No matter what career you choose to pursue in criminal justice, there's no escaping the background check. The sensitive nature of the job, combined with the high level of trust and authority that the public gives to criminology professionals, requires that candidates be of the highest moral character. Of course the system isn't perfect, but by and large the background check ensures that a potential employee does not have any events in his or her past that would preclude them from working in the field.
For most, the background check can be a nerve-racking process, if only because of the uncertainty of what to expect. By learning more about the process, you can calm your nerves and make a better determination of where you might stand in the hiring process.
Criminal History Checks
The first step in any background investigation is a criminal history check. Most states have laws against hiring criminal justice professionals who have been arrested or convicted of felonies and some misdemeanor crimes. A criminal history check reveals everything about a person's criminal past.
It includes not only convictions and sentencing, but all prior arrests. Many states also have laws regarding the handling of expunged records. Often, those applying for criminal justice jobs are required to provide all records, even those that have been sealed or expunged.
Some agencies and employers may take the criminal history check a step further and ask you to provide information about your immediate family. A family member's past generally won't prevent you from being considered for employment, but you can expect to be questioned about it if one exists. The reason for this is to make sure that you will not have any conflicts of interest in the event any family members are engaged in criminal activity.
In addition to the criminal history check, criminal justice applicants will be run through existing criminal and terrorist watch databases. Applicants' child support histories will also be examined, and if they are found to be delinquent they will usually be disqualified from the hiring process.
A credit check is often the next component of the background check. Many applicants worry about how their credit will affect their ability to get a job in criminology. Typically, agencies aren't concerned with an individual's credit score. Instead, they look at the overall amount of debt and whether or not the applicant has been paying his bills.
So long as you are currently meeting your obligations and you are not in debt to the extent that you won't be able to make your bills on your new salary, your credit history won't harm you in the background investigation.
Any thorough background check will include your employment history. This is usually the last step in the check, because investigators understand that you may not want your current employer to know you are looking for a new job. The employment history component will involve contacting previous employers and asking basic questions about what kind of employee you were, whether you were excessively late or absent and why you left or resigned.
Sometimes, agencies will conduct a neighborhood check and home visit. In these instances, background investigators will speak with current and past neighbors in order to find out what kind of neighbor you were and whether you were involved in anything that they might consider to be suspicious activity.
As with the credit check, the neighborhood check alone won't usually exclude you from employment, but will simply point to more questions your investigator may need to ask you in order to get a better picture of your overall background.
Getting Past the Process
The background investigation is a necessary component of any application process in a criminology career. The best way to get through the process is to be open, honest and upfront with your background investigator. If you're considering a career in criminal justice or criminology, do your best to stay out of trouble and be an exemplary neighbor and employee. Taking these steps will help you make it though the process and set you up for a rewarding career.
- Learn more about the criminal justice hiring process.