Should I Mention My Criminal History?

by Judge Josh on December 17, 2010

Shiro’s like a rapper. Or, at least like a lot of rappers pretend to be. He’s made something of himself, but his past is a little sketchy. Had to do a little hustlin’ to get by back in the day.

Hi Judge Josh,

I am applying for a scholarship program and I have difficulties deciding what to say. My background is a very complicated story.

Sure, let’s hear it.

My family is not so rich so when I was a kid, I found ways to make money. I didn’t care what kind of jobs they were as long as I could make money.

Fair enough.

I downloaded illegal software, movies and sold them back at half prices. I went to someone’s house and cleaned up their houses 3 times per week. I worked in a restaurant which paid me cash only. I didn’t need to pay and file any income tax for these jobs. The jobs were not good jobs, too.

mention criminal history

Criminal history: Good for Fiddy, bad for you.


Understood. Sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do.

Should I include these jobs in my resume or my autobiography? Downloading illegal stuffs is obviously illegal, so I will just forget about it.

Yeah, let’s not include the illegal stuff. While there may be some people out there who sympathize with criminal activity out of necessity, there are plenty more who do not. So don’t mention that stuff. As I mentioned before, the only profession I know where mentioning your criminal history actually HELPS you get work is being a rapper. Otherwise, keep it quiet.


Cleaning house sounds like a low class job ( and I don’t know how to call that job anyway/ maid???).

Word to the wise, FYI — just because you’ve mentioned English isn’t your first language — be careful using the word “low-class” here in the U.S. Those are fighting words in a LOT of places I know. :)

But yes, I know what you mean, of course. You mean it’s a gig requiring no special skills and pays low wages. However, that’s not a bad thing to put on an application. Putting in your time at shitty jobs is kind of a rite of passage, so no judge is going to look down on you for it. In fact, generally speaking, it makes you seem like a hard worker who’s not a primadonna about doing tough things to make ends meet.

And my work as a waitress is a cash-only job ( that’s also illegal)

True, but just mention the waitressing part. Don’t mention that you were paid under the table. Waitressing and bartending are the quintessential get-myself-through-college jobs, and no one will bat an eye at this. Also, no one will think for a second to wonder whether you were paid properly, illegally, or whatever.

If I cannot include these jobs in my resume, then should I include them in my autobiography?

Include them both places. There’s a time to leave menial jobs off your resume, but you’re not there yet. You leave them off your resume once you’ve graduated from college and applying for a job in your field of study, or perhaps while you’re still studying and applying for an internship.

But again, you’re not there yet — you’re just starting out. So it’s entirely appropriate for someone like you to have waitressing and housekeeping (that’s what we call that job, by the way) on your resume.

Will the judges report me to the police? ( I think it’s not likely to happen but possible ).

Not for what you don’t tell them! I agree, it’s a long shot that any of them would ever report you to the police, and even a longer shot that if they did, the police would even lift a finger to do anything (sounds like anything illegal you may or may not have done was far outside their jurisdiction anyway).

But anyway, get this through your head fast — don’t talk about illegal stuff you’ve done unless it’s absolutely necessary. Just a good rule to live by.

I can also write that I did these jobs but already stopped doing them, but I am afraid that would affect my image as a good student.

No, no. Not at all. Well — the illegal downloading, yes. Even though everyone knows that millions of people do that and it’s not exactly considered armed robbery, you still shouldn’t mention the illegal stuff, because yes, it will tarnish your image.

But again, the waitressing and housekeeping jobs are very normal to have on your resume. Nothing at all wrong with those, so keep them there.

I am sorry for the long letter, but this will be my last question. I need 2 letters of references. I have an instructor who know me very well. So my first letter is not a question. The second instructor doesn’t know me very well. He can write, but I think the best he can make is around 350 words ( the maximum length of the letter is 1000 words).

OK. Well, 350 words is plenty to make the point about someone, so I wouldn’t worry about that. What’s more important is what he’ll say in those 350 words.

I have another friend who graduated from UW’s Foster school. He opens a restaurant near the school. He is older than me 15 years. I know he can write an excellent letter for me, but he’s my “friend”.

That he’s your friend doesn’t necessarily disqualify him from writing you a letter. Probably better in the committee’s eyes, though, that he has some relationship with you other than just being a friend. Otherwise it may just look like a buddy doing another buddy a favor.

Did you work for him? If so, it’s better that he write you the letter of recommendation from that perspective.

So who should I ask to write my second letter ( my friend or the instructor who doesn’t know me well). I read your article about letters of references, but I still cannot decide. My life depends on this scholarship.

If you have no other relationship with him than just being his friend, I’d probably opt for the other professor. Usually it’s established in the first couple lines of a letter *how* the writer knows the student, and if there’s not a good mentorish, or teacher-student type relationship there, it’ll seem fishy.

Thank you soooooo much for your time. Love your website. Its very inspiring. Always help me to stand on my feet again when life beats me down on my knees.

