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Becoming an Engineer with a Criminal Record

  1. Feb 3, 2010 #1
    I'm 28 and in my freshman year at community college en route to becoming an engineer (mechanical or electrical, not sure yet). When I was younger (around 18-22), I partied a little too much and was arrested a few times. I have three misdemeanors: a DWI, a 2nd Degree Aggravated Harrassment (for a prank phone call: didn't get a lawyer and now wish I did), and Obstructing Governmental Administration (running away from cops at a party). Will this hurt my ability to get a job after I graduate or to get my PE?
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 4, 2010 #2
    Not to rain on your parade or anything but why would it not hinder your chances? If you have been criminally convicted of a crime and they discover it (which any reputable place would do) your chances of employment are going to be cut severely, regardless of whether you want to be an engineer or a bus driver. Most US states also have law that they are entitled to refuse employment to anyone with a criminal record.
  4. Feb 4, 2010 #3

    Andy Resnick

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    I would discuss your situation with an attorney. You have no felonies, these infractions occurred several years ago, (presumably) you have no new criminal convictions since then, so it's hard to say how much you even need to disclose in an interview.
  5. Feb 4, 2010 #4
    It's rather unlikely to. Most job applications ask you if you have been convicted of a felony, in which case you can say truthfully say no. The standard procedure that I've seen in most companies is that they interview you for your qualifications, and then they run a background check afterwards. I don't think any college related misdemeanors are going to kill your application.

    If you were interviewing with me, I'd actually prefer that you didn't bring it up on an interview since it's irrelevant to job qualifications. Also, one reason that employers are more lenient about this sort of thing than you might first think is that the person at the other side of the interview table probably has a few skeletons in their closet.
  6. Feb 4, 2010 #5
    It could hurt you in some cases, but you should be able to land somewhere. The particularly worrysome one is the DWI. This carries a bit of a stigma, particularly in recent years. I know of a professional person that was recently fired after getting a DWI. This was the sole grounds for dismissal. However, this person had a contract that stipulated maintaining a good reputation because his job involved financial investing. In your case, the thing that will save you is that you can leave these things behind as the indiscretions of youth. If there is any way you can get these things cleared from your record, it will be worth any legal expense.
    Last edited: Feb 4, 2010
  7. Feb 4, 2010 #6
    I've looked into getting my record expunged, but it seems like New York is one of the strictest states as far as this goes and it's pretty much impossible. I have a meeting with an attorney on Monday. I did complete a court-ordered alcohol treatment program after my DWI (which was the last of the offenses). If my record does come up in an interview or application, do you think mentioning that I went through treatment would make me seem rehabilitated, or could it cause concern that I have a drinking problem?
  8. Feb 4, 2010 #7
    I think the latter. Don't bring any of it up on your own, but if the question does come up, just attribute the whole thing to a stupid night of college-age partying. Most people have done that at some point, and even if not, it can be understood and overlooked by many people. However, if there is any indication of an ongoing alchohol addiction, or that your past history might be repeated, that is the "kiss of death".
  9. Feb 4, 2010 #8
    Also just to amplify this. Employers generally don't care what you do on your off-hours, and in fact people go out of their way to avoid concerning themselves with people's past and private lives. The concern that the employer has is that you have a problem that will cause you to miss work, be less productive, and cause problems for the company (i.e. if you get pulled over for DWI while driving a company car).

    If someone specifically asks about it, then you need to be upfront and honest, but I'd avoid mentioning your past unless someone asks you about it. The problem is that if you appear defensive, then the interviewer may get the mistaken impression that there is a current issue.

    Also interviewers will generally avoid asking questions about criminal records, because there are all sorts of landmines for the employer. There are certain questions that are illegal, and certain questions that will cause problems. For example, it is illegal in the United States to deny someone a job merely because they were arrested. In some states, it's legal to ask whether you were arrested, but not in others. (This is one more reason I'd actually prefer if you *didn't* volunteer this sort of information if you were interviewing with me.)

    What usually happens is that the interviewer doesn't ask these sorts of questions, but human resources will do a background check, and since HR has expertise in employment law. Also there are laws in place that require the employer to inform you if a hiring decision was made on the grounds of a background check.

    My advice would be different if it was a felony conviction or something that happened in the last year, since in that situation it will come up anyway and it's better if you bring it up.

    One more thing, when employers do a background check, the main thing they are concerned about isn't a distant criminal record. The main thing they are concerned about is the accuracy of the resume (i.e. did you get the degrees you said that you did, do the jobs you said you did, etc. etc.)
  10. Feb 4, 2010 #9
    One other thing. This doesn't apply to you, but for people who do have something serious in their background. If it is a written application, then you should write it down in the application, and if no one asks you about it in the interview, then you don't need to bring it up. If it's a series of interviews, the person you should mention this to is the person from human resources. Also, even if it is something serious, I'd avoid mentioning it in the initial phone screen.

    The reason for this is that the hiring manager is often someone that is concerned about your technical skills, and isn't an expert in employment law. The HR person is the expert in employment law so they will know what can or can't be done with the information.
  11. Feb 4, 2010 #10
    What I've noticed is that things like that are usually "the last straw" firings. If you are a model employee and you get a DWI conviction out of the blue, then your employer might give you some slack, but people that get convicted of DWI often are not model employees (i.e. lots of absences, poor work habits, etc. etc.) Also if it involves jail time (even very short periods), it's going to cause problems.

    Employers are very picky about who they hire, because it's rather hard to fire someone. If you fire someone out of the blue, you may expose yourself to some liability risk, but something like a DWI conviction provides an airtight reason to get rid of someone that was on the way out anyway.
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