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Can You Work in Cyber Security with a Criminal Record?

Everyone makes mistakes. But mistakes that result in felonies or misdemeanors put your career on pause. If you’re looking for work in the cyber security industry and have a criminal record, your past is a challenge you’ll need to overcome. Thankfully, it’s not an impossible challenge. Here are the facts about getting a job in cyber security when you have a record.

Felonies vs. Misdemeanors

Misdemeanors are low-level offenses that may not hinder your job search. A misdemeanor includes DUIs, minor theft, buying alcohol for a minor, and disorderly conduct, to name a few. In general, misdemeanors only play a factor if they’re recent or conflict with job-specific responsibilities. 

For example, you may have an issue if you have a DUI misdemeanor but are applying to drive a company vehicle. (imagine how high an employer’s insurance premium would be if you’re considered an unsafe driver.)

In comparison, felonies are higher-level offenses such as drug-related crimes, arson, severe property damage, and theft. Felonies, especially ones within the last seven years, are a red flag for employers. But, much like misdemeanors, many felonies may only be a factor if they hinder job-specific responsibilities. The exception to this is state or government laws that prevent hiring certain felons for specific roles. You may circumvent the negative stigma around felonies by leveraging Fair Chance Hiring practices during your job search.  

Do All Cyber Security Jobs Require Security Clearance?

Not all cyber security jobs require a security clearance. Here’s the breakdown.

Government: As you can imagine, government agencies prefer to hire people with a clean criminal history. Employees will need to pass security clearance assessments and cyber security background checks. And that’s especially true for high-level roles like directors and managers. It’s not impossible per se to get a government cyber security job when you have a record, but your efforts may be better spent elsewhere.

Private Sector: Private sector is practically any cyber job for a non-government company. Are you working for a company to develop a new app? Congratulations, you’re private sector. It’s a catch-all term for non-government roles. The good news is that starting work in the private sector over government jobs is far easier. And the benefits and pay are comparable. Plus, getting a security clearance is optional for most private sector jobs.

Freelancer: While freelancing definitely falls under private sector work, it’s also another way to ensure you won’t need a security clearance or have to pass a cyber security background check to get started. There are plenty of ways to learn cyber security, and if you’re just getting started and have little to no references, you can leverage freelance contracts to build a resume. You may even get your foot in the door with a quality employer. 

How Long Ago Was Your Criminal Record?

The average criminal record goes back seven years. But state governments or even companies themselves may have an extended mandate. Ultimately, the most critical factor will be what your crime was and if you’ll be a liability to the company. And while hackers in 90’s movies could effortlessly hack into any number of systems and change their credentials, you may have less luck. Practicing transparency, applying for jobs that specify second-chance hiring, or starting freelancing to build up word-of-mouth referrals is a good idea. In the digital world, numbers and results are supreme. If you can prove to an employer that you can make their company better and you have a low-level offense, then the odds are in your favor. 

Increase Your Chances of Getting Hired

Develop new skills, earn new licenses, and stay current on industry trends to counteract your criminal past. Companies that use services like KarmaCheck get your complete history, so hiding your past isn’t feasible. 

Make sure you lean more into your skills and how you’ve changed since your mistake to help paint a picture of who you are.  


Employers use KarmaCheck to get the low-down on all potential employees. And considering cyber security background checks are an industry standard, be prepared to have your history on display. 

Thankfully, KarmaCheck streamlines the background process, so as a potential employee, you won’t have to wait too long before finding out if a background check will press pause on your career. 


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