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Ask HR: If I was arrested and not convicted, do I have to tell my potential boss?

Johnny C. Taylor Jr. tackles your human resources questions as part of a series for USA TODAY. Taylor is president and CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management, the world's largest HR professional society and author of "Reset: A Leader’s Guide to Work in an Age of Upheaval.”

The questions are submitted by readers, and Taylor's answers below have been edited for length and clarity.

Have a question? Do you have an HR or work-related question you’d like me to answer? Submit it here.

QUESTION: “I was terminated from a previous job following an arrest. Since being acquitted on all charges, I am looking to return to work. Should I disclose the arrest that did not result in a conviction to prospective employers?” – Ronald

Answer: Disclosing an arrest not resulting in a conviction is up to you. When making such a decision, there are several considerations, including the prospective company’s hiring policies, the specific laws for arrest and conviction records in employment, and the type of job you are applying for.

Understand the dynamics in the industry, prospective organization and region you are considering. Start by researching companies before applying to see their position on second chance hiring or hiring individuals with a criminal history. Many employers are now open to hiring employees with criminal backgrounds, and many states and local municipalities have gone as far as passing ban-the-box laws prohibiting companies from asking about your criminal history, arrests, and convictions until specific steps in the interview process are complete.

For example, some laws require employers to wait until they make a conditional offer of employment to ask questions about arrest and conviction records. This allows the employer to get to know you, your experience, skills, and knowledge before considering an arrest or conviction in the hiring decision. Employers must also justify the business or job-related need to not hire an applicant with a criminal past or arrest history. Furthermore, an employer may only be allowed to consider actual convictions, not arrest records or pending charges.

I’ll add a bit of caution here. If your arrest was covered in the news or social media, it may be revealed with a simple internet query. In such a case, you might do well to get out in front of it before the employer finds out on their own. If you decide against that, you’ll at least want to have a prepared response should the arrest come up.

Ultimately, it will be your decision whether to share this information prior to a contingent offer or before your potential employer receives the results of a background check. But given that the news could come out from that review or, again, through a simple internet search, being forthcoming with the information allows you to set the record straight and avoids hiring managers coming up with their own narrative. If you volunteer this information, focus on how you are the best applicant for the position and how you embody a company’s mission, vision, and values.

Be sure to understand the dynamics at play, weigh out all your options and use your best discretion. Good luck with your upcoming job search and all your future endeavors!

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QUESTION: “I’m just starting my senior year in college. I expect to graduate in May. When should I start looking for a career entry job and applying for jobs? Do I have to wait until my degree is in hand?”– Abby

Answer: How exciting to be so close to graduation! When it comes to looking for employment, you don't have to wait for your degree to be in hand before applying for jobs. It may take several months to find the right position, depending on your career aspirations. There is no time like the present to begin your search.

Regardless of your chosen field, cultivating your career is a skill we can all benefit from. There will be enough people to tell you "no," so don't start by saying that to yourself. Discovering what is possible for your career starts with asking questions and applying for positions that allow you to start figuring out, "Can I fit here?" or, "What is it like working in this space?"

First, start researching opportunities in your desired field. Consider the industry and size of companies, geographic areas where prospects are normally located, when companies typically hire for positions, the types of positions available including training programs, and overall, what aspects might be a good fit for you.

Then compile a list of companies aligned with your career goals and use that as a starting point for applying for positions. Get on recruiters' radars early. Talk with them even before you're ready to start. They can give you insights on how and when is the best time to apply.

Once you find job opportunities that interest you, tailor your resume and cover letter to the position's requirements. You can also start gathering your employment references. If you have built a relationship with a professor or an adviser, ask them to review your documents and provide suggestions. Identify people who can be personal references, speaking to your character and growth.

Use your research as a starting point for knowing when to apply for positions. For example, companies usually start their interviewing process for training programs in the fall. Outside of specific programs, start applying about three to three and a half months before graduation. Build a relationship with your college career center. Often, they have information regarding on-campus interviewing and when to apply to particular companies. Also, consider job fairs, online job boards, networking events and referrals from professors, friends, and family.

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Lastly, you can look at reviews of companies online to make sure the company's mission, values, and employee experience positively match up with your goals and objectives. Remember, you're not looking for just a job; you're seeking a career match. Right now, this may mean a growth opportunity. Look at where you want to go, not just where you can start. Being proactive can get you one step closer to your desired next step. Good luck!

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Ask HR: Should I disclose a prior arrest to my potential employer?