Background Cheque Republic
April 27, 2010 7:16 PM   Subscribe

I'm applying for a position at my school that is mine contingent on passing a background check/"live scan" screening by the University's Police department. Therein lies my conundrum...

I have two misdemeanors on my record that date back 7 years (disorderly conduct, violation of probation). The details behind the charges aren't very flattering, and it probably wouldn't reflect well on someone who's applying for my position.

That said, it's all behind me, and I chalk it up to mere youthful indiscretions.

Now, my question is this: I have to sign a paper submitting my willingness to participate in the background check, and I'm wondering whether it would reflect better on me to just sign it and hope they overlook it as a couple dings against me in my past (if they even look beyond 5 years or just for felonies) or whether it's wiser to speak with them in person before I submit, take full accountability (without going into extraneous details) and explain how I've learned from my experiences and I've got my life in focus, thereby taking ownership before judgments can be cast against me.

If the latter, I risk opening a can of questions that may not be necessary; with the former, I may not get a viable defense before I get written off, if it's even worth having it looked at.

A comprehensive list of my questions:
(a) Will the police scan pick up everything, or is there some time window/particular charges that employers typically look for?
(b) Can employers dig into the details of the charges, or just access to the list and dates?
(c) Which approach will give me more chance to earn the position?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (6 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Two anecdotes, both of which should be encouraging. I personally was in a very, very similar situation a few years back. The key difference was that my transgressions, at the time, were way more recent than seven years ago....which meant that, on the application, I actually had to say what they were. No one ever said one word to me about it, and I got the job.

Second anecdote: I also have a good friend who was, of course, in roughly the same position (heh, we do tend to run in packs). She chose to go the route of speaking with our department chair before doing anything else. Once again, vastly reassuring conversation, got the job, and is doing great.

You say it's a job at "my" school, which suggests that you are already affiliated with it somehow and, one assumes, are in good standing and are surrounded with people who know what you can do and know the caliber of person that you actually are on a day-to-day basis, NOT the person whom you "were" on one absurd evening seven years ago. This is a huge point in your favor.

Another thing to look at is the actual application. Often, when you fill those out, they will ask you for your criminal record...but only in the past certain number of years (It generally seems to be 5, from my experience). Now, I'm honestly not sure whether this means they would only check your background for the past five years, but it does tend to suggest that anything farther back than that isn't really a big concern to them, particularly not for relatively minor offenses like you're describing. I also don't know whether this is something that depends on the state that you're in, but I'd be willing to bet that it depends on the institution.

The point is, I seriously doubt, from my experience and from the experiences of others similarly situated, that this is something that is going to destroy your chances of getting this position. I wish I had a more specific, "yes you should" or "no you shouldn't" answer, but hopefully this will set your mind at ease no matter which route you go. I wish you all the best!
posted by deep thought sunstar at 7:37 PM on April 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

Where are you?
posted by chinabound at 7:45 PM on April 27, 2010

We do a lot of background checks here for applicants for housing. Now, we are looking mostly for a range of felonies that would tend to make the applicant a bad risk as a neighbor. The standard check goes back 7 years but only for our state. We make applicants pay for their own checks if they are moving here from another state. While that's not necessarily germane, I add it b/c your institution will be in the same boat. It will cost them to go back more than 7 years (and in fact for most employment situations, 7 years is all the employer can go back). There are, of course, the much publicized "sex offender" registries, but that, too, is not your case.

All we get is listings of dates and decisions. It costs more to get more than that.

You don't say what the position is, or what side of 7 years the transgressions are. If it is more than 7, silence is probably your best bet. Does the application ask you to disclose misdemeanors? In many states, they can't. I'd check to see if they can legally inquire before worrying whether you need to disclose. Also, in many states, you can spend about $25-40 and run the check yourself to see what shows up.
posted by beelzbubba at 7:55 PM on April 27, 2010

Tell them. You have way, way more to lose if you don't. If the cops -- even "just" the University Police -- are looking into it, the odds are pretty good that they'll find out about the misdemeanors. Explain what happened, how you paid your debt to society, and the lesson you learned. Do not make excuses for what you did -- even if they're perfectly valid excuses, they still sound like excuses. If you give the decision-maker a good reason why you've got a couple of dings way back, then that person will be on your side. If you lie to that person, even if only by omission, and it comes to light, then you will not be a person who made a mistake and has corrected it. You will be a person who covered up a material issue in your background.
posted by Etrigan at 8:06 PM on April 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

and I chalk it up to mere youthful indiscretions.

No mention of exact age here but I'm assuming these indiscretions happened in your early twenties (late teens even) and you are now at least twenty-five, probably closer to thirty.

My line on this simple. Anybody individual (or organization) that would NOT hire me, a mature adult, for something I did when I was young and silly is an individual (or organization) I'd rather not waste my time working for.

In other words, come clean in much the way that Etrigan recommends. They should respect you for it.
posted by philip-random at 8:43 PM on April 27, 2010

I work for an insurance company, and we consistently recommend that our insureds conduct backgroudn checks on employees and volunteers. Yes, we want some official investigation, but a huge part of the point is to encourage this conversation right here. Knowing that past misdeeds will come to light can encourage people to be more forthcoming about their records. This not only disqualifies some people earlier in the process but also qualifies some people who are fit for the position even though they have a black mark on their record because it encourages them to be honest.

Remember, a hit on a criminal history search probably doesn't necessarily disqualify you, especially if you've explained about it before it comes back. The sorts of things which are automatic rejections are things like strings of violent felonies, embezzlement, drug trafficking, etc. If an employer sees those, kiss your application goodbye. But the odd bar fight a number of years in the past isn't necessarily going to hurt you, especially if you can talk about how you're different now.
posted by valkyryn at 6:11 AM on April 28, 2010

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