
- 3 Tips for Background Checks and Interviews
- 11+ Industries That Hire Employees With Criminal Records
Let’s dive in!
7 Job Search and Application Tips For Ex-Offenders
Whether you had a minor offense in your youth or served time for a severe crime, you are not alone in looking for a job with a criminal record to your name. In fact, statistics show that one in three adults in the USA has a criminal record and over 80 million people on the job market have been convicted on criminal charges at least once.
Your criminal record might bar you from applying to certain industries and the nature of your charges might ban you from specific positions.
For example, a criminal charge can prohibit you from becoming an attorney or police officer. But that doesn’t mean you can’t have a fulfilling career ahead of you, despite the limitations that a criminal record can bring.
To present your best self to potential employers and land a great position, start by using some of these strategies during your job hunt:
#1. Catch up on job market trends
If you’ve recently been released from incarceration, take your time to catch up on the latest developments in the job market and the industry you’re aiming for.
There are plenty of HR statistics and trends that can help you gauge the current state of work and get an idea of what direction employees and recruiters are heading. For example, the need for employees has continued growing and there were approximately 1.8 job openings per candidate in 2022.
Meanwhile, the importance of diversity in the workplace has continued to increase, with 76% of people considering it an important factor when seeking new job opportunities, according to Glassdoor.
#2. Choose the right job
Your criminal record may legally prohibit you from applying to certain jobs. For other positions, the nature of your criminal charges might disqualify you as a candidate.
For example, if your background check reveals you’ve been charged with embezzlement, you likely won’t be able to get a job as an accountant.
Aiming for a job unrelated to your conviction gives you a much better chance of getting hired.
Not sure what career path to take? Complete a career aptitude test to find out what profession aligns best with your skills, values, and personality.
#3. Work on yourself
If possible, consider taking some time to gain experience and help fill in the employment gap on your resume.
Signing up for vocational training or a degree, for example, could give your job search a great boost and give you skills that can help you on your career path.
Alternatively, consider volunteering for a cause you’re interested in. Volunteer work allows you to be an active participant in your community and work on soft skills like organization and time management.
Most volunteer work doesn’t require a background check or specific qualifications, and it’s a good choice for people with less academic or work experience.
#4. Research your employer
The more you know about the company and the position you’re applying for, the better.
Research the employer and analyze both the job advertisement and company website to understand exactly what their candidate requirements are.
Here’s an example of a job advertisement highlighting all candidate requirements:
Once you have the job requirements pinned down, all you need to do is tailor your resume and cover letter to highlight your skills and qualities that match the company’s needs.
#5. Don’t lead with your rap sheet
You’re not obliged to declare your past arrests or convictions on your resume or before you’ve been invited for an interview and asked about them. Ideally, wait until the topic of a background check or gap in your employment is brought up.
If the job application explicitly asks if you’ve ever been arrested or convicted of a crime, answer honestly without giving any details about your criminal charges. For example, if an online application poses the question “Have you ever been arrested?” answer “Yes”.
But if there’s a follow-up question that asks you to provide more details about your arrest, you can say you’ll explain during the interview.
Explaining your record face-to-face gives you a chance to tell your side of the story and increases your odds of getting hired.
#6. Be honest about your past
Once you get invited for a job interview, you should prepare to talk about your criminal record and your past.
And when that happens - be honest.
Don’t try to conceal the truth. Your employer will eventually find out the truth, and when that happens you might lose your job, as well as any chance of a career.
In addition to preparing for the most common interview questions, you should be ready to talk about your strengths and weaknesses and explain how you’ve learned from the mistakes that led to your charges.
Let the interviewer know that you’re looking forward to contributing to the company and prove to them you’re a serious candidate.
A great way to show you’re serious about the job is to also ask the interviewer questions. Check out these great questions to ask an interviewer during your job interview.
#7. Focus on the future
Instead of dwelling too much on your past during your application process, focus on your future.
While your skills and experience are still important, you can show yourself as a forward-thinking candidate.
For example, you can leverage your cover letter to talk about the career goals you’re excited to pursue and how you’re going to contribute to the company you’re applying for.
Have you struggled with a substance use disorder? These tips on how to find a job after rehab could help on your journey.
7 Resume and Cover Letter Tips For Former Convicts
Your resume is the most important tool you can use on your job hunt.
Done right, it can help you get your foot in the door and give you a chance at a job based on your skills and competencies, not your criminal record.
Here are some tips on how to write a great resume after you’ve spent time incarcerated:
#1. Choose the right format
There are several resume formats to choose from when crafting your resume.
