How to Apply for a Job with a Criminal Record

Everybody makes mistakes but no one deserves to have those mistakes define their life. I won’t beat around the bush, a criminal record can put a real dampener on your job search. In fact, some industries and professions won’t employ anyone with a criminal record. However, having a conviction against you doesn’t mean that you will be barred from ever landing a good job. There are solutions.

Successfully applying for a job with a criminal record boils down to being able to show an employer that rather than making you a liability, the lessons you have learnt through this run in with the law have made you a stronger employee. While looking for a job when you have a conviction against you can be a challenge, it is definitely possible to rise above it and show an employer why you are the right fit for them. At the end of the day you aren’t the same person you were when you were convicted. The key to getting jobs down the line, however, sometimes comes down to getting the first employer to see that too.

What jobs require a clean criminal record?

The first question you have to ask yourself is whether it matters that you have a criminal record before applying. Although there are some jobs require a clean record, many do not. Of those that do, most only require that your conviction not be related to the job in question. In fact, an employer can only legally deny you the job if your crime would prevent you from performing the inherent requirements of the job. This has to be more than a logical link to the job in question and must be related to a specific person for a particular job. Depending on the nature of your crime, you may still be eligible to apply. The main professions that will require a clean or mostly clean record are:

  • Any job working closely with children
  • Police and corrections officers
  • Security professionals (including Bouncers, Security Guards, Locksmiths) and Private Investigators
  • Lawyers, Public Notaries, Justices of the Peace
  • Doctors, Dentists, Nurses, Pharmacists and other health professionals
  • Members of Parliament and public office holders
  • Company Managers in certain associations
  • Conveyancers, Real Estate and Land Agents
  • Bookmakers and Gaming Licence Holders
  • Liquor Sellers and Publicans

Although you don’t necessarily need a squeaky clean record for all of these positions, most of them will require a mandatory background check either during the application or accreditation process.

Working with Children Check

Some jobs involve you working with people under the age of 18 as a direct part of your responsibilities. These jobs generally require you to undergo a check that states you are cleared to work with children. As with police checks, each state handles this system slightly differently. Because you must hold a valid Working with Children Check in order to work legally with children, employers must make it clear to job seekers. They usually list it under the requirements section in the job ad.

Do I have to mention my criminal record?

No.

If you feel like your past has no relevance to the position then you aren’t obligated to reveal it to an employer. There is no universal duty to disclose your criminal record. This is true even if such a record would likely lead you to not being employed by that employer. However, if agreeing to a police check is part of the application process, then you must submit to the police check if you want to proceed.

Never lie — and, if in doubt about whether to say anything or not, say it. If your claims of a clean background are proven false by a police check, you may be liable for not answering truthfully.  If you are fired because of dishonesty, you might be left with little recourse. The Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission generally finds in favour of the employer in cases where the employee was dishonest. This is because anti-discrimination laws against hiring people with a criminal record don’t apply once you have been dismissed for lack of honesty.

NOTE: There is a difference between deciding to not disclose your record and lying about your background. If an employer doesn’t ask about your criminal record and you say nothing, then you shouldn’t worry. It would only be an issue if not having a criminal record was an inherent part of the job. 

Why should I tell an employer about my criminal history?

Sometimes being upfront with an employer can work in your favour. By being in control of the way they hear about your past conviction, you can shape their perception of your record.  In doing this, you can emphasise how it has made you a better person. Telling an employer about something from your past shows them that you are mature, responsible for your actions and honest.

Sometimes there may be no reason or need to reveal your criminal record. Other times however you might find it helpful to reveal to the employer your background before they find out. This is especially true if they will be looking at your police check at a later time. 

If, during an interview, you’re asked about your conviction, give a simple explanation. Remember, you aren’t on trial during the interview and the outcome of that case has already been decided. Don’t try and sway the interviewer with excuses about what really happened. Tell the facts and then relate the question back to how you have learned from your past and are better for it. Address the question succinctly while sticking to the facts and practice a nice way to segue to another topic like how you’ve invested in self-development and up-skilling

What goes on a criminal record?

Your criminal record consists of a full record of your criminal history including:

  • Court appearances
  • Court convictions, including any penalty or sentence
  • Findings of guilt with no conviction
  • Good behaviour bonds or other court orders
  • Charges
  • Matters awaiting court hearing
  • Matters currently under investigation
  • Police intelligence (records of investigations)
  • Traffic infringements

Remember, only you and the police can access your record. The only way an employer can see what is on your record is if you give them permission. The best way to know what’s on there? Get your own Police Check so you know what to expect and how to answer any questions that may come up during an interview process. 

What is an employer looking for?

