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According to the New York University School of Law, nearly one-third of the adult working population has a criminal record. Getting convicted of a crime, or even arrested, can feel life-shattering. Especially when you consider how the arrest or conviction will affect your job search or growth in your current workplace. You may find that application screening questions will make it harder to land a face-to-face interview. Or you may experience reluctance from hiring managers after they run a background check. However, it’s possible to overcome the challenge of a criminal record. With good information, access to the right resources, and a targeted effort, you can get the job you want. Job hunting with a criminal record is not impossible. 

While it is true, certain fields can be tougher to enter depending on the nature of your crimes, it is important to look at what laws and regulations are in your state when you’re looking for a job. Looking deeper into your state’s laws will help you understand what jobs are definitely off-limits. For example, if you were convicted of any kind of criminal activity that involved a child, you should probably rethink becoming a teacher or a youth sports coach.

You are not alone

Getting a good job can be hard for anyone, but it can be twice as hard for those with a criminal record. Even if you are extremely well qualified for a job, studies show that a criminal record decreases your chances of a job offer or receiving a call back by nearly 50 percent.

While this seems daunting, job hunting with a criminal record is not as isolating as you may believe. In fact, as many as 33% of people in the U.S. have been arrested or convicted of criminal offenses. That’s nearly 100 million other people sharing your struggle. As a result, getting a job with a criminal record is a fairly common challenge.

It may be hard to believe, but criminal records are fairly common:

  • By the age of 23, as many as 25 to 40% of adults in America have been arrested.
  • Each year, roughly 9 million people are released from jail.
  • Over 4.7 million Americans are currently on probation or parole.
  • Most people have criminal records due to minor or non-serious offenses.
  • Criminal records often include arrests, even if they never resulted in convictions, were discriminatory or unjustified for other reasons.
  • More than half of homeless Americans have been incarcerated due to laws that effectively criminalize homelessness and poverty by trying to survive on the streets.
  • About 400,000 innocent people in the U.S. each year encounter problems from being tied to the criminal records of actual offenders who falsely used their names and identities when they were arrested.

More than 90% of companies in the U.S. perform criminal background checks on job applicants. Many of them will quickly reject applicants if those checks turn up arrests or convictions. Unfortunately, this can shut out workers who are trying to rebuild after a run-in with the law. But the economy is doing great! This means job opportunities are available for those with varying degrees of convictions and arrests on their backgrounds. 

Why do employers conduct background checks?

There are two main reasons employers conduct background checks.

First, employers could be held liable if they hire an employee guilty of violent or other damaging offenses. For example, a company that hires a driver with a DUI may be liable if the employee drinks on the job and then kills or seriously injures another driver.

Second, employers want to hire employees they can trust. When faced with the choice of an employee convicted of theft and without a theft conviction, most employers will choose the employee without. The employer doesn’t want to make it easier for somebody to steal from the business.

Specific instances employers might be concerned about:

  • Keeping workplaces safe
  • Protecting property
  • Avoiding legal liability from potential harm to clients, customers, or suppliers
  • Ensuring that their existing employees won’t be subjected to abuse or predatory behaviors

Even though employers are concerned with protecting themselves, sticking to these steadfast rules works against those with convictions or past arrests. An unfortunate side effect of a criminal past is that it often makes it difficult to return to legitimate employment which can cause a person to return to crime to survive.

Job hunting with a misdemeanor

Misdemeanor crimes are those less serious in nature. Most people with criminal records have misdemeanors in their backgrounds. In the U.S., more than 10 million misdemeanor cases are filed yearly. Several issues arise from the sheer volume of misdemeanor crimes being filtered through the American legal system.

For instance, lacking resources prevents many innocent people from getting proper legal representation. Lack of resources can mean that a defendant did not have enough money to afford an attorney; or that the defendant received an overwhelmed or inexperienced court-appointed attorney. According to the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers’ The Terrible Toll of America’s Broken Misdemeanor Courts, in either of these cases, a defendant might plead guilty to a crime they did not actually commit. Unfortunately, many people do not know the toll a guilty plea will take on their lives.

This means that in addition to the millions of people who made a mistake in their past, there are a number of people struggling to find employment because of misdemeanor criminal convictions they were not guilty of. No matter which category you fall into, you can still land on your feet after a misdemeanor conviction or arrest.

What jobs are available to me with a misdemeanor?

Unfortunately, no matter if you were guilty, innocent, or have since turned over a new leaf, your criminal record on your background is unrelenting. The good news is misdemeanors don’t typically look as bad on paper as felonies. The bad news is a misdemeanor can still be an obstacle in your job search. Unfortunately, there is no tell-all guide to what companies are willing to hire you with a misdemeanor.

In most scenarios, your best bet is to be aware of what appears on your criminal record. While low-paying jobs won’t bother with background checks, positions that pay more or in office settings will likely look into your past. In addition, careers in hospitals, daycares, the financial industry, schools, hotels, security, or law enforcement will likely run a background check on you.

The nature of your crime could possibly bar you from certain employment. For example, a misdemeanor domestic battery charge may prevent you from becoming a nurse or teacher. However, the same charge will not close the door to being an attorney. But don’t let this discourage you! There are several success stories of people with criminal backgrounds breaking into the field of their choice.