Typically, the chronological resume format comes most highly recommended. However, if you’ve spent a long time incarcerated and have limited experience in the job market, you might want to avoid it since it could draw unnecessary attention to that employment gap.
Instead, use the functional resume format. It allows you to emphasize your skills over work experience, and hide employment gaps that could sway a hiring manager negatively.
#2. Add a resume summary or objective
Recruiters don’t have a lot of time to spend on each resume, considering they receive hundreds every day. That’s why you want to grab their attention from the get-go and show them your resume is worth reading from start to finish.
This is where a resume summary or a resume objective comes in.
These are short paragraphs placed at the top of your resume that aim to offer a snapshot of you as a candidate by highlighting your skills, experience, and motivation for the job.
The resume summary is optimal for seasoned professionals or for people who have extensive work experience and achievements to list on their resume.
The resume objective, on the other hand, is more appropriate for candidates who are searching for their first job or who are making a career change.
#3. Add skills and work experience
List the work experience and achievements you had before your charges. Then make those work achievements impeccable by adding a timeframe, scale, and results.
For example, instead of saying you “helped improve sales”, you can say you “improved product sales by 12%, which lead to a 20% increase in annual revenue.”
Quantifying your achievements makes them much more credible in the eyes of recruiters.
If you were employed while incarcerated and the experience was relevant, you can still highlight some of your responsibilities and achievements. You might have gained valuable transferable skills during your sentence, which is especially useful for former offenders who have to write a resume with no experience outside of prison.
You can list work experience on your resume without specifying you worked for a correctional facility. For example, instead of writing the name of the institution you were incarcerated in, just list the state or country you served your time in.
Here’s an example:
State of Texas
2021 - 2022
Task & Achievements
- Managed existing landscape by pruning, trimming, weeding, and gardening.
- Mentored new workers and guided them in the use and maintenance of equipment.
- Completed work within strict deadlines and adhered fully to the allotted budget.
This way you remain truthful and have an opportunity to explain your experience in more depth during the interview, rather than risk being dismissed by a hiring manager too quickly.
Are you worried about explaining an employment gap to a recruiter? Check out this article with tips and tricks on how to address it in your resume, cover letter, and interview.
#4. Add education and other qualifications
Listing your education on a resume can demonstrate some of your knowledge and skills to potential employers, as well as your commitment to personal and professional growth.
Not to mention, any extra educational experience could offset biases a recruiter might have when learning of your criminal record.
If you had the opportunity to pursue a degree or other certification while you were incarcerated, make sure to add it to your resume. You can highlight the academic achievements and skills you’ve gained without specifying it was within the prison system. Just state the name of the institution you received it from, not the facility you were in at the time.
#6. Write a cover letter
In 2023, cover letters are still essential to your job application. A cover letter compliments your resume and provides much-needed space to elaborate on your skills, achievements, and motivation for the job.
Here are the steps you need to take to write a great cover letter:
- Pick a cover letter template that matches your resume.
- Start off with a header that includes all essential information, such as your full name, phone number, date, name and professional title of the hiring manager, and the name of the company you’re applying to.
- Greet the hiring manager by their full name or by using any of the following: “Dear [Department] Hiring Manager”, “Dear Hiring Manager”, or “Dear [Department] Team.”
- Write an attention-grabbing introduction that lists two-three of your top achievements.
- Use the body of your cover letter to explain what makes you the right candidate for the job and why you’re a good fit for the company.
- Wrap it up with a call to action that asks the hiring manager to take some sort of action.
- And finally, use the right (formal) closing line, such as “Best Regards,” “Kind Regards,” “Sincerely,” and “Thank You.”
Want to make sure your cover letter is spotless? Check out these common cover letter mistakes to avoid at all costs.
#7. Keep it clean
There are tons of resume examples for any job you might want to apply to, so craft a resume tailored to the exact position you’re going after.
Keep the application focused on your abilities, skills, and motivation.
Avoid any unnecessary information, particularly if it gives away your relation to the criminal justice system. Gaps in your employment and concerns your employer might have about your past are best covered in person, not in writing.
Also, avoid adding experiences that are irrelevant to the position you’re applying for. The hiring manager is unlikely to care about your dog walker job as a teenager, so there’s no need to take up valuable space from your resume to list it.
3 Tips For Background Checks And Interviews
For most people, interviews are often the most nerve-racking part of the entire job search.
And if you have a criminal record, the fear of being immediately rejected or judged based on past mistakes can be even more overwhelming.
