How to Get a Job With a Criminal Record

by HollieT

Getting a Job when you have a criminal record is about more than just applying and hoping for the best. Read these tips, and learn how to get a job with a criminal record.

If you've landed on this page, the likelihood is that you've repaid your debt to society; newly released from prison or discharged from a community order, and you're full of good intentions. After finding somewhere to live, the first item on the agenda is to get a job. Yes, it's about the money, we all need money to survive, but you also know that finding a job is the key to turning your life around.

You know it isn't going to be easy to gain employment when you have a criminal record, you've heard all the horror stories, and time and time again you've listened to seasoned offenders who claim that their inability to find work is soley due to their criminal history. But is it?

For some reason, many ex-offenders will approach job hunting in a haphazard and disorganized fashion, and then when they start to receive the rejection letters will put their lack of success down to their criminal record. Whilst it is true that there are certain occupations from which ex-offenders are excluded, there are equally as many occupations where ex-offenders can and do gain employment.

Of course it isn't going to be easy finding a job when you have a criminal record, of course you're going to have to work harder to prove yourself than other people. But the reality is that with planning, forethought, preparation and solid advice, you CAN and will get a job.

If you're serious about getting a job, you'll need to acknowledge that you have a lot of work to do. Not just when it comes to searching for vacancies, and not just when it comes to completing application forms and preparing your CV or resume, but also when it comes to looking at your strengths and weaknesses, skills and experience, and areas where you can improve and develop. 

Imagine that you already have a full time job, your job is to obtain employment, you work for five days a week, eight hours per day, and today is your first day.

Evaluate Your Strengths and Weaknesses.

An evaluation of your skills and experience is very important, but an evaluation of your strengths and weaknesses is vital if you're going to succeed.

Sometimes out of sheer desperation, reluctance to face up to the reality of their situation or simply because they don't feel that they have anything else to offer, many ex-offenders will make the mistake of pursuing occupations and careers which are not only inappropriate, but also unrealistic. 

It doesn't matter how many convictions you have under your belt; one or a multitude, you have a criminal record, which may well exclude you from your previous occupation or a field where you would like to work. You could, of course, lie about your convictions on your application, and the temptation to do so might be overwhelming when you feel that your options are limited, but this is an extremely bad idea, we'll discuss why later on..

When considering which occupations are deemed inappropriate for ex-offenders, there are the obvious ones such as those within the Criminal Justice System. But also, you must consider the relationship between your offence and the job applied for. It's highly unlikely that you'll interview successfully for the position of a mechanic, if your offences are related to driving or cars. Nor can you work behind the counter in a pharmacy if you've been convicted of possession or possession with intent to supply. Nor should you want to, you know where your vulnerabilities lie.

A prime example of those who will often pursue a career which may be unrealistic or ill-timed, comes from those who are recovering from alcohol and substance misuse. After becoming drug and alcohol free, many ex-offenders will decide that they want to help others who are experiencing similar problems, particularly when they discover that it's possible to gain such a role, even if you have a criminal past; the possibility of becoming a drug/alcohol worker suddenly becomes very appealing.  

Whilst wanting to help others overcome their situation is admirable, it may not have the best outcome for you. If you have been considering this line of work and you are a former user, you may need to do a little soul searching and ask yourself some very difficult questions. You will also need to be brutally honest when it comes to the answers. 


The Reality of the Situation.

Sadly, many ex-offenders will actively chase employment or voluntary work which brings them into direct contact with users and drinkers, and, sadly, many of them will relapse and subsequently re-offend. 

It may be many years before you're actually stable enough to pursue this line of work, so, in the meantime, what will you do with yourself?


DON'T set yourself up to fail, allow yourself the opportunity to succeed. 

The Tough Questions.

For How long have you been drug/alcohol free?

If you were to associate with substance/alcohol users at this point in your recovery, are you absolutely certain that you could control and deal with any cravings that you may have?

How well do you understand your addiction? Can you recognise your triggers for using and identify situations where you are vulnerable?

