How can I prepare for employers’ questions about my criminal record?

    Know everything about your official criminal record.

Knowing absolutely everything about your criminal record means that you know not only what is in your record, but also what is NOT in your record. You should be aware of all arrests, convictions, dismissals, and sentences that are currently part of your record, but you should also know about any information that has been dismissed, expunged, sealed, removed, or corrected. When you know what your record should look like, you will have a better understanding of how it will affect your job search, and you can make informed decisions about what steps you should take to improve your chances of getting hired.[1846]

    Know what employers might find out about you.

To know what information an employer might find out about you, you will need to do research on yourself. Doing research on yourself is how you will see what information exists out there about you—not just what is in your official criminal record, but also anything public, especially on the Internet (for example, on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram). If you know what employers are going to see, you can be prepared to answer their questions about your history and address any of their concerns. You can also correct any mistakes, and ensure that agencies aren’t illegally providing information that they shouldn’t be reporting.

Here are some suggestions for how to conduct research on yourself:

    Look online – The best place to start is online. (If you don’t feel comfortable using a computer or the Internet, ask a trusted person—like a case manager, counselor, or friend—to help you.) Search for your name on to see what shows up. If there is negative or untrue information, you (or a trusted person) can send an email to the person who posted the information or the website owner and politely ask them to remove it. Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that they will do so, and it could require a lawsuit to get the information down. If the person running the website won’t remove the information, you may want to get the advice of a lawyer (see list of legal aid providers on PG. 1127).
    Call your references – When you apply for a job, the new employer and/or background check company may contact your past employer(s), people you list as references, and/or other people who know you (like a landlord, neighbor, or teacher) to find out about your work history or other information. An important way to research yourself is to call some of these people (or have a trusted person call for you) to find out what they will say about you. This way you know beforehand if someone is likely to say something negative about you, and you can be sure NOT to list them as a reference on the job application. For more information on listing references, see PG. 567.
    Get copies of your criminal records – To learn how to get copies of your official and unofficial criminal records, see the UNDERSTANDING & CLEANING UP YOUR RECORD CHAPTER, beginning on PG. 931.
    Know what employers CAN & CAN’T consider about your criminal record.

Knowing your employment rights means knowing what employers can and can’t do when it comes to reviewing and using your criminal history when deciding whether to hire you. It also means knowing how to prevent employers from violating your rights by not hiring you, and what actions you can take if your rights are violated. See PG. 587 to learn more about these rights and how to protect them. In the meantime, below is a summary of what employers CAN and CAN’T consider about your criminal record.[1847]

    Present yourself in the best way possible.

Presenting yourself in the best way possible means doing what you can to reduce any negative impressions that your criminal record may cause. This might include addressing your past during job interviews and talking about your rehabilitation efforts and all the changes you have gone through; obtaining proof of rehabilitation, where possible (see Appendix C, PG. 621); making thoughtful decisions about what jobs you apply for (see PG. 566); and cleaning up your record, where it is possible (see PG. 566).[1848]

KNOW YOUR RIGHTSA Summary of What Employers CAN & CAN’T Find Out About Your Criminal Record

Most Employers CAN:

    Run a background check on you BUT ONLY after they have given you a conditional offer of employmentOnce they have given you a conditional offer of employment, they CAN consider certain criminal history information when deciding whether to hire you; however, when considering your criminal history, they are required to assess whether your conviction is directly related to and could interfere with job duties.

Most Employers CANNOT:

    See or ask about: arrests that did not lead to conviction, including pending arrests;[1849] convictions that have been dismissed/expunged/sealed; participation in court diversion programs; and certain minor marijuana convictions.See or ask for: Your RAP sheet (your complete, official criminal record); or your credit report.Note: Local “Ban the Box” laws may give you even more rights and protections in certain cities and counties.
  1. 1846

    Adapted from

  2. 1847

    Adapted from

  3. 1848

    Adapted from

  4. 1849

    Cal. Gov. Code § 12952(f)(2)(B).