(Last Updated On: 21/03/2017)

How Will a DUI Affect My Job Search?

Talking to employers during interviews and networking events can be pretty challenging. You are expected to be on top of your game, present yourself with professionalism, and talk articulately about what you can offer the company. So when a candidate gets a DUI conviction, it can sometimes feel like the end of the world. How can you make yourself rise to the top of the candidate pool when you have such a blemish on your record?

Working with college students, I get asked this very question from time to time. A DUI can have a major impact on your job search, but it does not have to be a career-ending mistake. Society has become increasingly forgiving in this area – just look at the many examples of actors, athletes, and politicians who have made this very same mistake.That being said, a DUI does indicate a major lapse in judgment to employers, and it can add to the already daunting challenge of launching your career if you are a college student or recent graduate.

Below are some questions to consider if you are a job seeker facing this challenging issue. Please keep in mind that I am not a lawyer – these responses are compiled from discussions I have had with students, employers, and other career services professionals. My first advice to anyone in this situation would be to seek help from a qualified legal professional who can help you understand how the DUI will affect the job search based on your particular circumstances.

If a candidate has a DUI mark on his or her record, is he/she obligated to disclose that information to the interviewer/potential employer?

This is a tough question, but the answer is “It depends.” Candidates with criminal records are not obligated to willfully share that information with employers. However, you ARE obligated to be honest with an employer if you are directly asked about the topic.For example, many employers will have a formal application with some type of question related to prior criminal charges. If you are not honest when responding to this question, you will very likely be caught in the long run and not only hurt your chances of landing that job, but you will also damage your professional reputation. An applicant should NEVER lie on an application – if a clean criminal record is important to that employer, they will likely conduct a background check on you and find out about the charges anyway.

If you are not sure whether the employer will require this information, the decision to bring up the topic on your own is a matter of personal preference. You certainly do not want to introduce the topic before you have developed some rapport with the recruiter – I have heard of candidates leading with this question in their first meeting with an employer, which results in a pretty awkward exchange all around.

However, it can be helpful sometimes to be forthcoming. Many recruiters do appreciate transparency, and they may be able to tell you how your record could affect your chances as a candidate. If a DUI conviction is something that will take you out of the running for a position, sometimes it is better to know early on in the process so that you are not wasting the time and energy of both yourself and the employer.

If the interviewer directly brings up the incident, how should the candidate answer?

When it comes to DUI charges, the best approach for candidates is to own up to their behavior and minimize the amount of time the recruiter spends focused on this negative topic. Make it clear that you learned your lesson and you understand that you made a mistake.

Trying to downplay the charges or place the blame on someone else will only reinforce the recruiter’s doubts. Ultimately, you have to understand that you are the one to blame for putting yourself in this situation. Own your mistake, frame it as a learning experience, and at the end of your response redirect the focus back to your enthusiasm for the company and your interest in the position. If the employer tells you that the DUI charge is a deal-breaker, thank them graciously for their time and move on.

Do you think a DUI severely limits a candidate’s chance of landing a job? Or can the incident be turned into a learning experience that the interviewer can appreciate?

There is no getting around it – a DUI conviction will absolutely eliminate your chances of landing employment in certain companies or industries. Education is a great example; candidates with any criminal convictions, including DUIs, may find it nearly impossible to land a teaching position.

Certain employers – such as those with highly-competitive screening processes, a company car, or organizations hiring for positions that will require you to drive – may also have a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to DUIs.

The job market is competitive, and the fact is that having a DUI offers an easy way for recruiters to screen you out of the application process. However, some employers may be more flexible on this topic, especially if you can demonstrate a clear sense of responsibility when discussing the subject and provide plenty of other reasons for them to like you.

The important thing is to do your research. You need to understand how your charges may affect your career goals and learn as much as possible about the hiring standards for your industry and the companies you are targeting.

If at all possible, take steps to get your record expunged. You may never be able to completely erase the incident from your reputation, but getting the conviction removed from your background check is one of the best ways to minimize the impact on your career.

What behaviors or steps would you recommend a candidate take following a DUI conviction?

First and foremost, I would say you need to take a good hard look at your lifestyle. It sounds cliché, but it could be very likely that there are some people you are spending time with or choices you are making that will continue to have a negative impact on your career prospects unless you make some changes. Taking steps to correct the DUI problem begins with examining your lifestyle – expunging your record will do you no good if you get another charge a year or two down the road.

Next, you need to start doing some serious research to understand your options. The first step would obviously be to call a lawyer and get some advice from a qualified professional. Can you get the charge removed from your record? If so, begin that effort as soon as possible since the process of expunging your record can be costly in terms of both time and money.

You should also consider how the DUI charge will impact your career prospects based upon your goals and professional interests. In some cases, the arrest could dramatically alter the path you had envisioned for yourself. Meeting with your career counselor can be helpful in this situation, and you could also conduct research online or network with employers to get some feedback.

Finally, you should start thinking about other things you can do to make yourself a rock star candidate. Knowing that the DUI issue may come up with employers, think about anything else you can possibly do to improve your brand and bring value to the table. Get involved, volunteer, seek leadership opportunities. Build your resume as much as possible and polish your networking skills. You CAN overcome a DUI charge and still experience success in your career, you will just have to work hard at it and be adaptable in the face of adversity.

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Andrew Crain
Andrew Crain is a career development consultant at The University of Georgia. He works with business students and conducts trainings on LinkedIn, Personal Branding, Prezi, and Job Search Strategies. Contact Andrew at andrewcr85 at gmail.com, connect on LinkedIn or visit his Prezi portfolio to learn more. The views represented here belong to Andrew Crain and do not represent The University of Georgia or the UGA Career Center. He wrote career advice articles for CareerThoughts.com. Check his profile here.

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