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?
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
- 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.
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…