Ask HR: Should Applicants Disclose Their Arrest History?

By Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP September 7, 2023

SHRM President and Chief Executive Officer Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP, is answering HR questions as part of a series for USA Today. 

Do you have an HR or work-related question you'd like him to answer? Submit it here.

I was terminated from a previous job following an arrest. Since being acquitted on all charges, I am looking to return to work. Should I disclose the arrest that did not result in a conviction to prospective employers? Ronald

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.: Disclosing an arrest not resulting in a conviction is up to you. When making such a decision, there are several considerations, including the prospective company's hiring policies, the specific laws for considering arrest and conviction records in employment, and the type of job you are applying for.

Understand the dynamics in the industry, prospective organization and region you are considering. Start by researching companies before applying to discover their position on second-chance hiring or hiring individuals with a criminal history. Many employers are now open to hiring employees with criminal backgrounds, and state legislation is catching up to these practices. Many states and municipalities have gone as far as passing "ban-the-box" laws prohibiting companies from asking about your criminal history, arrests and convictions until specific steps in the interview process are complete. For example, some laws require employers to wait until they render a conditional offer of employment before asking questions about arrest and conviction records. This allows the employer to get to know you and your experience, skills and knowledge before considering an arrest or conviction in the hiring decision. Employers must also justify the business or job-related need to not hire an applicant with a criminal past or arrest history. Further, an employer may only consider actual convictions, not arrest records or pending charges. 

I'll add a bit of caution here. If your arrest incident was covered in the news or shared on social media, it may be revealed with a simple internet query. In such a case, you might do well to get out in front of it before a prospective employer discovers it. If not, you'll at least want to have a prepared response should it come up.

Ultimately, it will be your decision to share this information prior to a contingent offer or background-check results, but it is worth mentioning that you may wish to be proactive by getting ahead of things. Again, there is always a possibility the arrest may show up in your background check or even a routine internet search. Being forthcoming with the information allows you to set the record straight and keep hiring managers from coming up with their own narrative. Should you volunteer this information, you should focus on how you are the best applicant for the position and how you embody a company's mission, vision and values.

Be sure to understand the dynamics at play, weigh all your options and use your best discretion. Best of luck with your upcoming job search and all your future endeavors!

I'm just starting my senior year in college. I expect to graduate in May. When should I start looking for a career entry job and applying for jobs? Do I have to wait until my degree is in hand? Abby

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.: How exciting to be so close to graduation! You don't have to wait to have your degree in hand before applying for jobs. It may take several months to find the right position, depending on your career aspirations. There is no time like the present to begin your search.

First, start researching opportunities in your desired field. Consider the types of positions available (including training programs), size and industry of companies, geographic areas where prospects are normally located, when companies typically hire for positions, and overall, what aspects might be a good fit for you. Gather a list of companies aligned with your career goals and start making connections with them. Get on recruiters' radars early. Talk with them even before you're ready to start work. They can give you insights on how and when to apply.

Once you find job opportunities that interest you, tailor your resume and cover letter to the position's requirements. You can also start gathering your employment references. If you have built a relationship with a professor or an advisor, ask them to review your documents and provide suggestions. Identify personal connections who can speak to your character and growth.

Use your research as a starting point for knowing when to apply for positions. For example, companies usually start their interviewing process for training programs in the fall. Outside of specific programs, start applying about three to three and a half months before graduation. Build a relationship with your college career center. Often, career centers have information regarding on-campus interviewing and when to apply to participating companies. Also, consider job fairs, online job boards, networking events, and referrals from professors, friends and family.

Lastly, you can look at reviews of companies online to make sure the company's mission, values and employee experience align with your goals and objectives. Remember, you're not just looking for a job; you're seeking a career match. Right now, this may mean a growth opportunity. Look at where you want to go, not just where you can start. Being proactive can get you one step closer to your desired next step. Good luck!



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