Thankfully, there are ways to work around these extra challenges and increase your chances of getting hired. By being honest about your past, emphasizing your skills and qualifications, and preparing yourself for all the potential questions the interviewer may have, you can successfully pass any interview.
Here are our top three tips for navigating background checks and interviews with a criminal record:
#1. Check your public record
Check out your public record so you don’t get surprised during the interview.
If there are any errors in your available criminal record, be sure to point them out. The access an employer might have to this information varies according to country.
Most criminal records in the USA are public, with the exception of those sealed by a court order. But in Canada, your employer can only access your records with your consent.
In the UK, on the other hand, employers can check your criminal record regardless of what position you’re applying for under a process called a Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check.
#2. Specify whether you were arrested or convicted
An employer may refuse to hire you based on a crime you committed, its relation to the job you’re applying for, and the amount of time that has passed since you’ve been charged.
There are laws that prohibit employers from hiring people convicted of serious offenses for certain jobs. For example, candidates with felony charges are often prohibited from working in healthcare or education.
However, an arrest is different. Being arrested does not mean being guilty of a crime and you can’t be disqualified based on that alone.
In such a situation, the hiring manager can ask about the circumstances that led up to your arrest, and then they may decide not to hire you based on that.
For example, if you were arrested for disturbing the peace, there is a difference between you hosting a party that got out of control, and shouting profanities in public under the influence of alcohol.
#3. Prepare an explanation
Employers that learn about your criminal record will likely ask follow-up questions.
Your criminal history, employment history, and programs you attended during your incarceration are only some of the topics they’re bound to touch upon.
Prepare character and employment references, mention your family and community support as motivational factors, and highlight other relevant rehabilitative efforts to show your dedication to change.
All of these can make a difference in the interview and affect the hiring manager’s final decision.
Not all criminal records are equal during a job hunt. Felonies carry much heavier penalties than misdemeanors and can lead to a lot more restrictions in terms of where and what you can work.
11+ Industries That Hire Employees With Criminal Records
There is bias against candidates with a criminal past, and for some employers, there is little you can do to stand a chance of landing the job.
There are even legal regulations that forbid employers from hiring people with criminal records for specific positions. Candidates with certain offenses may even be considered a risk to workplace safety and rejected early on in the review process.
But things are looking up. According to Forbes, there is an uptick in employers looking to hire candidates who’ve been involved with the criminal justice system. More and more companies are removing criminal history questions or delaying background checks until after the candidate is offered a job.
With that in mind, let’s check out some industries that hire candidates with criminal records:
#1. Construction and Repair
One of the most common and well-paid choices for people who are looking to avoid a background check is a job in construction and related fields like carpentry, roofing, or plumbing.
By going into a construction trade and focusing on your skills, you can earn a great living and look forward to career growth without worrying about your past dragging you down.
#2. Manufacturing and Production
Factories are often willing to hire people with criminal records and tend to offer entry-level positions.
This type of manual labor can be a good start if you’ve recently been released on parole, as you can start picking up extra skills and qualifications to move up in your career.
#3. Food and Beverage
Most restaurants, diners, and cafes have a high employee turnover rate, so they rarely bother with background checks.
Some businesses might have stricter rules and examine candidates more thoroughly, especially when it comes to Front Of House (FOH) positions that interact with customers or handle monetary transactions, such as cashiers or servers.
Back Of House (BOH) positions on the other hand are often easier to come by, and many cooks, dishwashers, and sanitation workers are hired without background checks.
#4. Hospitality and Tourism
Many hotels offer positions related to laundry, room cleaning, maintenance, and baggage handling, all without requiring a background check.
Another good option to consider is seasonal work at a resort. Since such jobs don’t last more than a few months, a lot of employers don’t look into candidates’ criminal records.
#5. Retail and Grocery
While this varies from one employer to another, generally speaking, retailers and grocery stores don’t do background checks on their candidates.
Since many of the positions available from these employers are people-facing, you would have the opportunity to work on your customer service and communication skills.
#6. Transportation and Delivery
So long as you have a valid driver’s license, and your record doesn’t involve driving under the influence (DUI) or driving with intent (DWI) charges, you can try finding a job in this field.
Positions can range from delivering packages to working as a cab driver or doing long hauls as a trucker. Companies looking to hire movers to transport and assemble furniture often forgo background checks, too.
#7. Landscaping and Gardening
Typically, companies that hire workers for landscaping or gardening have a low barrier for entry and rarely require a clean criminal record. It’s hard work that includes sunshine, fresh air, and a sense of fulfillment while connecting with nature.
Employers usually don’t require prior experience and train you on the job, which is a great opportunity to learn new skills that you might transfer to other areas someday.
Especially if you’re in a rural area, you might be able to find employment in agricultural production or animal farming.
Due to the labor shortage in this industry, employers are often willing to overlook certain criminal backgrounds, if they check records at all. The work itself is physically demanding but can provide a sense of purpose and satisfaction which makes it a great choice for someone looking to turn their life around.
#9. Customer Service Representative
Customer service representative (CSR) positions are often entry-level and don’t require too much from the candidates besides a willingness to learn on the job. As a CSR, you will most likely be working with customers through a computer and phone line, which will let you hone skills such as communication, active listening, and conflict resolution.
Companies with CSR departments often give their employees opportunities to transfer to other roles later on, such as data entry, sales, or marketing, so it can be a start on the corporate ladder.
#10. Creative Pursuits
If you’re an artist at heart, there are dozens of specialized fields you can try to find a job in. Positions related to digital animation, graphic design, photography, and writing typically don’t require background checks, just a good portfolio.
You can apply to any job vacancies you find or even try freelancing and building up your own client base. Either way, it’ll be the quality of your work that makes you stick out, not a clean criminal record.
If you’re tech-savvy, consider going into IT. The sector is booming, and the demand for skilled workers is always high. Whether you’re a web developer or good at computer maintenance, you can probably find a job as part of an IT department or in a tech company.
Bigger companies are likelier to perform a background check but smaller businesses will be more interested in your IT resume than your criminal record.
21 Companies That Hire Employees With Criminal Records
While some employers will skip background checks, there are those that go a step further.
Some companies strive to be inclusive of people of all backgrounds and offer second-chance employment to formerly incarcerated individuals.
Here’s a list of some employers that actively hire candidates with criminal backgrounds:
- Apple Inc.
- Bed, Bath & Beyond
- Ben & Jerry’s
- Fruit of the Loom
- Home Depot
- JPMorgan Chase
- Under Armour
FAQs About Job-Hunting With A Criminal Record
Do you still have some questions about job searching with a criminal record? Check out the answers to some of the most popular questions below:
1. Why do employers do background checks?
Employers want security in their candidates as much as candidates want security in their employers. Companies are often liable if they hire someone guilty of harmful offenses and the employee causes damage while at work.
For example, a company may be liable if they hire an employee that’s been charged with identity theft, and the employee misuses the personal information of company customers.
2. Should I mention my criminal record on my resume?
There’s no need to mention having a criminal record on your resume. Unless you are legally required to inform your employer or they explicitly ask about your criminal record, you are not obligated to disclose information about it.
3. What resume format is best for ex-convicts?
If you have a recent history of unemployment or a gap due to time spent incarcerated, we recommend you swap out the chronological resume format for the functional resume format.
This way you can highlight your skills instead of your recent work experience.
4. Can my employer fire me over my criminal record?
This depends on the local legislation and on the employer themselves. Generally, having a criminal record or conviction doesn’t mean you will be fired. If your criminal record predates your current employment and it was never brought up during your recruitment process, the employer shouldn’t be able to terminate your contract.
However, if you lied about having a criminal record and your charges disqualify you from this specific position or industry, you could be fired and even criminally charged for the deception.
Similarly, if you get arrested or charged with a crime while employed, your employer may be able to fire you - either for the arrest itself or for the nature of your charges.
5. Can I clear my criminal record?
It may be possible to have your criminal record expunged or sealed, which means employers won’t have access to it. This varies on a case-by-case basis and according to the criminal law of the country you’re residing in.
Generally speaking, clearing your criminal record could give you a clean slate for career growth, so consider contacting a criminal law attorney to discuss your options.
And that’s a wrap!
Hopefully, now you feel more confident about job hunting with a criminal record.
Before you start applying the advice we covered in this article, here’s a recap of all the main points:
- Having a criminal record is increasingly common and it doesn’t have to stop you from having a successful career.
- The laws and regulations in your area determine what limitations a criminal record might bring to your job hunt.
- If you’ve been incarcerated, focus on the skills and qualities that make you a good candidate, rather than on listing your work experience chronologically. This way you won’t bring too much attention to any gaps in your employment history.
- There are plenty of jobs out there that offer opportunities for people with criminal records or who forgo background checks entirely. Some of them include construction, landscaping, customer service, and IT.