For job seekers with criminal records, looking for work can be a frustrating case of “Catch-22” since most job applications ask about criminal convictions and the majority of employers run criminal background checks on job applicants. If job seekers are honest and admit their past criminal records, they risk not getting the job. If they lie, they risk of being terminated if their criminal pasts are discovered.

Employment Screening Resources (ESR), a San Francisco, California-area background check provider formally Accredited by The National Association of Professional Background Screeners (NAPBS®), is offering six critical steps for job seekers with criminal records to follow to help them find employment as they attempt to re-enter the workforce. The guidance is in response to a new study from the National Employment Law Project (NELP) that recommends reforming criminal background checks used for the screening of job seekers since nearly 65 million people – more than one in four U.S. adults – have criminal records that may prevent them from finding work.

“Background check providers are not the employment police looking for ways to keep job seekers from finding work,” says Attorney Lester Rosen, founder and President of ESR and author of ‘The Safe Hiring Manual,’ the first comprehensive guide to employment screening. “Background checks occur at the intersection of security and privacy; the employer’s obligation by law to perform due diligence to ensure a secure workplace and the job seeker’s right to personal privacy, and to a second chance.”

In response to a new study from NELP, ‘65 Million “Need Not Apply” – The Case for Reforming Criminal Background Checks for Employment,’ that estimates 64.6 million adults in the U.S. have criminal records, Rosen offers guidance to jobseekers with criminal records through an article he wrote – ‘Criminal Records and Getting Back into the Workforce: Six Critical Steps for Ex-offenders Trying to Get Back into the Workforce’ – that outlines six steps that ex-offenders should take to find employment:

  • Step One – Understand Rights: Job seekers with criminal records looking for employment must understand their rights since there are instances where they can legally and ethically answer “no” on a question about a past criminal offense.
  • Step Two – See an Attorney: Job seekers with criminal records should see an attorney to explore if they are eligible to get their conviction sealed, expunged, or legally minimized and to make sure you understand your rights.
  • Step Three – Seek Professional Assistance: Job seekers with criminal records should seek professional assistance since there are organizations that can assist them 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: Honesty is the best policy for job seekers with criminal records when applying for a job, since 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: Rebuild Résumé One Step at a Time: Job seekers with criminal records should start to rebuild their résumés one step at a time, even if it is not with the “perfect” job, since employers know that the best indicator of future job performance is past job performance.
  • Step Six: Take the Long-term View: Job seekers with criminal records need to take the long-term view and have the faith and patience that the criminal matter will eventually be put behind them.

Rosen’s article, ‘Criminal Records and Getting Back into the Workforce: Six Critical Steps for Ex-offenders Trying to Get Back into the Workforce,’ is available on the ESR website at: A version of the article in Spanish is also available at:
The NELP study claims employers that use criminal background checks to shut out job applicants with criminal records violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that prohibits unlawful discrimination in the hiring process. Also, the failure of employers to follow U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) guidance – that they should consider how long ago the criminal offense occurred, the nature of the offense, and whether it is job-related – has prevented millions of people from finding work and also compromised the economy and public safety.

In response to the NELP study, The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) issued a statement on the use of criminal background checks that cited a January 2010 survey released by SHRM – ‘Background Checking: Conducting Criminal Background Checks SHRM Poll’ – that showed 73 percent of employers conducted criminal background checks on all job applicants while 19 percent of employers conducted them on selected job applicants, mostly those who would have fiduciary and financial responsibility or access to confidential information.

In addition, the SHRM survey findings were consistent with EEOC guidance that employers may lawfully make hiring decisions based upon the criminal records of job applicants if they take into account certain factors. The SHRM survey found:

  • 97 percent of employers considered the severity of the criminal activity when making a hiring decision.
  • 95 percent of employers considered the length of time since the criminal activity when making a hiring decision.
  • 93 percent of employers considered the relevance of the criminal activity to the position. 

“An employer cannot simply say, ‘No one with a criminal record need apply.’ That statistically could end up having an unfair impact on certain groups,” according to Rosen, a frequent presenter on safe hiring issues as part of the ‘ESR Speaks’ training program. “Instead, if an applicant has a criminal record, the employer must determine if there is a rational, job-related reason why that person is unfit for that job. In other words, an employer must show that the consideration of the applicant’s criminal record is job-related and consistent with business necessity.”

Rosen also notes that the background screening industry is very proactive in educating employers on the risks of overusing criminal records. “It would seem that the EEOC would want to partner with the screening industry to promote employer education,” comments Rosen, “since background screening firms have direct contact with most employers in the U.S. when it comes to hiring.”

For more information about criminal background checks, visit the Employment Screening Resources (ESR) website at and read the ESR News blog at

About Employment Screening Resources (ESR):
Founded in 1996 in the San Francisco, California area with a mission to help both employers and employees maintain safe workplaces,
Employment Screening Resources (ESR) wrote the book on background checks with ‘The Safe Hiring Manual’ by ESR founder and President Lester Rosen. ESR is formally Accredited by The National Association of Professional Background Screeners (NAPBS®) and is also a Designated E-Verify Employer Agent that helps U.S. businesses maintain a legal workforce. For more information about Employment Screening Resources (ESR), visit or email ESR News Editor Thomas Ahearn at [email protected].