Misdemeanors, Infractions and Job Offers: Not a Good Mix

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A. As the SEC and other policing organizations have proven time and again, the long shadow of the law most definitely stretches over the canyons of Wall Street. Unfortunately, the increasingly stringent enforcement climate doesn't make your situation any easier.

A criminal background of any sort "subjects an institution to so much unpredicted risk," says recruiter Peter Gonye of Spencer Stuart. "If it's a misdemeanor of any kind, it's a red flag of some sort that's going to put employers on notice."

Not only are firms feeling the pressure to present a clean slate at every level, but "there is a renewed emphasis on thorough background investigations since 9/11," says Rod Williams, an outplacement consultant with Lee Hecht Harrison. Many employers routinely perform background checks on prospective employees, particularly in banking, securities and other financial industries.

"Conviction of a misdemeanor is a crime that will most likely be revealed during a standard background check," says employment lawyer Ken Taber of Pillsbury Winthrop. "Misdemeanor convictions are generally not sealed." He notes that although this doesn't appear to be so in your case, if you were merely arrested and the prosecution deferred, the arrest may be dismissed after a certain period of time, something you would need to check with the prosecutor's office.

As every good public relations person will tell you, the best way to handle damaging information is to get ahead of it. "It's always better to be upfront about it rather than having it found out," says Williams. "This always raises more suspicions that could be potentially damaging. The thinking becomes, 'What else is being hidden?' And hiring communities are a lot smaller than most people think."

Be as straightforward as possible when discussing your history, and whatever you do, don't lie. "If they ever find out you hid something from them, that is grounds for termination," says executive coach Maggie Craddock. "However, if there is any way you can go through the employment process without being asked this directly, I would certainly avoid emphasizing it."

How badly will your past damage your chances? "It's a matter of time and place as much as anything," says Gonye. Under rare circumstances, he says, "where a person possesses a skill no one else possesses, and there is a confluence of a strong level of need on the part of the employer combined with lack of conceivable solutions, a firm might act with open eyes to try to make it work."

Does the punishment fit the crime? Probably not. But to tap into another cliché, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. It can also open your eyes to other choices you might otherwise gloss over-and breed lifelong compassion for others overcoming obstacles in their quest to build productive lives.

Next week's question: This is my fourth year as an analyst, currently in the global financial group of a medium sized investment bank. I started here right after college, and my reviews are consistently strong. Also, I've been posted to a new position every 12 to 18 months. Recently the bank hired another analyst, with my level of experience who went to a similarly-ranked college, and is paying her approximately 15 percent more than me. What should I do? I'm happy with my progression at the firm, they seem to be happy with me, so how can I convince them to pay me top dollar?

What would you advise? Send your answer to expertadmin@efinancialcareers.com.

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