How to Successfully Navigate the Job Hunt With a Rap Sheet

How to Successfully Navigate the Job Hunt With a Rap Sheet

Catherine Hoke

Rap sheets and background checks are not created equally — nor should they be treated that way.

The world of job hunting while you have a record of arrest and prosecution (i.e., a rap sheet) can be difficult to navigate, especially when employers request background checks. But it’s important to remember that a background check is a necessary step in the hiring process no matter what.

That being said, it’s crucial that you know the difference between a background check and a rap sheet so you can walk into an interview with confidence.

Rap Sheet vs. Background Check

Here are three key traits of a rap sheet that differ from a background check:

    1. Your rap sheet is more detailed than your background check. Your rap sheet details every single time you’ve been arrested, even if the charges were thrown out in court. This differs from the background check an employer conducts, which only shows your actual convictions and pending charges.
    2. You aren’t legally obligated to share your rap sheet with anyone. Your FBI rap sheet is available for you to see. And because a rap sheet reveals all, don’t show it to anyone, especially a potential employer. For example, it’s nobody’s business that you had a murder charge and took a plea, downgrading the charge to aggravated assault. When job hunting, those details are irrelevant and best kept to yourself.
    3. Many rap sheets have errors. Your criminal history is complicated, so there’s a lot of room for error in your records. The FBI estimates that 50 percent of rap sheets have errors, so check your rap sheet from each individual state in which you committed a crime. Errors can affect the information found on your background check, so contact a nonprofit legal advocacy center in your community to get them corrected.

Nailing an Interview With a Criminal History


Being conscious of these differences will aid you tremendously in your job hunt. If any potential employers ask to see your rap sheet, for example, you’ll know that you have the right to deny their requests (offer a standard background check instead). In addition, there are a few powerful things you can do to increase your chances of landing a job despite your criminal history:

    1. Run a background check on yourself. Before you begin interviewing, it’s a good idea to run a background check on yourself to identify and address potential problems due to errors.
    2. Be up-front and honest from the beginning. Come clean about your criminal history early in the interview. Don’t delve into every little detail, but be forthcoming and truthful about your past and how you’ve turned your life around. Once you’ve communicated your background, employers will use your background check as an honesty check (and honesty equals reliability).
    3. Request to see your background check. Employers are legally obligated to show you your background check by request. Ask for a copy if you run into problems, don’t get invited in for a second interview, or aren’t offered the job. If you weren’t hired because of your criminal history and it’s inaccurately summarized in your background check, you can set the record straight.

&Although it’s daunting and difficult to job hunt with a rap sheet, many employers will respect your honesty and eagerness to start a new life. Remember, you have rights, and employers can’t request to see your rap sheet. Let this knowledge and these tips guide you in your job search, and you’ll come out on top.

Catherine Hoke is the founder and CEO of Defy Ventures, a nonprofit serving people with criminal histories nationally. Defy Ventures “transforms street hustle” by providing entrepreneurship training, executive mentoring, startup funding, career development, and job placement. The company hosts “Shark Tank”-style business-plan competitions in which people compete for $100,000 in startup funding. Defy Ventures is currently enrolling its next class of entrepreneurs. To find out more about how the company can help you or someone you love, click here.

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