Finding jobs for people with criminal records

Whether you've got caught spray painting a wall, or you've been convicted for something more serious, finding a job can be stressful if you have a criminal record. But you deserve to move on with your life and we've got the info you need. The Mix talks you through finding jobs for people with criminal records.

A young woman is looking for a job for people with criminal records. This is a wide-angle image.

Will my offences appear on a criminal records check?

All unspent convictions will show up on any kind of Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check, formerly known as CRB checks. On the other hand, spent convictions, i.e. the ones that have been removed from your criminal record, won’t appear on a Basic DBS. But they will show themselves on a Standard or Enhanced DBS, which is usually requested for certain jobs. Specifically if you’re applying to work with children, young adults, vulnerable people or in administration of the law and other sensitive areas.

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

After you’ve graduated from work placements and work experience, life becomes slightly more complicated. 

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. Then it’s up to the employers what they do with the information.

How should I disclose my criminal record?

When looking for jobs for people with criminal records, it’s important to note that some application forms have a space to disclose any convictions. But you could also attach the information on a separate sheet

We’d recommend listing your convictions, how they came about and how you feel about them. Even if you’re just applying to a small business in the community. Alternatively, if you’re not asked on the form, you could leave it until the interview stage to broach the subject. And if it doesn’t come up at the interview, you’ll still need to disclose it when you’re offered the job, to avoid it being taken out of consideration later on. Once it gets to that stage, you need to be prepared to discuss it openly. Remember – you can’t go through training and employment without this coming up at some point during the recruitment process. Better to rip the bandaid off sooner rather than later.

However you decide to tell your potential employer, make sure you talk about your conviction in a way that’ll reassure them that you’ve moved on. Give examples of how you’ve changed since the conviction and gone on to demonstrate reliability and trustworthiness. Having said that, don’t let your conviction be the focus when you apply for jobs. Simply stress what you’ve learnt from the experience and then move on to say why you want this job. 

Don’t try to hide your criminal record from your employer

It may not seem like it, but the truth is that lots of people apply to jobs with criminal records. So your employer is likely to have come across the situation before. The good news is that employers are obligated to approach your situation with tact, and should only tell relevant people.

Whatever you do, just be open and honest about your criminal history. If you can show that you’ve learnt your lesson and moved on from your past, your employer will take that into account when making a decision. You should probably tell your employer prior to completing your disclosure during the recruitment process. That way when it comes back, it only confirms what they know rather than giving them a surprise.

What if my conviction is ‘spent’?

If your criminal conviction is spent, under The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974, you don’t usually have to disclose it. You can also say “no” if asked, “do you have a criminal record?”. And it’s worth noting that 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

Do I have to declare a police caution?

Before we answer this we should probably lay out what a caution is. It’s essentially a formal warning given to an adult who has committed 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, you should know that it may appear on a Standard DBS check, and is even more 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 (see the list above). Basically, it’ll probably be disclosed if it’s relevant to the job you are applying for. For more info, see our article on police cautions and warnings here.

UK Jobs that don’t require a criminal record check

We’re not gonna lie, it can be tricky to find jobs in the UK that don’t require a criminal record check. This is because it’s fairly standard for employers to ask if you have any unspent criminal convictions. And if you’re asked about it and you lie, you can be sacked if your employer finds out. There are other options though.

Going self employed is one way of avoiding any kind of criminal record check. Check out our article on self employment here. But if self employment isn’t for you, don’t give up, there are plenty of jobs for people with criminal records out there. Not to mention, groups like Ban The Box and major conglomerates like the Virgin Group are advocating for better job opportunities for people with convictions.

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
  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.


your rights

By Ruth Hedges

Updated on 02-Jun-2022