Are you considering this line of work because you feel that it's the only area where you are knowledgeable?

Think About Transferable skills And Attempt To Develop Skills For Employment.

What do we mean by transferable skills and skills for employment? Well, transferable skills are those which you may have obtained in your working life, or whilst in prison, which can be used in other roles and occupations. Or, skills which you may have obtained in your personal life, but can be used in your professional life. For example, you might use a computer at home, and can, therefore, transfer that skill to your working life.

You'll Be Surprised by your existing level of skills.
You'll Be Surprised by your existing level of skills.

Skills for employment is a very broad term, it can involve time management- making sure you're always on time for work, learning to take instructions, or sometimes just having the ability to get along with people and being able to resolve problems in a mature and reasonable way. The term can also refer to particular skills which may be needed to perform the job undertaken. For example, you will need a clean driving licence and the ability to read a map to become a taxi driver or courier.

Before applying for jobs, it's really important to think about your existing skills, and, where appropriate, about acquiring skills which could help you to secure employment. Such as carpentry skills, or computer skills.

After all, how could you possibly sell your skills to a prospective employer if you haven't even considered what they might be?

Transferable Skills.

Many ex-offenders struggle when they are asked to consider their existing skills. That might be because they have an extensive criminal record, have served dozens of prison sentences and may never have held down a legitimate job. If this applies to you, fear not, because during those prison or community sentences, and even whilst engaging in criminal activity, you have put to use a number of skills and probably acquired new ones along the way. 

Reflect for a while; think about all the prison and community sentences you may have served. Did you work whilst in prison? Did you take part in educational courses? Did you workout in the gym, or take any courses related to physical fitness or training? What about courses relating to your offending behaviour, you must, at some point, have taken part in those? Have you ever been a prison listener? Have you helped other prisoners with literacy issues read and write letters? 

Think about all the things you may have done in the past, and then consider which skills are needed to carry out those tasks. 

Working whilst in prison not only requires organisational ability, but the ability to work as part of a team. Furthermore, you will also have needed the ability to follow directions. In fact, in some prisons, work is only allocated to those who are deemed trustworthy- the trustees, they can be relied upon to complete a task effectively and with minimum supervision. A prison listener, must of course, be a good listener, and helping other prisoners with their letters requires good communication skills and patience. Take a look at all those skills..

Well organised.

Works well in a team.

Able to take and follow instructions carefully.

Effective worker.

Task oriented.

Requires minimum supervision.

Listening skills.

Communication skills.

Patience with others.

For ex-offenders who have previously enjoyed a career, a professional life, the transition to joblessness because of a criminal record can be devastating. Initially, some people can't see past the fact that all their training and education can no longer be utilized in the career of their choice. But the good news is, that skill set may be highly valued in a different role, a role where your criminal record is not as important as the experience you bring to the job. 

Obviously, the number of professions where skills, experience and qualifications overlap are far too numerous to mention here. However, this is a really important exercise to undertake- you need to think about where your skills and education might be valuable, even if, albeit, in a completely different role.

A number crunching account with a criminal record may not be trusted with other people's money again, but they'll have more than enough experience to teach arithmetic to adults, or deliver courses about using spread sheets, or write an e-book about tax law. Did you notice that those roles involve working with adults, or making your own employment?

Although not always the case, in the UK many of the jobs that are exempt form the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act (we'll come to that soon) involve working with vulnerable people and children, or belong to one of the professions. However, there are a number of roles which involve working with adults who are not considered vulnerable, and who may require knowledge and expertise which you can provide. 

Important Skills for Employment: Reading and Writing.

It doesn't matter which country we look at, the percentage of offenders and ex-offenders with poor levels of literacy and numeracy is always extremely high. Getting a job when you have a criminal record is no easy task, but if you struggle when it comes to reading and writing you have an additional barrier to employment. One that you CAN, if you're prepared to do little work, overcome. 

Having interviewed hundreds, if not thousands, of offenders who claim that they 'cannot' read and write, not once, not on any occasion, have I found that they actually cannot. You see, most adults who believe that they are illiterate are misinformed. They CAN read and write, just not very well. 

