How to Disclose a Criminal Record for Employment

It's imperative that you disclose a criminal background when applying for a job. Lying about it on your application will almost certainly disqualify you if you are caught. Employers will fear that you cannot be trusted. It's also important to understand that not every criminal offense will be considered an issue. A conviction stemming from recreational drug use in high school 10 years ago may no longer be relevant. The University of Wisconsin reports that, as an employer, it does not consider criminal information unless there is a substantial relationship between the circumstances of the criminal record and the position you are applying for. That means a felony embezzlement conviction probably would disqualify you for an accountant's position but an old DUI charge might not.

Prepare an explanation. It's important that you be able to respond to questions about your criminal background. You must be prepared to look directly into the eyes of the hiring manager and in a clear, firm voice describe your criminal past while expressing your regret.

Shape your explanation with the help of a family counselor, probation officer or social worker. Contact a local charitable organization such as the Salvation Army or Urban League to seek a referral for a counselor trained in helping people rehabilitate their personal lives. Ask the counselor to help you shape an honest, credible explanation for your criminal activity and how you have since turned your life around.

Obtain written character references from people who know about your past but still believe in you. Ask your pastor, former employer or someone else with good status in the community to vouch for you. Also write your own written statement to include with the letters of recommendation. Make your letter short and to the point as you acknowledge the past but emphasize the present, including accomplishments in your personal and professional life.

Find out about jobs by networking and getting to know hiring managers on a casual basis. That adds a more personal touch to your job search. Having an established relationship with a hiring manager could make disclosing your criminal background easier. Meet informally with a hiring manager, perhaps over lunch, after hearing about an opening. Tell the manager about your interest in the job. If the manager responds positively, tell her about your criminal past. Make the explanation short and deliver it as you did during your practice sessions with the counselor.

Disclose your criminal past on the application if you cannot network directly with the hiring manager. Answer "yes" on the application in the appropriate place when asked if you have a criminal background, but also add this wording: "For explanation, please see attached documents." Include your character references and your personal statement with the application as you fully disclose your criminal record.