Finding work with a criminal record

It's natural to worry that your criminal record could stop you getting a job. Here's the answers to your questions.

boy with criminal record

How much do you have to tell employers?

Will my offences appear on a criminal records check?

All unspent convictions will appear on any kind of Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check, formerly known as CRB checks. Spent convictions will not appear on a Basic DBS, but they will on a Standard or Enhanced DBS, which will be requested for certain jobs, including those working with children, young adults, vulnerable people and working in administration of the law and other sensitive areas.

Do I have to disclose my criminal record on job applications?

If you’ve been convicted of an offence and the conviction is still on your criminal record (which means it has not been ‘spent’), you do legally need to disclose it.

How should I disclose my criminal record?

Some application forms have a space to disclose any convictions, but you could also attach the information on a separate sheet

List your convictions, how they came about and how you feel about them

If you’re not asked on the form, you could leave it until the interview stage to broach the subject

If it doesn’t come up at interview, you’ll need to disclose it when you’re offered the job to avoid it being withdrawn later down the line – be prepared to discuss this openly

However you decide to tell your potential employer, make sure you talk about your conviction in a way that will reassure them that you’ve moved on. Give examples of how you’ve since demonstrated reliability and trustworthiness. But don’t let your conviction be the focus of your application – stress what you’ve learnt from the experience and then move on to say why you want this job.

I’m embarrassed about my past. I don’t want employers finding out about it.

Lots of people have criminal records, so your employer is likely to have come across the situation before. Employers must treat your situation with tact, and should only tell relevant people.

The important thing is that you are open and honest about your criminal history. If you can show that you have learnt your lesson and have moved on from your past, your employer will take that into account when making a decision. You should tell your employer prior to completing your disclosure, so that when it comes back it only confirms what they know rather than being a surprise.

What if my conviction is ‘spent’?

If your conviction is spent, under The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974, you do not usually have to disclose it. You can also say “no” if asked “Do you have a criminal record?” It’s unlawful for an employer to discriminate on the grounds of a spent conviction.

However, certain jobs are exempt from this rule. These include:

  • Working with children and vulnerable adults, such as elderly and disabled people
  • Senior roles in banking and the financial services industry
  • Certain posts connected to law enforcement, including the judiciary and the police
  • Work involving national security
  • The navy, military and air force
  • Certain posts in the prison service
  • Certain professions in areas such as health, pharmacy and the law
  • Private security work

What about if I have a caution – do I have to declare this?

A caution is a formal warning given to an adult who has admitted an offence.You don’t have to declare it if you are asked “Do you have a criminal record?” or even “Do you have a caution?” This is because all cautions are now automatically spent. However, it may appear on a Standard DBS check, and is likely to appear on an Enhanced DBS check. Even after five to 10 years, the caution can still be disclosed if you apply for certain types of jobs, e.g. in the police force, as a teacher, or jobs working with children and vulnerable adults. It will be disclosed if it is relevant to the job you are applying for.

Photo by Shutterstock.

Next Steps

  • Nacro offers advice and support if you have a criminal record, and can they can help you when it comes to telling employers. Ring their helpline on 0300 123 1999
  • Looking for a mentor to help boost your knowledge and skills? Find a youth zone close to you.
  • Reveal your skills with Define Me and find the right words to tell employers.
  • Download Motimator - an app that helps you get the career you want - by giving you a gentle kick up the ass each day when motivation is running low.
  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.
  • Need help but confused where to go locally? Download our StepFinder iPhone app to find local support services quickly.

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By Ruth Hedges

Updated on 29-Sep-2015