Poor literacy and numeracy skills are in no way related to levels of intelligence. There can be many reasons why an individual may have problems when it comes to reading and writing, which include; a learning difficulty such as dyslexia, poor attendance at school, and lack of confidence, yes confidence. If you were ever told at school that you were stupid (poor teachers will often blame their students for their own shortcomings) it is highly likely that you may have stopped trying to learn and therefore avoided situations where you had to read or write.

It might be that a friend or family member is reading this article to you right now, which also shows that despite your difficulties, you are seeking information with the intention of bettering yourself. In other words, you already have the desire, and the ability, to learn. 

Addressing your reading and writing problems can seem like a daunting task, but it doesn't have to be. Ask yourself, what is it, exactly, that you'd like to be able to do; sign a birthday card, read your mail or the morning paper, how about completing a job application yourself?

Set yourself one goal which relates to reading and writing, then take it from there. 

There are a number of free community courses where adult learners can improve their skills. If you have an internet connection and a friend who can help, a quick search will reveal all the resources in your area. If you don't feel ready to attend a course at this time and you have an internet connection, or access to the internet, try BBC Skillswise English and Maths for Adults. It doesn't matter what your level of literacy or numeracy, this free online course uses pictures, video and sound to take you through the course, and it's a great place to start.

Skills for Employment: Learn a Trade.

There are many occupations where your criminal record will be considered less important than your skills. The building trade, driving jobs, motor mechanics to name but a few, are less inclined to care about your convictions when they need your experience.There are a shortage of skilled tradesmen in the United Kingdom because, over the years, we have paid less attention to training apprentices than we might have, and now, kids leaving school with 5 GCSE's grades A-C do not want to pursue those occupations. 

The problem is, not only does it take a couple of years to qualify and become competent in such roles, but there is also a cost attached to most courses. If you're trying to get by on benefits, then paying £500 or more for the course of your choice will be practically impossible, unless of course, you have a family who can afford to loan you the money. 

This is where the Prisoner Funder Directory can help. The directory offers a list of charities and resources whose aim is to help offenders and ex-offenders reintegrate into the community. Resettlement includes employment and education, and there have been many instances where individuals have managed to secure funding for training, education and help with the costs of employment. 

If you have convictions but have never served a custodial sentence, then there are other charities which may be able to help. If you are still in contact with your Probation Officer, you could ask them to apply to Nacro on your behalf (the application must be supported by your PO) for help with training and education costs. If you are no longer in contact with the Probation Service, then take a trip to your local library and ask for a copy of the Employment Grants Directory and the Educational Grants Directory.

Take a pad and pen with you, because these are reference books and it is unlikely that you'll be permitted to take them from the premises. Both books contain the names and addresses of literally hundreds of charities that grant funds to many different groups in society, including ex-offenders. Each charity will discuss who they will consider for funding, for what purposes they grant funds and also how much they will award. 

If you need help to compose an application for funding, read How to write and application for a charity hardship grant.

If, for some reason, you are having difficulty finding either of these books, follow the link to where used, inexpensive copies of these and similar books can be obtained.

Do I Have to Disclose My Criminal Convictions On My Application Or At The Interview? The Law.

Without a shadow of a doubt, the disclosure of criminal convictions on an application form or at an interview not only fills many ex-offenders with dread, but can also be a minefield when it comes to knowing what must and must not be disclosed.

The first reaction is often to mislead; to tick the box which says no and continue the deception at the interview stage, if it gets that far.

Nevertheless, if you live in the United Kingdom, and gain employment after lying on your application or at the interview, there is a strong possibility that if you are caught you will be charged with another offence. The offence is known as  Gaining Pecuniary Advantage by Deception, which may result in another custodial sentence. You need to be clear, not only about when to disclose, but how. 

The dilemma of disclosure.
The dilemma of disclosure.

The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act. What You Do and Do Not Need To Disclose.

