Record Cant Get Job

Ask Our Experts: I Can’t Expunge My Record, How Can I Get a Job?


Each week, we ask our experts to answer a career question on behalf of our readers.

This week’s question is from a reader who can’t get a job because of an old mistake:

“I can’t expunge my record of a misdemeanor that happened decades ago. So, whenever an employer wants a background check, there it is. I can’t throw away my past, as much as I want to, but if I don’t, I fear I will end up homeless. Any suggestions?”

Here’s what our approved career experts had to say:

Be Honest From The Beginning

“You know that it is going to come up on a background check,” career expert Bruce Hurwitz says. “Just tell the employer,’When I was x years old, I screwed up. You will see the misdemeanor on my record. It was a great learning experience. What happened was… I learned from the experience… and this is why it has actually made me a better person or employee – not that I would recommend that course of action to anyone!'”

Make Sure You Bring It Up First

“An employer will only do a background check if they are interested in you, which means you should have had several interviews for the position,” says career expert Don Goodman. “Since you know they will discover it, you need to be proactive and bring it up first and position it accordingly.”

Realize It’s Too Old To Really Matter

“As a recruiter, I was not concerned with a misdemeanor that happened decades ago,” says career expert Stacy Harshman. “I was concerned about felonies that happened within the last 10 years and mainly those that involved violence and theft. Admit to the misdemeanor and include the date but don’t be worried about it because it is way too old to really matter.”

Turn It Into A Story

“Why not make a story out of it since it no longer represents who you are?” career expert Shell Mendelson says. “There is nothing like a positive spin that rings true for you. You can weave your story into the interview in advance and offer full disclosure. Points will always be taken off if this type of information is not initially forthcoming. If you are true fit, a misdemeanor should never deter an employer.”

Only Talk About It When Asked

“Don’t bring it up, but if asked, be straightforward about your situation,” says career expert Bud Bilanich. “Mention that it was 30 years ago, and was a misdemeanor which wasn’t prosecuted. An arrest is different from a conviction. Focus on your accomplishments over the past 30 years and why you are an excellent candidate for the job for which you’re interviewing.”

Apply To Smaller Companies

“You need to pursue professions or jobs where the need for background checks doesn’t exist,” career expert Dorothy Tannahill-Moran says. “Usually only larger companies do background checks because they are costly which means you need to pursue positions in smaller, ‘mom and pop’ businesses. The next criteria is to get qualified for positions where your background is of lesser concern like in the trades (plumber, electrician), restaurants, or bakeries. You should eliminate any of the high tech companies, government, banks or where money or children are involved as part of your job search in addition to larger companies.”

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  1. Hi, I have never been charged with any crime however they still come up on my record. I can’t seem to get a decent job at all. How can I get a job? My life is going no where. I feel like the justice has failed me.

  2. All those poor felons. Gee, it’s a shame they can’t find great jobs… instead of the decent people that deserve them instead.

    We would *NEVER* hire a criminal here. We can’t afford it. We are legally liable when you decide to go on another crime spree.

    Are we tough? Yes. Definitely. We have to be.

    • But if an ex-offender (even a felon) is reformed and paid his debt to society and is even a solid member of a church, then why would you still call him a criminal?

    • Seems that wherever your company is “here” you do not understand federal employment guidelines via the EEOC. I would advise that your HR head review the employment laws. Also, a touch of reality would also be useful.

    • Just as I’m sure those and I do dare to quote, “decent people that deserve them instead…” Are usually the precise “decent people” stealing from your entire company probably just as you were typing that and pardon me for not being politically correct, ignorant response…

      I mean really! Lets get real here, what world do you live in?

  3. What if your “mistake” was getting fired from your last job? The article and C. Parker comment refer to criminal behavior; how do you present yourself if the situation isn’t felonious/misdemeanor, just that the past job didn’t work out?

  4. I run a job coaching/training program that provides employment services for ex-offenders who are on parole or paroled on a mandatory release program. Having a criminal record is not as much of a barrier as some think, it has to do with how you present the information, if you get into a dialogue with the employer even when applying unless it is an online application. I would also say catch up on the new EEOC laws, but as for background checks, I am not sure where you are but in the Southern Indiana/Louisville, KY area 90% or more of employers all do background checks, from Temp agencies, to restaurants, to warehouses, to non profits. Just because you have a background check done does not mean you are automatically out.

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