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How Honest Should You Be on Your Job Application?

(when you have an arrest record)

Some companies use job applications to screen candidates, while other organizations use them simply as a formal document required by Human Resources.

From an employee perspective, an application should be considered an important part of the employment and application process. It should be completed neatly, legibly, and accurately. If you are found lying on a job application, it could get you into trouble.

Many organizations use applications during the employment background check process to validate and verify information and to check records and references. If there are any discrepancies between what the employment background check shows and your application or resume state, you'll likely get a call from Human Resources to find out why. Lying on an application is grounds for rescinding an offer or termination of employment if you're already working. This is why, as painful and hard as it might be for some, it's important to answer questions about your past with honesty, including any questions about convictions or arrests. [TWEET]

The past can come back to haunt you when you least expect it during the job application process.

The idea for this post came to me when a friend of mine ran into an issue on a recent employment background check. She began working for the organization even though her background check had yet to be finalized. One day, she received a call from Human Resources letting her know that an arrest showed up on her background check that she did not disclose on her application. This opened up a whole can of worms for her, as you can imagine. In fairness, the arrest had occurred some five years prior, all charges were dropped, and she was informed by her lawyer that the arrest would not show up on her record. She had to explain all of this to Human Resources and submit documentation from the courts indicating that all charges were dropped. She then had to resubmit her application indicating the arrest and stating what they had discussed.

Technically, she didn't feel she was lying on a job application because no charges were filed and her record was supposed to be cleared of the arrest. However, the issue lies with the wording of the question on the application, which was "Have you ever been arrested for a crime?" In reality, she had been arrested, just not convicted. If the question had read, "Have you ever been convicted of a felony or crime?" then "no" would have been the correct answer. Fortunately, all worked out OK in her favor, but that's not the case for everyone. I have seen employees have offers rescinded for not disclosing information or lying on their employment background check.

We've all made mistakes, and some of those mistakes were made when we were younger and still on the learning curve that bridged us from teenager to adult. If we've done the work and learned from our mistakes, we deserve a second chance. Per NOLO, an online hub providing do-it-yourself legal guidance and support, it's estimated that 65 million Americans have an arrest record. If you're one of those 65 million, then landing a job might be a bit challenging, and the application process might bring up some unwanted feelings of apprehension and nervousness. There are steps you can take, however, to avoid lying on a job application and support your goal of being gainfully employed in a job that uses your skill sets and college education.

Steps you should take when completing a job application if you have an arrest record.

1. Know your rights. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects employees from discrimination. Because of this, companies with a blanket policy that excludes anyone with convictions might be considered discriminatory because certain races have higher incarceration rates than other races. The EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) has guided employers as to how they can screen out potentially unsafe applicants without discriminating. The Fair Credit Reporting Act also protects employees against issues with inaccurate records, including background check screenings and criminal records that might include errors like incomplete information, misclassification of crimes, and not reporting when a person was exonerated, or the charges were dropped.

Many states also have laws preventing employers from asking about criminal history or limit the amount of information that can be requested and how the information obtained can be used to determine if an applicant will be hired or not. You can find out if your state prohibits such questions on an application by referring to State Laws on Use of Arrests and Convictions in Employment.

2. Do what you can to have any charges expunged from your record before you begin applying for jobs. Needless to say, it took my friend mentioned above less than 24 hours to call the court to find out what she needed to do to have her arrest expunged from her record. If you have an arrest record of any sort, and the charges were dropped, then check with the courts you dealt with to ensure the arrest or charge was expunged from your record. If it wasn't, find out what you need to do to have it expunged by speaking to the courts or a lawyer. It's also a good idea to do a search or work with a background check agency (do an online search for reputable companies) to see what comes up on your background check before applying for jobs. It's common for mistakes to show up on your record, as well, so you can be proactive and take care of them ahead of time before red flags come up for prospective employers.   

3. Use good judgment. When completing your application, read the questions clearly and use good judgment as to what you do or do not disclose (while remembering your rights as noted above). If you have a record of an arrest or charge, and you're certain that it's not on your record, then you might choose not to disclose it. At the same time, if the question is "Have you ever been arrested for a crime?" and the employer does a Google or public record search and finds the arrest, they might question your integrity on your application.

If you do have a record of a conviction, then it's best to disclose and explain the incident vs. try to hide it. It will likely come out in the background check and prevent you from being hired because you flat out lied on your application. When you disclose it up front, it shows integrity and gives the employer the chance to consider the conviction as it relates to the job you'll be doing. If you have a DUI felony, for example, and you're not required to drive a company vehicle, then it likely won't prevent you from being hired in many organizations, as long as you disclose it if requested to do so. If you lied about it and it shows up on your record, then it will look back and will likely result in you not being hired.  

Again, mistakes happen, but if you've learned from them and moved on, then you deserve a second chance. It might take some time to find an employer that agrees, but it will happen, so be patient. I have worked with several people who have landed great jobs in spite of having a record. When it comes to completing your job application, use good judgment, know your rights, and double check your record, so you don't have any surprises come up during your background check.  

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Write your resume like a pro.

TopResume's resume worksheet is just like the one our pros use. Download it now for free and start getting more interviews!