The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act (1974) states that:

You must disclose all unspent convictions when asked if you have a criminal record.

You do not, however, have to disclose spent convictions, even when asked whether you have a criminal record, unless the job for which you have applied is exempt from the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act.

If you have unspent convictions and you are not asked whether you have a criminal record, you are not at liberty to disclose. However, it is advisable to disclose unspent convictions whether you are asked or not.

What Are Spent and Unspent Convictions?

Under the ROA, many convictions which are served in the community become spent or forgotten after a period of time, which is known as the rehabilitation period. Normally five years.

Prison sentences of varying lengths but up to six months become spent after seven years. If you have served a prison sentence of up to two and a half years, it will become spent after ten years. A prison sentence of more than two and a half years will never become spent.

These periods of time, the rehabilitation periods, are based on the length of the sentence, not the period of time spent in custody. In other words, if you were sentenced to four years but only served two and a half years, your sentence will never be spent. 

If you were under the age of eighteen when convicted, the rehabilitation periods are halved.

For the full list of rehabilitation periods, see Nacro's ROA help pages.


As you can see from the information above, there are times when you MUST disclose your offences, or risk prosecution. 

To summarise, when you are asked on an application form, or at an interview, whether you have a criminal record, you must disclose any conviction which remains unspent. If your conviction is spent, then you are not required to disclose unless the vacancy is exempt from the Rehabilitation Act. If the post is exempt from the Rehabilitation Act, it will clearly say so on the application and you will be left in no doubt. 

If you have unspent convictions, and you have not been asked whether you have any criminal convictions, you are not legally required to disclose. However, if, at some later stage, your employer discovers that you have an unspent conviction, he may feel that you have been dishonest because you didn't offer the information, and might, therefore, terminate your employment.

This may seem unfair, but unless you've been employed with the organisation for more than 12 months, and can prove that you were dismissed because of your criminal record, even though you may never have been asked about it, you will have no form of recourse whatsoever. It is far better to offer the information when you have unspent convictions, even if you have not been asked.

How To Disclose Your Criminal Record.

There is, absolutely, a right way and a wrong way to disclose your criminal convictions. Firstly, you must take responsibility for your offences, you have been convicted of them, and you own them. If you claim that it wasn't your fault, or that you were wrongly convicted, you are basically telling a potential employer that you have learnt nothing and that you have not changed. If you're going to go down that road, kiss goodbye to the job now.

However, you can talk about mitigating circumstances. You will have heard your solicitor talk about mitigating circumstances in court. Basically, mitigating circumstances are an explanation as to why you behaved the way that you did, and made such poor decisions. 

It may have been because of immaturity, problems at home, drug/alcohol abuse, that you were easily influenced by others, or, quite simply, because you were unable to solve problems. This is also the point where you get to blow your own trumpet; talk about how much you've learnt since committing the offence, how much you've matured and developed, how you are now able to approach problems from a completely different angle. You could also talk about how you now realise that there will always be consequences for your actions, and how you want to keep on the straight and narrow and stay out of trouble. 

When you're asked on your application about your offences, tick the appropriate box and write 'please see attached sheet'. On a separate sheet of paper, disclose your convictions and then talk about how you've changed (as we've already discussed)

For an example of how you might disclose your convictions in writing, see Nacro's How to disclose.

Watch the video beneath, and all the possible scenarios that may follow when you do, or do not, disclose your offences. There's also an excellent example of how to talk about your convictions at an interview. 


Tell, or Don't Tell.

Obtaining References.

Obtaining references can be a particular problem for some ex-offenders, and the likelihood is that you will be asked on the application form for the details of two or more referees. It might be that you are able to supply references from people in your personal life, or not. 

If you do have a former employer who is willing to give you a good reference, then name them. However, if you're struggling to come up with names of referees, then think about the professionals that you've worked with whilst serving your prison or community sentences, or the professionals that you've worked with after your order ended.