Thanks! I’m honored to hear that and I appreciate it.

Sorry if I made some grammar and spelling mistakes. English is not my native language.

No problem. It will, however, give you problems on your application, so be sure to have a lot of people proofread it for you before you turn it in. Thanks, and good luck!

— What about you guys? Include the criminal history? Friend’s recommendation over the professor’s recommendation? Anything? Help me out here, people, I’m tired today. Let us know in the comments below.

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

kiwi December 17, 2010 at 2:37 pm

Normally I’m a stand-up kind of girl, but on this one, I’m going with Josh.
1. Don’t talk about the the downloading. Not here, not anywhere. It’s done and over. We want it to stay that way.
2. DO talk about the waiting tables and housekeeping jobs. This actually speaks well of you. You did something to try to improve your situation. This makes you look GOOD, not bad. Especially if you maintained good grades while you were doing this stuff.
3. I’d ask all three of the candidates for a letter and see what happens. Chances are you’ll get what you need. If the friend you mentioned is someone you worked for or with, definitely take his. But if he is NOT then his letter won’t help you and you are better off with the one from another instructor, even if that instructor does not know you well.
4. I hope you’re applying for more than one scholarship. I don’t think you can have too much money for school. Ever. If you don’t get this one and you’ve applied for a bunch more, you still have a chance.

Go Shiro! You’re going to make it.

Reply

Dan December 17, 2010 at 2:49 pm

Bottom line while you may think your illegal activity is no big deal, and a product of where, and how you grew up, many of us don’t approve. I grew up in East. St. Louis with a father that was wounded in a war. I overcame poverty and told the gang bangers and dope dealers where to stick it. Today I hold a PhD and a clean criminal record. You illegal activity was a choice you made not a choice your environment made for you. I think if you want to be honest about your background you should first start by not blaming it on poverty and start blaming it on yourself. Until the time you take responsibility for your actions you will only be known as a lieing felon!

Reply

Jeff December 17, 2010 at 3:52 pm

lying* not lieing.

Reply

Bridgette LaPorte December 17, 2010 at 3:44 pm

Hey Dan chill out I am a respectable 37 year old woman who grew up on the streets and was taught by my own father how to hustle drugs for money starting at age 8 smoking weed at 5 and yes I am a very good looking white woman so no stero typing here! So, some people are taught the ways and live it and others are given wounded war vets to show them right from wrong stop being so judgemental its Christmas and everyone I mean everyone deserves a right to further, or to get an education!! Oh and I believe in total honesty about my past just an FYI because, it always comes back to haunt you but my past is much harsher than bootleggin some DVDS. Yes I worked as a dshwasher for a Mexican restaurant at the age of 12 till 3 am 7 days a week but once you get into a certain lifestyle and its what you saw growing up its in your blood. I have had to move many counties away just to start over and I have been on the straight and narrow for over 7 years its not easy and I give mad props to Shiro I tell you!!!

Reply

Mrs.Bear December 20, 2010 at 4:48 am

I agree Bridgette – nature AND nurture, right guys…. 😉

Reply

Gail Amalfitano December 17, 2010 at 4:00 pm

My advice is never include criminal history UNLESS the application specifically asks if you have been arrested. Under those terms you must divulge arrests and deal with the process. Otherwise if they don’t ask you don’t have to tell. In school you should always keep a list of community service, campus activities, awards, nominations, etc. Then if you have a teacher that doesn’t know you real good you can give them this summary of your activities to help them have a better picture of you.

Good luck! Remember if they don’t ask, don’t tell. If asked then you must answer honestly or it looks like you have not changed at all.

Reply

Suzanne Zwecker December 17, 2010 at 4:33 pm

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – it is absolutely imperative for students to form friendly, respectful relationships with as many professors as possible. Whether you need a reference for admission to a different school or advanceed degree program, for a scholarship application, or for a job application, you WILL need at least one at some point and a letter from someone who knows you well will be much more meaningful than one from a prof who simply had you in a class. Talk to your profs outside of class and you will find some you have something in common with. Certainly some will be “cold fish”, but some will be very concerned about how best to help their students succeed. Simply being happy to see them in the hallway goes a long way. even if there is no time for a conversation. A big smile and a cheerful Hi! go a long ways. This costs you nothing, and the returns can be huge. If nothing else, there will be more people in the world who care about you, which is always good.

Reply

LaQuinta December 17, 2010 at 11:07 pm

My opion to the qestion should i tell my criminal background. I ffeel that every one as a person shouldn’t be judged by his or her background unless its critically incriminating. For example, if i commited some crimes when I was the age of seventeen, and now i’m twenty-six, completed a few colleges, and have a job, ect.. “family, and a social life, I wouldn’t want to explain my past from several years. I don’t think it would br relevant to my job.