When employers request a police check they are trying to reduce the risk of a new hire performing criminal activities. In some industries the employer is legally required to ensure the employee is entitled to work there. An employer isn’t allowed to discriminate against a job seeker with a criminal record. They are allowed to pass on applicants whose criminal history relates to the job. However, there must be a “tight correlation” to the occupation and not just a logical or similar relationship. Because they need to prove the close relationship between the conviction and job, employers can’t simply deny someone a job because of a criminal record that is not 100% clean.

If the employer believes that a criminal record check is essential to the position then they must notify job seekers. 

Cleaning Your Criminal Record

In some cases, it may already have cleaned itself with previous crimes not appearing on your police check. This is because in Australia, certain previous convictions can become spent. Your criminal record doesn’t include spent convictions in any way. This means that you don’t need to tell an employer about it either. A conviction is eligible to be spent when it meets the following conditions:

  • It has been 10 years from the date of the conviction (or 5 years for juvenile offenders)
  • The individual was not sentenced to imprisonment for more than 30 months
  • The individual has not re-offended during the 10 year (5 years for juvenile offenders) waiting period
  • A statutory or regulatory exclusion does not apply

There are exceptions, however, including serious, violent, or sexual crimes. Be aware that certain circumstances such as Working with Children Check may still reveal spent convictions. Each state handles this process differently however and you should check with your local police force. If you live in WA for example, you have to personally apply to have eligible previous convictions classed as spent.

Putting the Past Behind You

It shouldn’t matter what you did in the past especially if you are dedicated and actively trying to have a fresh start. From your perspective, that makes total sense. For an employer, however, they take a risk anytime they hire somebody new. For many employers, they view someone with a criminal record as possibly less trustworthy. This is one of the reasons why getting a job with a criminal record can be hard.

One way to counter this is to start small. Apply for positions with less responsibility or volunteer at an organisation so that you can prove yourself to the current and future employers.  Another way to get around the possible “convict” stereotype is to use your personal network. Speak to family and friends and see if there is an opening somewhere where they can vouch for you. Getting some experience behind you can be the best thing for future employment. Employers will see you more as a worker than as a job seeker with a criminal record.

Starting the Job

Congratulations! Now that you have the job, this is the time to prove yourself to the employer. If you are worried about whether your criminal record will continue to cause you anxiety, you can relax.

Once you have been hired, an employer cannot ask you any questions about any convictions you may have. The only exceptions to this are if you have been employed on the condition of an appropriate police check. If your criminal record comes back with conditions that the employer didn’t know about then you could be dismissed.

The other way you can be fired if it is discovered that you lied about your criminal record. This is why it pays to be honest when that question first comes up. It lets you control how they discover the information and how you aren’t letting it define you.

Summary

Having a criminal record can make your job search harder, but that doesn’t mean its impossible. Many employers won’t even check, but if they do make sure you consider:

  • What are you legally obligated to reveal to employers?
  • Are any of your convictions spent?
  • How will you address your conviction history with the employer?

At the end of the day, you know your true worth and what you can bring to an employer. Focus on what you can do for the company and how you can be a valuable employee. If you can do that you’ll definitely make the right impression and your criminal record won’t matter.

 


 

Need a Police Check?

Either for your own peace of mind or if an Employer has requested it, you can get your Police Check here… 

12 Comments

  • Rick

    Having a criminal record can make job seeking harder is one hell of a understatement.

    • Matt Jepson
      Matt Jepson

      Thanks, Rick.

      I agree, having a criminal record can make job seeking feel almost impossible. It’s not though. A big part of the solution will be changing the way that employers think about hiring people. Changing the narrative from “This person make mistakes” to “This person made a mistake and learnt a lesson” is an important step.

      Thanks for your comment,

      Matt

  • Emery Dixon

    Getting a job with a criminal record is almost impossible. Sad thing is, these are mistakes you probably made at least 7 years ago and they are still presented on your police clearance.

    • Matt Jepson
      Matt Jepson

      Hi Emery,

      You’re absolutely right – it’s terrible to be held back because of a mistake you made seven years ago. In many ways though that can be a good thing because you can tell an employer that yes, you did make a mistake several years ago but you aren’t the same person you were then. Show them that you have grown and developed yourself.

      The other good news is that someone with an old criminal record is almost eligible to have the convictions spent and can go back into the world with a clean record.

      Thanks for your comment,

      Matt

  • Clair

    Having a criminal record for a once off serious crime due to unforeseen circumstances is impossible to get a job. My experience being female and having it happen 10 years ago and that it always show up on checks (not child/sexual related for the record) and even if you are honest and upfront you always get turned down. Does not matter what experience, qualification you have. Also trying to obtain volunteer work is on the same part. Prior to crime I was a very successful professional and now am worthless in the job sector. Even moving interstate has not helped.
    Sorry once I read the above I was very compelled to reply. Thankyou

    • Matt Jepson
      Matt Jepson

      Hi Clair,

      Thanks for your response. I’m sorry to hear that you have been having such a hard time looking for work.