You could always contact your former Probation Officer, or contact the prison if you can think of a Prison Officer, chaplin, housing worker etc. who may have worked with you and might be willing to provide a reference. Or it might be the case that you're working voluntarily with the drug/alcohol team at the present time. You could also approach them. 

Of course, each one of these workers will only provide a reference in their professional capacity. However, any prospective employer will know that if you have a criminal history, then you will have worked with Criminal Justice Professionals. And when you think about it, who better to talk about the progress that you've made, and how far you've come!

You Already Have An Advantage.

If you've read this rather long article to the end, and if you intend to take the advice offered, you're already in a better position than many of the others who might be competing for the same job as you, even if they do not have a criminal record. Watch the video beneath to discover why. 

Good Luck!

Updated: 02/06/2013, HollieT
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HollieT on 03/29/2013

Catana, the information contained within this page offers some information which is pertinent to offenders from countries other than the UK, such as *how to disclose a criminal record* by far one of the biggest stumbling blocks for offenders when it comes to gaining employment, irrespective of their nationality. Also relevance and how appropriate any potential employment may be. This is yet another area where ex-offenders set themselves up to fail. If you do some homework, you'll see that there is a weight of evidence supporting my claim . But when specifics; such as law, disclosure and resources are offered the article is, indeed, Uk centric.

In fairness, I have no idea what your experience and/or qualifications might be when it comes to offender employment and education. Perhaps you have just read a few books about human rights and penal institutions and therefore feel qualified to make assumptions and offer unsupported and mostly outlandish claims, or perhaps you have developed some expertise and have real life experience, training and qualifications when it comes to this issue. Like myself perhaps. In which case, I would suggest writing an article of your own about said topic.

It does appear that you have read this article in its entirety now, which is indeed progress. However, as this particular page has received an EC award, receives lots of organic hits and comments and also appears to answer the search queries, I think it's doing pretty well without any revisions.

In fact, I really don't feel that your comments offer any further value to the reader, so I will, therefore, disable any further comments that you might wish to make.

HollieT on 03/28/2013

I live in the UK, it's on my profile, therefore my experience is in the UK. Also, if you'd had read the article in it's entirety, you would have noticed that the discussion focused on disclosure and the law, makes specific references to the UK. In fact, so do the resources offered and there are also references to employment in the UK.

I wouldn't write about the situation in the US. I tend only to comment and write about issues where I have in depth knowledge.

HollieT on 03/28/2013

Part 2.

"And the majority of prisons have absolutely no occupational training, nor do they offer any help in adjusting to freedom" Again, I have to ask, are you just pulling these statements from the top of your head? *Every* prison in the UK offers occupational training, which is certified and nationally recognised. Furthermore, there are whole teams in prisons who focus on nothing but resettlement and helping prisoners adjust with life on the outside. The problem is revolving door offenders, they serve from a few days to a couple of weeks at most. There simply is not enough time to train them and help prepare them for life on the outside.

"At a guess, I'd say that this advice is pretty useless for all but a very tiny percentage: specifically those who have a decent education and have some internet know-how."

Wrong again, offenders with a decent education are 40 times more likely to secure employment within six months of release than offenders with poor levels of literacy and numeracy. In other words, they are the least likely to find this page particularly helpful, except when it comes to the intricacies of the ROA.

Also, just for the record, illiterate and innumerate ex-offenders are far from stupid. They may not be internet savvy but have learnt, throughout their lives, how to overcome obstacles where reading, writing and tech know-how are involved. They will often have a *trusted* helper who will read their mail for them, access pages on the internet and relay information to them from books and other materials. This applies both within the prison walls and beyond them.

HollieT on 03/28/2013

Part I.

Catana, thank you for your *opinions and assumptions*

I think, which is perhaps my fault, you have failed to comprehend the points that I have been trying to across. I was not attempting to make it *sound* as if it's the persons own fault if they cannot get a job, I was suggesting however, that a job will not just land in the lap of an ex-offender if they do not approach job hunting in an organised and clearly thought out way.*fact* How do I know this? Eight years working with offenders, two of those years as an employment and education specialist, and two of those years working in a high security institution working pre release with prolific offenders who had major resettlement issues.

