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To Disclose Or Not Disclose: That Is The Question


by Michael Klazema, lead author and editor for Backgroundchecks.com

resumeIt is a dilemma that many ex-offenders struggle with when looking for a job. Should you disclose your criminal history to an employer on an application, or should you wait until the interview (or perhaps even later) to reveal that information? The answer is anything but simple, filled with gray areas and contradictory laws and guidelines that can be confusing and misleading for even the most observant and vigilant job hunters. Unfortunately, criminal history is not even the only thing that you may be asked to disclose on a job application.

Read on to learn how to deal with disclosing information that could hamper your chances of getting a job:

Disclosing criminal history.

It goes without saying that criminal history presents that widest array of questions and challenges when it comes to disclosing information to potential employers. On one hand, if you are an ex-offender, you do not want to give your prospective employer a reason to doubt you (or even to disqualify you from employment consideration) before you get a chance to prove your skillset and overall qualification for the job. On the other hand, you know that lying on your job application is a surefire way to get kicked to the curb.

So what do you do? First of all, know your rights. Know, for instance, whether or not your state, city, or county has any form of “ban the box” legislation or ordinance on the book. If it does, your prospective employer is not allowed to ask about criminal convictions on job applications, in which case you can justly and legally opt to not disclose any information.

Also learn about expungement policies in your state: you may be able to get your criminal offenses removed from your record. For job application purposes, expunged criminal offenses are the same as not having a criminal record at all, and cannot be used to disqualify you from employment consideration. If you have criminal history that you do not want to have to disclose to employers, expungement might be your best bet.

However, as you consider what to disclose on your application or in your interview, remember that most employers these days run criminal background checks. In other words, there’s a good chance that your prospective employer will find out about any existing criminal history you have whether or not you disclose it to them.

While disclosing criminal history early may sound like a quick way to get put at the bottom of the list for job consideration, lying to your prospective employers is a quicker way off the list. At least when you disclose your information, you can try to control the narrative by explaining your offense and what you learned from it to your prospective employer. With some luck, your disclosure may be so appreciated that a hiring manager decides to give you the benefit of the doubt.

Disclosing salary information.

Many job applications these days ask for the salary at your current job, a fact that has desensitized most modern job hunters to the idea that such information is truly no one’s business but your own. In fact, many professional headhunters and other experts in the employment industry instruct job searches to not disclose their current salary on job applications. Employers want this information because it gives them the high ground in negotiating with potential hires – often at salaries that are lower than they should be.

While there is plenty of information that you should disclose if an employer asks you for them, salary is not one of them, and most people find that politely declining the salary question does not hurt their chances of winning employment. So keep your salary to yourself and keep the negotiation field at an even and fair level.

Disclosing other employment information.

Your resume exists to give prospective employers an idea of your work history. While you do not have to disclose every single job you have ever had on either your resume or your application –let’s be honest, you only have so much space to work with – you should nevertheless be prepared to provide information on any of your unlisted jobs during your interview. Most hiring managers are trained to ask about gaps on your resume, so if there are months or years unrepresented on your list of jobs, it is a good idea to come armed with a reason for that.

Personal information.

To reiterate a note from the criminal history section, know your rights. Before you start going off on job interviews, filling out employment applications, or even searching for open positions, do your homework and get a handle on the kinds of information that employers are and are not allowed to ask you about. Job history and professional references are obvious, fair game categories, but most personal information is not.

Sexual orientation, gender identification, race, religion, age, and marital status are just a few of the things that you never have to disclose to an employer. You can also not be asked whether or not you are pregnant, whether or not you are a United States citizen, whether you have any disabilities or major health issues, and even whether or not you drink or smoke. Most of your personal information is protected under anti-discrimination laws, and you do not, therefore, need to disclose it on a job application, in a resume, or during a job interview.

Remember that, in most cases, employers are smart enough that they will only ask questions they are legally allowed to ask. No company wants to deal with claims of discriminatory hiring processes. However, arming yourself with the knowledge of what you should and should not disclose during an employment screening process is something that every single job searcher should do. That way, you give yourself a leg up over the competition, protect yourself from discrimination or other unfair hiring processes, and ultimately, give yourself a better chance of finding a dream job.


michael klazemaMichael Klazema has been developing products for pre-employment screening and improving online customer experiences in the background screening industry since 2009. He is the lead author and editor for Backgroundchecks.com.