Job Hunting with a Felony

Felony convictions are more serious offenses than misdemeanors. Accordingly, seeking employment after a felony conviction or arrest is much more difficult than those trying to overcome a misdemeanor. Between 1990 and 2006, the number of Americans with felony convictions grew by 37 percent. Additionally, over 90 percent of former federal prisoners who secure employment after their release successfully integrate back into society.

This means that felons are much less likely to return to prison if they can find reliable employment. Here are the steps to take when you’re job hunting with a felony:

Research ahead of time

Know which companies are likely to hire felons and which companies will immediately disqualify you for your felony record. To maximize your job search efficiency, apply to jobs that are more likely to hire you.

In addition, several organizations are given a tax break by the government when they hire ex-felons. These tax breaks are specifically given to these businesses when they hire a felon in the first year after the conviction or release. Do your research to determine which organizations are known to take these tax breaks. You will have a much easier time gaining employment in this position.

Find helpful organizations

Don’t try to find a job alone. Look for organizations that can help you in your job search. There are several workforce development centers that are there to help ex-felons secure jobs. In addition, there are several online resources to assist you in your job search.

Build your own business

There is no limitation if you have the entrepreneurial skills to start your business. There are no laws that ban felons from starting or owning your business.

Freelance or work from home

Freelance opportunities are abundant in the digital world we live in. In addition to the ubiquity, they are a good way to earn money and criminal background is typically irrelevant. There are all types of jobs online, but be careful. Several work-from-home scams require upfront payments. You will never have to pay an upfront fee for a job.

Get an education

The best thing you can do as a felon to enhance your skill set is to improve your academic background. Take classes to keep your skills current, training programs to build skills or complete your GED. There are several jobs in technology that care more about your skills and less about other factors such as a criminal record.

Try to clear your record

Depending on your state and the type of crime, you may have the right to get your felony removed from your records in a legal manner. Do some research and find a lawyer. A lawyer will know how you can get a felony conviction or arrest removed from your records and restore your rights. The Carlson Law Firm offers free consultations and can help you get the life you want.


A job offer is much easier to attain if you have strong references. A strong reference can go a long way with potential employers. In addition, a good reference will be able to explain that you were a good worker in previous jobs or projects. A credible and reliable reference can add value to your application by speaking to your character.

Know what’s in your background

It may be a surprise to know what isn’t in your background check. Walking into a job interview without knowing what is on your background is like riding a bike with your eyes closed. By knowing exactly what your criminal records say you will know what information you need to disclose and explain.

Do not lie to your potential employer

Your potential employer will find out what is in your background if you do a background check. If you lied, you will definitely not get the job. By being upfront and honest, you will show your employer that you are a trustworthy employee.

What is Ban the Box?

Ban the box is an international campaign by civil rights groups and advocates of ex-offenders. The organization aims to remove the criminal record checkbox from job applications. The premise of the campaign is to prevent ex-offenders from re-offending by allowing them to gain legal employment.

Over the last several decades there has been an increase in the number of convictions for petty crimes because of tougher sentencing. In addition, because of the September 11 terror attacks, there has been a rise in background checks.

While the Ban the Box initiative has good intentions, it has also been with some criticism. Many companies say that the initiative put their businesses and employees in danger.

Further, it may be having a negative effect on certain demographics. For example, according to Ban the Box, Criminal Records, and Racial Discrimination: A Field Experiment before a Ban the Box initiative is put in place, whites receive 7 percent more callbacks than similar Black applicants. However, with the Ban the Box in place, this disparity increases to 43 percent. This essentially means that Ban the Box has a negative effect on Black populations because of the discriminatory prejudices that there is a real-world difference in felony conviction rates.

What can I do to overcome my criminal record while on the job hunt?

First and foremost, stay out of trouble. Time will be your best friend when you’re searching for a job. By staying out of trouble, you will prove to potential employers that you are not a repeat offender and are, in fact, a trustworthy person.

Secondly, be honest about your situation. Trying to hide your criminal record won’t do you any good. This is especially true when you know that your potential employer will run a background check. We don’t recommend opening a job interview with, “Hey, I have a misdemeanor, but I’m a good person!” However, if or when the question comes up, be honest. Hiring managers will appreciate your honesty more than they will a lie or a lie by omission.

Third, put some distance between yourself and the people you hung around when you got into trouble. Being able to say that you’ve put that part of your life behind you will show a potential employer that you’re moving toward a more positive life.

Fourth, and maybe most important, don’t give up! Even a bad interview can teach you a lesson. Keep going until you reach your goal. And then set a new goal.

Consider Hiring a Record Expunction Lawyer

Getting your record cleared of changes can be the fresh start you’ve been looking for. Our legal team’s Killeen Criminal Record Expunction Lawyers have been helping Central Texans navigate expunctions. We will work tirelessly to ensure you have the fresh start you need to secure a new home or job. We offer free consultations.

The Carlson Law Firm Can Help

If you believe your criminal records are hurting your chances of attaining your career goals, contact The Carlson Law Firm. We have criminal law attorneys on our staff that can help get your records sealed or expunged. If you are having a difficult time job hunting with a criminal record, contact our firm to schedule a free case evaluation.

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