A criminal record doesn't necessarily prevent you from landing a job

If you have a criminal record, you might think it's impossible to land a decent job that pays well. But that's not always the case. There are ways and means of approaching this tricky subject that can work to your advantage – as long as you know where to start. Read on to find out how to get a job with a criminal record and prove to prospective employers that you've turned your life around.

What are spent and unspent convictions?

The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 (ROA) states that most convictions, reprimands, final warnings, and cautions must be classed as “spent” after a certain period of time, known as the “rehabilitation period.” The rehabilitation period depends on the crime and the sentence or punishment received. You can refer to the government's rehabilitation period table here

In short, a conviction is declared “spent” if its rehabilitation period has passed; otherwise it's still considered as “unspent.”

Do all employers check for criminal records?

Any employer can request a basic Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check as part of their hiring process. Also called a “basic disclosure,” this top-level check will only disclose unspent convictions and conditional cautions. Spent convictions won't appear on the basic DBS check.

Do I legally have to disclose my criminal record?

According to the ROA, if you have a spent conviction, you're not legally required to declare your criminal record.

That said, some roles are exempt from ROA legislation, such as those that involve working with vulnerable individuals as well as handling legal or financial information. This means that when making hiring decisions, the employer can consider information about an applicant's spent and unspent convictions, reprimands, final warnings, and cautions that aren't protected (or filtered out) by the provisions set out in the Exceptions Order.

Additionally, there are three levels of checks that these employers could request, and they are dependent on the role:

  • Standard DBS check: Provides records of spent and unspent convictions, as well as adult cautions, from the Police National Computer, which aren't subject to filtering. Roles may include security guards and legal professionals.

  • Enhanced DBS check: Includes the same information as the standard check, plus any additional relevant information held by local police forces.

  • Enhanced DBS check with barred list: The same as the enhanced DBS check, but includes a check against the barred lists to determine if the individual is barred from working with children or adults at risk.

These criminal record checks help employers assess the suitability of candidates by providing information about their criminal history and any relevant safeguarding concerns.

How to declare a conviction to a prospective employer

It can be difficult to know if and when to declare a criminal conviction because there are different rules for different people and jobs. 

If the prospective employer asks if you have a criminal record, you should declare it. If you lie and the employer learns about it later, you could lose your job and may be prosecuted.

If you haven't been asked, disclosing your criminal record depends on many factors. Follow Unlock.org's Legally, need to disclose? flowchart for help on what to do.

If you choose to declare your conviction to a prospective employer, it's best to do it immediately. Here are some tips on how to do it:

  • Understand legal requirements: Know when and what to disclose based on local laws.

  • Be honest: Provide accurate details about your criminal record.

  • Reassure employers of your reliability: Highlight how you've moved past your previous mistakes and are not a risk to their organisation.

  • Emphasise personal growth: If you've turned your life around and have new responsibilities, showcase these to demonstrate your commitment to a positive future.

  • Address relevance to the job: Politely indicate if your criminal record is irrelevant to the position you're applying for, emphasising that it should not hinder your chances.

  • Provide context if needed: If the crime's severity is misconstrued or there are mitigating circumstances, offer a brief explanation without making excuses.

  • Avoid letting your record overshadow your application: Do not let your criminal record dominate your application materials or interview discussions. Instead, focus on your qualifications and suitability for the role.

Can you be refused a job because of a criminal record?

A criminal record can result in a job refusal, but it depends on whether the offence is relevant to the role or if the employer has policies or legal obligations restricting the employment of individuals with certain types of convictions.

Remember that the decision to refuse employment based on a criminal record must be made in accordance with ROA laws.

Can you work for the NHS with a criminal record?

Working for the NHS with a criminal record is possible, but certain types of convictions might prevent you. For example, convictions related to violent or sexual offences may impact a candidate's eligibility for roles involving direct patient care or access to sensitive information.

What companies employ people with criminal records?

Some major organisations specifically recruit those with convictions. It's a way of saying, “We trust you, we want this to work, and we believe that everyone deserves a second chance.”

Seek out these employers, as disclosing a criminal record when applying for jobs there won't be so stressful. Some include:

  • Tesco

  • Virgin Group

  • Timpson

  • Boots the Chemist

  • Pret a Manger

  • Greggs

  • The Co-op

  • Compass Group

  • Marks & Spencer

  • The National Grid

  • Iceland

  • Sainsbury's

  • Poundland

  • Pets at Home

  • Enterprise

Tips for writing a CV when you have a criminal record

A criminal record doesn't necessarily hinder your ability to secure a job. Making a favourable first impression and effectively presenting your qualifications on your CVare equally crucial, just like anyone else. Here are some CV tips to consider:

Focus on skills and experience

Highlight your relevant skills, qualifications, and work experience prominently on your CV. Emphasise achievements and responsibilities that demonstrate your capabilities and suitability for the job. Go the extra mile by incorporating action verbs, facts, and figures.

Use a functional format

Consider using a functional CV format rather than a chronological one. This skills-based CV format allows you to focus on your skills and achievements while downplaying the chronological order of your work history.

Tailor your CV

Customise your CV for each job application by aligning your skills and experiences with the specific requirements of the role. Tailoring your CV increases your chances of catching the employer's attention and supports your progress through an applicant tracking system.

Be honest but tactful

Be honest about your work history and any gaps in employment, but avoid disclosing details about your criminal record on your CV. Save that conversation for the later stages of the application process, such as during an interview or when specifically asked by the employer.

Include positive references

Include positive professional references from previous employers or colleagues, or a character reference from a mentor or a religious leader who can attest to your conduct, work ethic, and skills. Positive references can help offset any concerns related to your criminal record.

Find support for getting a job with a criminal record

Regardless of whether the role you're applying for is covered by ROA laws or not, always be honest about any previous or current convictions. Lying can have much worse repercussions in the long term, as you're bound to be exposed, and it certainly won't help your future job prospects. 

And if you're finding the job search process extra challenging, know that you can seek help on how to get a job even with a criminal record from support groups in the community.

Unlock, for example, is a charity that campaigns for the equality of reformed offenders, offering support and guidance while building a fairer future for those who've found themselves on the wrong side of the law. It has a resource listing the types of jobs that could be exempt from the ROA and the type of checks they may conduct.

At the end of the day, you need to convince an employer that your skills will be an asset to their organisation. Let our experts help you improve your chances of landing a good role by submitting your CV for a free review.

This article was originally written by Elizabeth Openshaw and has been updated by Laura Slingo.

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