If you've ever been arrested, you may worry that your run-in with the law will make it hard for you to find a job. While this is a legitimate concern, an arrest is not the same as a conviction. If the charges were dropped or you were acquitted in court, your arrest will likely have little influence on your job search. However, it's important that you're honest about your arrest history during the hiring process.
Your Rights and the Law
Under U.S. law, anyone arrested for any crime is considered innocent until proven guilty. In some states, employers aren't allowed to use arrest histories when making hiring decisions, but this isn't the case in every state. In most states and industries, job seekers are under no obligation to report arrests that didn't lead to convictions to potential employers unless asked. Some states -- including California, Hawaii and Illinois -- prohibit employers from asking applicants about arrest histories, and if this is the case in your state, you can refuse to answer such questions. In states that allow employers to ask applicants about arrest histories, you're required to answer honestly if the subject comes up on an application or in an interview. Be aware that your arrest history will likely show up on a criminal background check even if you were never convicted, so potential employers might know the truth about your past before asking you. If you lie and the employer finds out, he can legally refuse to hire you.
If you were arrested and the charges were dropped or you were acquitted, simply tell employers this. Take initiative and be up front and honest about the circumstances involving your arrest, but stress that you were never found guilty of the crime. Typically speaking, employers are far more concerned with convictions than arrests, and employers may overlook arrests in your background check if you explain them fully.
If you currently have outstanding charges and you're awaiting trial, it's essential that you're honest about your current situation with potential employers. You'll probably need to request time off for court hearings, meetings with your lawyer and potentially sentencing, if convicted, so you'll need to explain this to your potential boss. Reassure her that you haven't been convicted, and use this as an opportunity to explain your innocence. She may refuse to hire you based on the information you provide in states that allow this, but it looks better on your end to be honest from the beginning.
Tips and Considerations
Contact your state police department or the Federal Bureau of Investigation to obtain a copy of your criminal record. Go over it and make sure all of the information is correct and that it shows past charges as being dropped. If you find any inaccuracies, notify the department or FBI so you can get your record fixed as soon as possible. The last thing you want is for potential employers to see inaccurate information that makes it look like you were convicted.