Criminal Background Checks & Disclosure in Your Job Search

While reading the local paper and seeing all the recent DUI and assault charges laid this past Labour Day weekend I am reminded of a few past clients that were puzzled about when and if they should disclose a previous DUI and/or serious criminal conviction.  I am often asked by job seekers whether they should tell the employer about such charges and convictions, and if so, when.  The answer is not always as simple as it may seem.  In all honesty I coach my clients that it truly depends on the situation, the job they are seeking, the conviction, how many years have passed since the charge was laid, and so on…

Unfortunately, there truly is no easy answer to the question: “to tell or not to tell?”.  This is where critical thinking, strategizing and common sense will have to play into your job search. Career coaches can also help you determine when and how to discuss such an issue during your job search.  Nevertheless, there are some suggestions and recommendations I make to all my clients when they are faced with a criminal past that could impede their job search success.

For starters, I do NOT recommend that you highlight or draw attention to your past directly in your resume or cover letter.  If “red flags” are brought forward before the interview process even commences, an employer will most likely short list you to the no pile before providing you with the opportunity for an interview. Additionally, keep your personal and professional lives separate, and whenever possible your past mistakes in the past.  So, if an issue isn’t obvious, won’t come up when an employer does a reference, background or internet check, won’t impact your ability to do the job, and isn’t a health and safety issue, then don’t tell.  This includes personal and family issues, and criminal records that have been pardoned.

However, if your past will most likely be revealed through a reference, background or internet check I do recommend you disclose this information to an employer on your own terms and in your own words before they find something out from another source.  This will allow you the opportunity to demonstrate your truthfulness and honesty, highlight why the conviction will not impede your ability to perform the job at hand and also explain the steps and strategies you have taken to overcome and improve upon your past.

Take for example a person who was charged with a DUI 5 years ago as a young adult.  Now this person is applying for a factory position that requires full attention, alertness and safety conscientiousness. More than likely the company will perform a criminal record check after the interview has been completed.  In this situation, I would recommend that the candidate does disclose the charge during the interview (especially since it will be discovered during the background check).  However, it is paramount that during the candidate’s disclosure they also highlight that they were young and have learned from their mistakes and only drink in a responsible manner outside of working hours.  The candidate needs to be honest in this situation and explain the charge and how they have overcome this past mistake while they have the opportunity.  If the charge is found during the background check and it was not previously disclosed, the employer could potentially deem the candidate high risk for drinking on the job which could place other employees in harm’s way.  But by sharing this past mistake in an open dialogue prior to the employer completing a background check there will be no surprises and the employer will feel comfortable that you were honest and open about your mistake.

In the end, not every situation or charge carries the same weight.  If you have a previous criminal conviction and require assistance and guidance on if and how to disclose this charge, I recommend you seek the services of a trained career services professional. Together you and your coach can openly discuss ways to overcome the conviction during your job search and strategize about which situations you should disclose this information in. Everyone is employable, it is just a matter of overcoming tough employment barriers to begin and succeed in a career.

Have a nice day and thank you for reading my blog! If you have a question or require career guidance, please contact me at