Bad credit, criminal record? Time to apply for jobs!

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(MoneyWatch) The Society for Human Resource Management released a new survey that shows a decrease in criminal background checks and credit checks in the hiring process.

Fifty three percent of employers surveyed do not use credit background checks when hiring, compared to 60 percent who did use them in 2010. That's good news for people who's credit has been damaged due to job loss, or other factors. 

The reasons for credit checks are to reduce theft (45 percent of respondents) and to reduce liability for negligent hiring (22 percent). When your credit is bad, and the company wants permission to check it, you should proceed with the process. According to this study, 80 percent of employers who use credit checks have hired someone who had negative things appear on their credit check, with 64 percent of employees taking the candidate's explanation into consideration when making the hiring decision. Credit checks are most likely to be done on employees who have fiduciary responsibility or access to highly confidential employee information.

Your most recent credit history is considered the most important, with only 6 percent of employers giving equal weight to all years in your history.

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Likewise, the number of employers who do not do a criminal background check has doubled from 7 percent in 2010 to 14 percent in 2012. Only 69 percent of employers run criminal background checks for all positions.

According to the survey the reason for criminal background checks centers on two areas: Reducing legal liability (52 percent of respondents run criminal checks for this reason) and ensuring workplace safety (49 percent).

What in your criminal background would prevent you from being hired? Ninety six percent of respondents said a violent felony would quash the job offer, while only 74 percent said a convicted non-violent felony would be cause for not hiring.

But, a surprising 58 percent of employers said they would and do take the candidate's side of the story into consideration when evaluating whether or not to hire someone with a felony conviction.

Takeaways for job candidates:

Be honest on your job application. Even though credit checks/criminal background checks are down, they are still popular enough to be expected. Even with a conviction or bad credit there is still a chance of being hired. Lying on the application will most likely be discovered and result in no job offer.

Be prepared to explain. Having a good explanation for why your credit is awful means you need to know that it is before the company runs the check. And you need to know what caused it to go down and prepare an explanation. 

Apply anyway. Whether the problem in your past is financial or criminal, there's a chance that either they won't check or that you'll be hired regardless. Don't limit your job applications just because a background check is part of the hiring process. Background checks are almost always done at the very end, when the hiring manager has already made the decision that you are the candidate he wants.

Don't quit your current job until the background check is complete. Often, offer letters have a clause that says they are dependent upon the satisfactory completion of a background check, reference check, credit check or drug test. Do not, under any circumstances, resign from your current job until those checks are completed. Even if you're sure you'll sail through all of them. Strange things have happened.

Your experience outweighs your credit/criminal background. The thing that employers find most important is your experience and proven ability to do the job. If you have that, there's a good chance you'll make it through the screenings even with a spotty past.

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