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Job searching while you have criminal charges pending

Dear J.T. & Dale: My son, 26, recently completed drug rehab and applied for a job with a large apartment complex. The job involved taking care of three small complexes doing outside maintenance. My son really wanted this job. He passed the drug screen and waited for a background check. The employer claimed the check took a week (which seems long). Meanwhile, my son passed up other job opportunities while waiting for this job. The employer really worked hard at making him think the job was a shoo-in. Unfortunately, he was rejected because of the background check. He does have “pending” charges for drug possession and simple theft. Did these pending charges show up? If so, how does he get past this? He is totally dejected and depressed about the workforce. – Tammy

J.T.: I’m sorry to say it’s likely that the pending charges did show up in the background check. As for the timing, background checks usually only take a couple of days to complete; however, if they didn’t rush to put it in the system, it could be a week-long wait. My guess is they didn’t want to lose him as a candidate in the event that all was good.

DALE: We live in a time of THEY KNOW. No matter what it is, THEY KNOW. And that’s going to affect how your son deals with future job interviews. While a drug possession charge is not a deal breaker in most organizations – everybody has a friend or relative with a drug problem – the theft charge is trickier. For instance, let’s apply the THEY KNOW assumption to the apartment job. The managers of the complex don’t want an employee who might be tempted by all the stuff around apartments, but worse for them is thinking ahead to when residents find out (remember, “they know”) and then accuse management of being negligent. So, let’s hope your son isn’t convicted. But, if he is, the good news is that there are plenty of jobs where hiring managers are more sympathetic. The men’s shelter where I volunteered for many years had a catalog of willing employers. A bit of research and your son can tap into the network of counselors who work with such organizations.

J.T.: Meanwhile, when your son applies to jobs with background checks, I encourage him to be upfront and tell them what they are going to find. Being caught by surprise makes the employer feel like he was trying to sneak something by them. It’s hard to own up to things like this, but if he can take accountability and tell them what the experience has taught him and how badly he wants to put it behind him, it can go a long way toward making them give him a chance.

Dear J.T. & Dale: I am applying to be on a reality TV show. I already made the first several cuts. I know I can’t tell my company until I’m cast. It will take me away from work for up to two months. Any suggestions on what to say so I can keep my job? – Ruby

DALE: I wouldn’t expect this to be a hard sell as your managers will probably get vicarious pleasure from hearing about all the backstage details from you.

J.T.: Better yet, I wonder if your participation could give positive exposure to the business. Might the company benefit from having an employee on TV? Your efforts could give them some positive PR.

DALE: Possible, although the “reality” in “reality TV” rarely involves showing participants in their best light. I think you can hope they’ll be happy for you, but you still need to allay any fears about your absence negatively affecting the department.

J.T.: Exactly. I would outline a plan of how you’ll try to minimize the impact of you being gone. What would you be able to do in advance that is going to lower the burden on your peers? Lastly, show a lot of gratitude. An employer willing to support you on this type of life experience is worthy of mega praise!

Jeanine “J.T.” Tanner O’Donnell is a career coach and the founder of the leading career site Dale Dauten is founder of The Innovators’ Lab and author of a novel about H.R., “The Weary Optimist.” Please visit them at, where you can send questions via email, or write to them in care of King Features Syndicate, 628 Virginia Dr., Orlando, FL 32803.