I feel most productive people in, America, that has important jobs that once was a mischief in teen years does not reflect on a person in later life unless, he or she is still living that way

Reply

Max December 30, 2010 at 11:01 am

I think that’s so nice-sounding, but completely wrong. While in theory, we should be judged by the people we have become, people finding out about our past can blind them to who is standing in from of them. Many people who have influence of our careers, are also ignorant and closed-minded. A boss who’s just used to always getting his own way doesn’t need to be caring or understanding…and if you look [INSERT MINORITY HERE], and he’s biased, just finding out that you committed one illegal act is convenient enough to justify to him that he can fire you. This tends to be the same with stupid, closed-minded people everywhere in the world.

So, it might not be fair, but that’s how it is. My advice is don’t talk about a criminal past, unless you have to. We know we are whoever we are each day, and that the past is the past. But people just aren’t so forgiving as they should be….Myself included half the time.

Reply

NA December 18, 2010 at 12:54 am

I think that you should be honest with the scholarship committee. They should know what they are getting into before possibly awarding you a scholarship. In your essay, you should show the committee that you have made a firm committment to changing your life by explaining in detail what you have done.

Reply

Annie December 18, 2010 at 12:56 am

No. Don’t mention the illegal stuff. Absolutely not. But the housekeeping and waitressing jobs are perfectly normal jobs for teens and young adults to have, so you won’t look at all bad by mentioning those.

Reply

NA December 18, 2010 at 12:56 am

In my first comment, I left out something that should be part of the sentence. Starting from done, the sentence should continue to read “and your exact plans for changing your life.”

Reply

Musa Al Asyari, Mr. December 18, 2010 at 11:51 am

I just think, if we think good, everythink will be good everytime and everywhere.

Reply

KL December 19, 2010 at 12:32 pm

Take it from someone whose been there. If you did not get arrested for the illegal stuff DO NOT MENTION it! Every single person has done something as a kid (read minor) that was illegal. Even if it was just jaywalking, maybe writing on a bathroom wall, or riding a bike without a helmet. If you are no longer engaged in the illegal activity and there is no record of it it is over and in the past chalk it up to making the poor choices ALL young people make prior to realizing the existence of consequences.
As for your references use all of them even the friend. Let the committee decide which ones to use. Friends after all have the best idea of a person’s personality, and the fact that someone thinks highly enough of you to write a good reference is a good thing.

Reply

Gail Amalfitano December 28, 2010 at 7:23 pm

KL is right, if you were not arrested, you don’t have to include that information. Technically, that IS NOT a criminal history.
On the other hand, if you WERE arrested then that is by all means a criminal history or record.
Again, if they ask for your arrest history and you DO have one, you must tell them. That includes colleges. Arrests do not keep you out of colleges…that also depends on type of arrests…and the time since your last incident. If you have stopped acting that way and changed your life then that will be a plus.
Suzzane is ABSOLUTELY correct; you must make relationships with your professors, period. College is about learning but also it is about learning how to get by in life. That means learning that people ARE resources. You must learn to make friends with people that ARE NOT your age, race, religion, or type. This is the most important thing you do in college is make networks of people and support.You need to learn to build relationships with all types of people and especially your teachers. Professors are often the one’s to nominate students for awards and scholarships. Get to know your teachers. Make sure they know you by name.
Making choices is also the most important thing you do in life, so take the time to think ahead of what your choice could cause later on down the road. Make choices like you play a game of chess. Life is much like a chess game; a bad move at the beginning could cost you much later in the game.
So if you have no arrest record, then you have NO criminal history. So put that away and do it no more before you do get a criminal arrest record. If you DO have a record then put time between you and the incident and do good things to prove you have changed like service in the community, campus activities like can drives and fund raisers, get in a club, run for office…get involved…this is how you make friends, get to know teachers and advisors while making new friends with students.
Don’t discount someone because they are older, or different in some way, make connections in every class or event. Stay away from trouble and people who like trouble.

Reply

Mandi July 9, 2011 at 8:02 pm

Loads of people turn to far worse forms of illegal activity to make ends meet… It’s easy to stand back and say “well I did it, so why can’t you?” but every situation is different. It’s very different when you have no family, or at least none near by.. it’s a whole different ball game when you have only yourself to rely on and that doesn’t seem to be good enough.

One thing can be said for mankind: Regardless of the rules put forth by society, if those rules will not help us to survive we will live by rules that will.

I’m not advocating illegal activity, but I’m not so blind as to think everyone who does bad things deserves nothing but the worst from society… and I’m not ignorant enough to think that most of those do-badders are doing bad for the right reasons… but there are a few.

It’s like strippers and college. If you ask a stripper why she does it, she almost always says she’s paying her way through school… 1 out of 20 are telling you the truth. I would imagine there is a comparison to be made by people who commit non-violent crimes and these strippers, though I haven’t done the research to present the statistics… Just speaking from personal experience… :)

Reply

Leave a Comment

WP-SpamFree by Pole Position Marketing

Previous post:

Next post: