Overcoming a Criminal Conviction During Your Job Search

We recently received an email from a job seeker who wondered if he should abandon his search because of a criminal conviction.

He’s not alone. Other IT professionals like Samuel “Mouli” Cohen —  who was sentenced to prison in April for making false statements to investors about his digital jukebox company Ecast — will likely be wondering the same thing.

It’s true that if you’ve erred in the past, you’ve got a tough row to hoe. However, thanks to new guidance from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, your prospects may be brighter than you think.

In a nutshell, the EEOC says that employers can only consider work-related offenses. So while you may have a tough time overcoming recent convictions for hacking, embezzlement or fraud, you may not be disqualified for a motor vehicle conviction. Plus, applicants must be given a chance to provide additional information about criminal convictions such as:

  • Circumstances surrounding the offense
  • Age at time of conviction or release from prison
  • Evidence that you performed the same type of work, post conviction, without problems
  • Rehabilitation efforts, such as education and training
  • Employment or character references

How to Overcome Your Mistakes

First, be realistic. If you have multiple convictions or your offense was work-related, stay in your present job until your record is clear, or target small companies that may not care about your record. While employers can’t discriminate, generally speaking, they will probably offer the job to the candidate with similar experience and a clean record.

Second, be honest and prepared. Failing to acknowledge your transgressions will only reinforce an employer’s fears and put you on the defensive. Instead, prove that you’ve learned your lesson by admitting your mistake and offering proof of your rehabilitation.

Third, see about having your record expunged. Given the tough job market, more job seekers are taking steps to clear prior convictions. Some states will set aside or vacate convictions, seal records or offer certificates of rehabilitation, so it may be worthwhile to investigate your options.

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12 Responses to “Overcoming a Criminal Conviction During Your Job Search”

  1. Fred Bosick

    Wow, I thought it would be something like shoplifting as a teen, or busting up mailboxes. You know, the run of the mill mistakes young adults can make. But this…?

    “He’s not alone. Other IT professionals like Samuel “Mouli” Cohen — who was sentenced to prison in April for making false statements to investors about his digital jukebox company Ecast — will likely be wondering the same thing.”

    He’s not a professional and never has been! He should be lucky to man the soft cone machine at twisty freeze. There’s a whole lot of us who are unemployed or under employed and are looking for new opportunities. And we have no criminal convictions!

    Then again, some joker like that appears to have the gift of flim-flam, and too many investors and tech journalists give them the time of day. While those of us who simply do our jobs are overlooked. Sometimes, flashy and charismatic is also psychopathic.

    • Proud Paulbot

      What really kills me is that this guy has a better chance of landing a job than someone who’s never had so much as a parking ticket…but has bad credit due to a long stretch of unemployment/mal-employment.

  2. I appreciate this discussion. Years ago I had personal problems with alcohol – and eventually legal issues including a DUI. I am of course in no way proud of any of that past, however I came to a point where I sought help and turned from that past to not just permanent sobriety (and no prescriptions or anything except a lot of coffee 🙂 For years now I am a church attending repentant honest person, and I likely was turned down from several applications as a result of background checks. I am gratefully employed now, and am honest with mistakes from years ago (and I was told by my current employer their checks generally go back 7 years, which would catch my DUI I was honest about. I hope companies can realize there are some who make mistakes and not just learn lessons but change considerably for the better (and could even potentially help others with such issues).

  3. “EEOC says that employers can only consider work-related offenses.” Is a good thing, but those words are not really clear. “If you have multiple convictions or your offense was work-related, stay in your present job until your record is clear, or target small companies that may not care about your record.” Good tip and very good idea. Yes you would definitely want to be honest about your past when looking for work too. The last part, “see about having your record expunged.” may not be great help, because to get that done would probably be very hard and may not clear your convictions from your record. I say very hard, because the person looking to get his background cleared or a certificate of rehabilitation, may need to have an exemplary record in all aspects of life since his last conviction.

    • FRED NANCE, yeah I confirm that. Visited Robert Half a week ago, and it took about a week for them to reply back to me in an email saying, “I wanted to reach out to you and let you know that after careful consideration, we were informed that we will be unable to represent your background. I got the final information from my corporate office this morning.” So, if you have a criminal record don’t hold your breath when dealing with them.

      • Fred Nance


        Well, i my record was expunged. I interviewed with Robert Half in 2007 and they sent me out to work, when i got there, i was told to call them. So, i called and they told me that i can’t work because of my record.

        Since 2008, my record has been expunged. Since then, i’ve interviewed with them 2 times within the past 2 years and i’m told the same thing. At one point i took this up with a manager and got a referral and lost track.

        A recruiter from RHT emailed me 2 months ago and i reminded him about the RHT’s policy on hiring ex-convicts and i never got a reply.

        RHT candidate system shows that i have a felony even though that’s no longer the case.

        However, i’ve been sucessful without them. I just feel that it should be corrected on RHT’s end.

  4. Robert Half literally told me “they would NEVER hire me” due to my conviction years ago. That was the worst employment comment I have ever encountered, and I will never forget – I repent of my past and Robert Half obviously could care less – caring about money and not people – nice.

  5. Johnson Smith

    BEWARE that there is NO federal law allowing for expungment of FEDERAL convictions. A bill has been put up several times over the years, but dies in committee. Getting convicted federally REALLY screws you up FOREVER.

    Robert Half can and should be SUED by the EEOC, but it would require someone to file a complaint, and that person’s info may become public. I think many many companies will not hire someone who has a conviction, regardless of what it’s for or how long ago– and they’ll lie easily that they’re not hiring you for some other BS reason, not because of the conviction.

  6. As a person who was a US service member, then a professional in the work force, I found myself in a situation where I was convicted (took a plea deal that turned into a nightmare) to which I served a 18 month sentence and a 1 year probation in the federal system. I am a paramedic by training but now I am being restricted from gaining national registry certification or license. This matter is tying up state licensure and I am miserable over it.
    No matter how long ago…5 years since my release and I am still living under a stigma that I am unwanted by any organization.
    Why is it that the states allow expungements and sealing of records but the fed system believes in keeping someone in a vise for life.

  7. Dontgiveup

    I know this is an old article, but I felt the need to comment, in case someone is struggling. I have several felonies all related to drugs and alcohol. I have been clean for 10 years and have stayed out of trouble since 2006. In 2009 I went back to college and eventually earned several degrees in business management and accounting. Before I chose accounting as my major, I called the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, to make sure that there were no laws preventing felons from working as accountants. There were none, but Robert Half and a score of other companies, have their own rules. I was crushed when I realized most companies would not hire a felon as an accountant. I never had any history of stealing or embezzling but no one wanted to hire me. But I did not give up. Eventually someone gave me a part time job as a bookkeeper. That led to a second, third, and a fourth client. I now have as many clients as I can do in a 40 hour week. I work for myself and make a decent living as an accountant. I was unable to take the traditional path to success, but i didn’t give up and God provided a path for me. Those of you out there who are facing the same issue, dont give up someone will eventually give you a shot. And when you get a shot, make the most of it, work hard. This is the land of opportunity, that doesnt mean you wont have to work hard, but someone will reward your hard work eventually, if you dont give up. In the mean time get a job at a restaurant or another place that hires felons, while you get training in your new career.