Having a criminal record doesn't automatically rule you out of getting a job in financial services

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A brush with the law could be your biggest barrier to getting a job.  In some industries, like banking and financial services, government regulations forbid some people with criminal convictions from getting hired especially if the conviction is relevant to the job.

“They can’t hire anyone who’s had a conviction or a pre-trial diversion for a crime of dishonesty or breach of trust,” says Chris Dyer, president and CEO of People G2, an Anaheim Hills, Ca. based firm that specializes in pre-employment background screening.  “It might be theft, breach of a contract or money laundering - things tied to the job they are going to be in.”

Adds Lynne Sarikas, director of the MBA Career Center at Northeastern University: “Exposure to cash, stewardship of investments and reporting of financial data are all highly sensitive responsibilities and after the financial crisis, firms are more sensitive than ever to protecting assets and their reputations.”

Not every entanglement automatically rules you out

But not every entanglement with the law automatically rules you out of the running for a financial job.

Some exceptions could include the disposition of the case, the nature of the crime and how long ago the crime was committed. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission discourages employers from painting a broad brush when it conducting criminal background checks.

“We think the use of criminal records should be carefully tailored to the job at issue,” Justine Lisser, a spokeswoman for the EEOC. She tells eFinancialCareers that even "within that tailoring there should be an analysis of what offense was and what the individual has done in the interim.”

Statistically, she says, there’s some evidence to suggest that there’s not a lot of difference between someone who committed a crime like a stick up as a teenager, served jail time, and has been clean for the last 15 or 20 years and a person who’s never been arrested.

Nature of the conviction

For the employer it really ought to come down to four questions, she says: What was the person convicted of? How much time has passed since the conviction? What is the nature of the job? Is the conviction relevant to the job?

Dyer says it is also important to understand different state laws on employment, convictions and expunges. In California, for instance, there is a seven-year restriction on how far back an employer can go.

But Atlanta attorney George Creal Jr. points out that many employers rely on database companies in carrying out their backgrounds checks.

Getting record expunged

Sometimes these companies possess information that you paid a lawyer have expunged years ago. Creal says many state laws have been slow in catching up with technology.  He also says many states are now restricting access to old arrest and conviction records. But in some cases you still have to work with some of these data companies about taking down your arrest records or mugshot – for a fee.

He has this piece of advice for financial services job-seekers with priors:

“Before you do a job application run a criminal history on yourself,” he says. “Go to a nearby police station and have them run a history on you. It will cost you about $25 or $30. If there is something showing get the record expunged. In this age of computers everything follows you everywhere.”

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