Legal Interview Questions About Criminal History

Most states don't permit employers to inquire about arrest records that didn't result in a conviction.
Most states don't permit employers to inquire about arrest records that didn't result in a conviction. (Image: a pair of steel handcuffs. image by Maxim Lysenko from

Individuals conducting interviews are tasked with asking the right questions to gain a thorough understanding of each applicant’s background and qualifications. This can sometimes be a tricky process because of the legal constraints involved, particularly for new or inexperienced mangers or human resource professionals. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) outlines specific parameters on what can be asked during a job interview, one of which involves an applicant’s criminal history.


An interviewer may ask an applicant if he's been convicted of a crime. This will typically be included on the initial employment application, and discussed during the pre-screening stage of the interview process. For example, an employer may have a policy that prevents those with a felony conviction within a five-year period, from being eligible for employment. In this case, having a recent felony conviction would prevent the applicant from meeting all pre-employment contingency items.

Arrest Records

Most states, along with the EEOC, don't permit employers to inquire about arrest records, or other legal violations, that didn't result in a conviction. This restriction helps to minimize any inadvertent adverse impact on the applicant.

When Should Your Record Prevent You From Getting Hired?

In some states, employers can't refuse to hire an applicant just because she has a conviction on her criminal record. In these cases, the employer may only rule out an applicant if the nature of the conviction is related to the responsibilities of the position she applied for. For example, a money-laundering conviction would make an accounting applicant ineligible for employment, in that specific role.

How to Respond to Questions About Your Criminal Record

Honesty's the best policy when an employer inquires about any convictions on your criminal record. Employers will take your honesty into consideration when determining whether or not to hire you. Keep in mind that if you're knowingly dishonest when the question's posed, you'll be viewed less favorably by the potential employer, once they receive the results of your criminal background history.

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