How to Find a Job When You Have a Criminal Record

Having a criminal record could haunt job seekers and intimidate hiring managers.

Young man arrested, holding a blank blackboard
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So many things could slow down a job hunt: the economic climate, the industry in which you're seeking employment, your qualifications and more. But having a criminal history could leave a scar on a background check that winnows your options and lengthens your job hunt even more. Keep these six things in mind if you're looking for a job and you have a criminal background.

[See: The 10 Worst Times to Switch Jobs.]

Study your rights. Get the specifics on your record before starting your search. Arrests without convictions could show up, or perhaps you were convicted for something that didn't require you serve a prison sentence. Depending on the severity of what occurred, your age when the incident happened and the time that's elapsed since the incident, it might be possible to have your record sealed or expunged, which means the information won't come up on a background check. This option is particularly viable if you were a minor at the time of the offense.

According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, there aren't federal laws that prohibit potential employers from asking about arrests and convictions. However, it's unlawful to use criminality as the absolute reason not to hire you. Several state laws do limit or prohibit what prospective employers may ask, and in some states, there are protections on what an applicant is required to report. For example, in California, employers cannot ask candidates about arrests that didn't result in a conviction, but they can inquire about convictions. In New York, employers aren't allowed to access information about arrests without conviction unless the charge is still pending.

Before employers run a background check – which could include a credit, criminal and employment report, depending on your state and the database service the employer uses – they must inform you in writing and receive your written authorization. According to the Fair Credit Reporting Act, employers must also notify applicants that credit and criminal reports will not automatically disqualify them for employment. Consult with an attorney on whether you could have your record sealed or expunged, but also discuss with him or her the intricacies of what's permissible and what's not with your record and in your state. Also visit the EEOC's website for information on state laws.

Be realistic. Despite what the law says, some jobs will probably be out of bounds for you. The EEOC website states, "Even if an employer believes that the applicant did engage in the conduct for which he or she was arrested that information should prevent him or her from employment only to the extent that it is evident that the applicant cannot be trusted to perform the duties of the position." In plain speak, an employer could decide against hiring you if the nature of the job conflicts with the nature, seriousness and recency of your offense. Also, "be open to starting at a lower-paying job while you rebuild your reputation, rebuild your skills and rebuild trust with colleagues," says Andrea Kay, career consultant and author of "This Is How to Get Your Next Job: An Inside Look at What Employers Really Want."

[Read: A 4 Step Reality Check for Job Seekers.]

Learn how to network. According to Hallie Crawford, certified career coach and founder of the Atlanta-based coaching firm Create Your Career Path, networking might be the best path into a career if you have a record. "Make sure you're on LinkedIn. Find an association for the industry you'd like to work in and attend its meetings. Be sure to find groups that have more employed members than not, because that will boost your confidence more, and because it's easier to make career connections with those who are employed," she says. "Networking is really crucial because often it's the people you and a hiring manager know in common who will make the connection for you [or] who will cause a hiring manager to give you a second look when they wouldn't."