Applying for a job with a criminal record

Last updated: 21 Jun 2023, 15:39

You can still get a graduate job with a criminal record – but should you bring it up past during the recruitment process and, if so, how? We look at issues surrounding disclosing a criminal record in the UK.

A graduate standing before a number of closed doors

The laws around declaring past convictions, cautions, reprimands and final warnings are complex. Here targetjobs summarises key aspects of the legislation and gives you advice on whether and how to disclose, but we strongly recommend that you discuss your situation with a careers adviser and the probationary service (if appropriate) and seek advice from social justice charities such as Unlock and Nacro (the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders) .

Can you get a job with a criminal record?

Yes – a criminal record by itself shouldn’t stop you from getting a job, although a few professions may be barred to people with certain convictions. There are times when you will need to disclose your record if asked and it will be beneficial for you to present your experiences in the best light – the advice below covers when to disclose and how best to do so.

Do you need to declare or disclose your criminal record to employers?

There is no legal requirement to disclose your criminal record unless and until you are asked. Some employers ask all candidates about criminal records (for example, via an application form); others request the information of successful candidates.

In England and Wales, the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act (ROA) ensures that no job applicant needs to declare spent convictions, cautions, reprimands or final warnings. This is unless they are applying for a job, work placement, vocational training course or similar in one of the exempted ROA job roles and professions. These exemptions include (but are not limited to):

  • working with children and vulnerable adults
  • the legal profession
  • working as a chartered or certified accountant
  • working as a veterinary surgeon
  • working as a nurse or midwife.

You can go to and the Disclosure and Barring Service to find out more about exceptions.

The Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks (formerly Criminal Records Bureau or CRB checks) are only carried out on successful applicants for a role.

Scotland also adheres to the ROA, with some variations, particularly with regards to the amount of time elapsing before a conviction is considered spent. Disclosure Scotland runs equivalent background checks to the DBS.

AccessNI runs the background checks in Northern Ireland.

Since 2020, reprimands, final warnings and youth cautions are not disclosed on any DBS check. Some other types of convictions can become ‘protected’ once they are spent. This means they are ‘filtered’ and won’t be disclosed on standard or enhanced DBS certificates. However, they will still remain on police records.

Note that unspent convictions and similar will show up on any criminal record disclosure search.

Minor traffic offences do not usually form part of a criminal record and you will not typically need to disclose them, unless you are applying for a driving role or if your driving license is required.

How can you best disclose your criminal record to employers?

If you’re applying for a job that involves a standard or enhanced DBS check, you are legally entitled to withhold the details of any caution or conviction that would be filtered.

If you have been asked to disclose on an application form, you could acknowledge your record briefly in a written statement uploaded to an online application form. This allows you to deal with it on your own terms. Nacro recommends that you explain your offence, provide any mitigating circumstances (without sounding as if you are abdicating responsibility) and emphasise that you are no longer at risk of offending. Highlight what you have learned from the past and what your achievements have been since, whether in education or in taking on responsibility or positions of trust.

If you are worried about gaps on your CV, you could state that due to personal circumstances you weren’t available for work. If so, it is possible that you will be asked for further details at interview.

If you attend an interview and you haven’t disclosed, you will need to decide if and how to do so. Keep in mind that the final decisions about recruitment following a DBS check may not be made by the interviewers, but a more senior member of the HR team. If you aren’t asked about a criminal record directly and you choose to disclose, you might want to indicate to the interviewers beforehand that there are personal circumstances you wish to address in the interview. Nacro advises reading from a written statement.

Bear in mind that if there are discrepancies between what you have disclosed and any findings from a DBS check, they could throw your offer of employment into doubt – although best practice is for employers to discuss any discrepancies with you first. Make sure that you double check the legalities over the timeframe for spent convictions in order to avoid any confusion or mistakes. Nacro has some good resources on this.

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This article was updated by targetjobs editors in November 2022.

targetjobs editorial advice

This describes editorially independent and impartial content, which has been written and edited by the targetjobs content team. Any external contributors featuring in the article are in line with our non-advertorial policy, by which we mean that we do not promote one organisation over another.

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