"Many ex-inmates have been in prison for years" I find this statement somewhat vague to say the least. Furthermore, as this article is aimed at offenders in the UK, I can honestly say that your statement " Many of them go in without any idea how to apply for jobs, and they come out with even less because things have changed so much while they were inside" is not only factually inaccurate, but completely absurd. In the UK, employment is seen as a key factor when comes to reducing rates of recidivism. Consequently, successive governments have pumped millions of pounds into initiatives to help offenders, both in custody and those serving community sentences, with job search, interview techniques etc. Also, many prisons partner with local business who recruit inmates prior to their release. In addition, long serving prisoners are far more likely to be serving their sentence in open institutions. What does this have to do with offender employment you might ask? Well, inmates in open prisons have regular paid employment outside the prison, in the local community. Long serving prisoners are least likely to have problems in this regard.

"A hefty percentage are are illiterate or semi-literate," Yes, I did discuss this at length, you mustn't have read the paragraphs about literacy and education.

"and couldn't qualify for any but the most low-paying jobs, even if they weren't ex-offenders" Newsflash, in the UK at the present time, many highly skilled and well educated people are having to take low paying jobs. But just in case you missed those paragraphs too, I have also offered some advice as to how ex-offenders can secure funding for occupational training if they need to.

HollieT on 03/13/2013

Vocal-pen, there are some restrictions in the UK too, however, they largely depend on the offence and it's relationship to employment, or vice versa. As far as I'm aware though, with the exception of those subjected to control orders (or any new equivalent) there are no rules which completely exclude an ex-offender from the labour market. However, if I were to be told differently this would not surprise me in the least. Which is a very sad state of affairs indeed.

How can an individual turn their life around if they are denied the opportunity to do so?

vocal_pen on 03/13/2013

great information. the sad thing is it's worse in the states; because many offenses have requirements that inhibit work, making it even more difficult to do the right things

HollieT on 03/01/2013

Thank you, Georgette.

That's an excellent point. Sadly, many ex-offenders are not in a position to pay their legal fees, period. In the Uk there's all kinds of tinkering going on with the legal aid system, our criminal justice system is infested with the cancer of corruption and our media (yours too, I'm thinking of news corp) appear to have jumped out of the pages of 1984.

It's tough for all of us, but ex-offenders have a very raw deal. On the one hand, they are constantly told that they need to get a job and walk the straight and narrow path, on the other, they are asked why they should be given opportunities over and above people who have not offended. A catch 22.

georgettejohn on 03/01/2013

Hollie I agree completely with your idea of application censoring with interview disclosure especially in a society that has reached a point where sadly, many people feel forced to accept plea agreements (serve minimal time) rather than chance spending a great deal of money in legal fee's, putting their family through the process, and taking a risk of being found guilty considering the statistics presented of winning with a jury trial in the average case is in favor of the prosecution, often regardless of the evidence. The "burden of proof" has shifted tremendously. Great article on an excellent topic.

HollieT on 02/20/2013

Cazort, on the one hand, you have to ask the question; how many sentences should an individual serve for the same offence, how many times and in how many ways should they be punished ? The stigma of a conviction follows ex-offenders for many,many years. If I had my way, and if the offence was not of a serious nature, I'd suggest that the application was censored to the interviewers, and that they shortlisted applicants based on merit. At the interview, ex-offenders should disclose and offer up their experience.

Ex-offenders are people who've made mistakes and paid for them. If they are looking for opportunities to better themselves and walk the right path, I believe that they should be given the opportunity.:)

cazort on 02/20/2013

I think this is a really important topic. I think that the ways in which convicted felons are treated in the U.S. is pretty appalling. Our constitution supposedly protects people against cruel and unusual punishment, but I think that the way in which people are treated by society can sometimes get into this zone--punishing people long after they've served their time. But I like how you take a pro-active approach on this page, emphasizing the things people can do to take responsibility and better their employment situation.

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