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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Crawford advises you to also provide personal references, something usually considered inappropriate for most job seekers. "When you're in this situation, what people doubt most is your character," she explains. "Add one or two personal references to the list. Family and friends who are solid citizens. And instead of waiting for an employer to ask to see your references, provide them upfront."

Ask for help. Go a step beyond networking and seek guidance from organizations designed to help job seekers with criminal records. "There are some agencies and nonprofits that offer workshops geared to help you find work when you're in this position, and they're a great option if you don't have the finances to pay a career coach," Kay explains. "If you're currently in prison and soon to get out, talk to those in charge about rehabilitation programs. Discuss your options with your attorney."

Some organizations geared to help include the National Transitional Jobs Network (http://www.heartlandalliance.org/ntjn/), a program that helps participants find employment while also helping them gain skills needed to find work. There's also America Works (http://www.americaworks.com/), which assists hard-to-place job seekers with finding employment.

[Read: 10 Things Not to Say to Your Out-of-Work Friend.]

Be honest, but careful. One of the things a career coach could help with are the nuances of revealing your past. According to a 2013 survey by EmployeeScreenIQ, an employment screening service, 79 percent of the 992 individuals who represented U.S. employers admit to asking applicants to disclose criminal backgrounds on job applications. However, 52 percent of employers in the survey also said they'd be more inclined to hire a candidate who disclosed a conviction before a background check revealed one.

With other written job materials, Kay says: "I would leave criminal record information off of a résumé entirely. And the only reason I'd advise including that information on a cover letter is if you're applying somewhere that the employer has a policy to hire people who were incarcerated."

On interviews, Crawford suggests addressing the issue head on. "Have an answer ready for why it happened but why it isn't an issue anymore. Don't say 'I learned my lesson,' because that's trite. Instead, try, 'These are the productive things I did while I was incarcerated, and this is what I've done since then.'" And make sure not to dwell on the issue. "You want to focus on the positive," she continues. "Go in-depth into how you've rehabilitated, such as 'I've done X amount of volunteer hours,' or 'I've taken these courses to improve my skills.'"

Stay positive. There are some hiring managers who might hesitate to offer you a job, but not every employer will. Even though the job search might be more difficult for you than it is for others, "one of the most important things to do is be confident in your abilities," Crawford says.