      If your conviction is eligible to be spent and 10 years have passed then it shouldn’t appear on any police checks (unless you are applying for positions at a hospital, with children, or within the legal system). A spent conviction also means that you don’t need to mention or it or disclose it to an employer outside of the above industries. According to the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner you can even swear on oath that your record is clean. Basically, it didn’t happen. That means that if you wish to you can be honest and tell and employer that you don’t have a criminal record.

      Obviously it depends on your circumstances (the nature of your conviction, the job you’re applying for, etc.) but this could help you to secure a job and get back on track. This isn’t a substitute for legal advice however and a lawyer would be able to provide you with a more clear picture of your situation and how you can act.

      If you were previously a successful professional then you want employers to focus on that and how you can be an asset to them. Having a clean record again can give you a bit of breathing space and let you shine to employers. I hope you can get back to that level and wish you good luck with your job search.

      Thanks again for your comment,

      Matt

  • Clair

    Thank you Matt

    Unfortunately my crime does not fall under the spent convictions so that is why it is hard and impossible – a employee does not care what you were like prior to conviction. I can have a interview and win a job and the minute they ask for a police check im very upfront an honest and then its sorry offer is off table. So i can get to interviews its getting past that next stage

    • Matt Jepson
      Matt Jepson

      Hi Clair,

      That is unfortunate.

      If an employer doesn’t want to know about you from before the conviction then you’re only option is to sell them on what you have done since then. Talk about any qualifications, courses, or projects you have worked on. Mention anything that could have developed useful skills for you. If the employer can only see an event from over a decade ago then you need to make sure they can see everything you have done in the meantime that makes you a better worker.

      My other advice is to get ahead of the police check question. Use an opportunity in the interview to quickly explain the situation (you don’t have to go into detail for your record) and show them how you have used it to make a big change to your life. Talk about any big lessons you learnt and how the experience has made you a better employee. From there you can segue into any other times you have developed yourself as an employee and keep drawing the employer back to how you have developed the skills and character they need.

      I would suggest however that you don’t bring your record up first or leave it until the last moment – leave those first and last impressions to focus on your professionalism, friendliness, and excitement to work.

      I can’t be certain but I’m sure that being upfront and honest in a way that lets you control the narrative and allows you to redirect the employer to how you have developed yourself and are committed to self-improvement will help you get a job. This way you can be in charge of how they hear about it and they won’t feel like you have tried to hide it (even though you aren’t hiding anything). The fact you are getting to interviews is a good thing – obviously the employers are impressed with your resume – now it’s just making sure you show them how you’ve developed yourself since your conviction and how it’s improved why your ability as an employee.

      I hope that helps, good luck!

      Matt

  • Bill

    I am currently employed as a bus operator and every three years I must reapply for renewal of my accreditation. Over the past 13 years as an operator I had stated in my criminal history check
    That I have no criminal record. In fact 40 years ago I had been convicted in a court for assault and recurved 1 year sentence suspended with a 12 month good behavior bond.
    This year the DCSI department after a new electronic registry system picked up a past criminal record. They notified me of my requirement to disclose of my previous record and I told them that I had been told by a police officer that after 20 years my criminal record doesn’t show up in a police check and so I don’t have to disclose it because it is spent.
    Now I have reapplied for my accreditation and am waiting for a result before my current accreditation expires to keep my job. Should I consult a solicitor am I in trouble over this. I fear I may lose my job and I am now 62 with 5 years before retirement.

    • Matt Jepson
      Matt Jepson

      Hi Bill,

      Thanks for your comment and congratulations on 13 years as a bus operator!

      I’m sorry to hear that your past has been dragged up like this, especially since it has been so long without any other instances. While it certainly sounds like you are a likely candidate for the spent conviction scheme there are times where otherwise spent convictions will still appear. Things like Working with Children checks for instance will reveal everything about someone’s history – spent or not.

      I’m not sure of your specific circumstances but I would definitely advise speaking to an employment lawyer near you or perhaps approaching a union for advice. I think you should be okay considering the length of time between the incident as well as your long history of service in the role.

      I hope everything works out for the best and you are able to keep working until your retirement. If you do get reaccredited please feel free to let me know – it’s always great to hear when people are successful. Good luck and thanks again for reaching out.

      Matt

  • Matt

    Hi, I have an unlawful assault charge and was looking for work. It took me a few months but I finally found an employer who didn’t do police checks. Not all do. Best advice is hold your head high, keep positive and good things will come.

    • Matt Jepson
      Matt Jepson

      Hi Matt, I’m pleased to hear you were able to get a job after only a few months and with an employer who was willing to take you on based on who you were then and not who you were before.

      I think you’re right, staying positive is extremely important when looking for work. Once you start to get despondent then you become less attractive to employers and a vicious cycle begins. I’m glad you were successful and able to put your charge behind you.

      Thanks for your comment!

      Matt

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