By Lester Rosen, ESR President & Thomas Ahearn, ESR News Editor

Just how much information an employer should be able to learn about the criminal past of a job applicant has become an increasingly controversial subject in the current economic downturn, when finding work is tough enough even for a job seeker with a spotless criminal record.

For jobseekers with criminal pasts, a job search can be a frustrating case of “Catch-22” because most employment applications will ask in some fashion if they have a criminal record. If these applicants lie, then they are at risk of being terminated if their criminal record being discovered. If these people are honest and admit their past misconduct, there is a risk of not getting the job.

In addition, most job applicants will likely undergo a pre-employment criminal background check, since many employers believe job applicants with criminal pasts may have a propensity to re-offend in the future. According to recent surveys from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), nearly three out of four U.S. businesses – 73 percent – conduct criminal background checks on all job candidates as part of their pre-employment screening programs.

As a result, an increasing number of U.S. cities and states have joined the “ban the box” movement and removed or limited questions asking about criminal records on job applications. Most recently, due to Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) reform legislation that took effect November 4, 2010, employers in Massachusetts are now prohibited from asking questions on initial written job applications about criminal charges, arrests, and incarceration.

While employers have a legal duty to exercise “due diligence” in the hiring process, and that duty can be violated if employers hire workers that they either knew – or should have known in the exercise of reasonable care – were dangerous or unfit for a job, society has a vested interest in giving people with past criminal records a fair opportunity to rejoin the workforce and obtain and maintain employment to help these ex-offenders become law abiding, tax-paying citizens.

Since job applicants with criminal records face greater challenges in finding employment – and since there are certain jobs where employers will justifiably not hire ex-offenders – Employment Screening Resources (ESR) founder and President Lester Rosen, an expert on safe hiring and background checks, wrote the article ‘Criminal Records and Getting Back into the Workforce: Six Critical Steps for Ex-offenders Trying to Get Back into the Workforce’ to help applicants with criminal pasts get and keep work to develop a successful job history that outweighs past problems:

  • Step One: People with past criminal records looking for employment must understand their rights. There are instances where job applicants can legally and ethically answer “No” on a question about a past criminal offense.
  • Step Two: Ex-offenders should see an attorney to explore if they are eligible to get their conviction sealed, expunged, or legally minimized.
  • Step Three: Ex-offenders should seek professional assistance. There are also organizations that assist past offenders with job search and training programs, some with relationships with employers willing to give ex-offenders a chance.
  • Step Four: Honesty is the best policy for ex-offenders. In applying for a job, honestly is always the best policy. A criminal matter honestly explained during an interview may have much less negative impact than hiding it and having an employer discover it later.
  • Step Five: Ex-offenders should rebuild their résumé one step at a time, even with “not-so-perfect” jobs since employers know that the best indicator of future job performance is past job performance.
  • Step Six: Ex-offenders should take the long-term view. An ex-offender anxious to get back into the workforce to start making a living may also be anxious to have their old life back. Yet, ex-offenders need to take the long view and have the faith and patience that the criminal matter will eventually be put behind them.

As an employment screening firm, Employment Screening Resources (ESR) recognizes that most adults need a job – but not everyone is entitled to every job – and we help employers make good decisions while considering the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) rules regarding job applicants with criminal histories.

To read the article ‘Criminal Records and Getting Back into the Workforce: Six Critical Steps for Ex-offenders Trying to Get Back into the Workforce’ from Employment Screening Resources, visit: For a Spanish version of the article, visit:

For more general information for job applicants, visit the Employment Screening Resources Applicant Resources page at

Founded in 1996 in the San Francisco Bay area, Employment Screening Resources (ESR) is the company that wrote the book on background checks with ‘The Safe Hiring Manual’ by ESR founder and President Lester Rosen. Employment Screening Resources is recognized by The National Association of Professional Background Screeners (NAPBS®) as Background Screening Credentialing Council (BSCC) Accredited for proving compliance with the Background Screening Agency Accreditation Program (BSAAP). For more information about Employment Screening Resources, visit or contact Jared Callahan, ESR Director of Client Relations and Business Development, at 415.898.0044 or [email protected].