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10. Careers advice

Many students with criminal records report that when they leave higher education, they feel unprepared for their next steps.

Students may face barriers to their chosen career path as a result of their criminal record. We know that careers teams are aware of the need to tackle gaps in outcomes in diverse student bodies; students with criminal records should be included in this work. Careers teams should have an understanding of the issues faced by people with criminal records, and be trained to advise them.

98% of careers professionals surveyed for Careers 2032 were concerned that students did not make adequate use of the careers services available to them.  When we hear from students with criminal records, many report lacking the confidence to ask for help with their career prospects. They describe the fear of having to disclose their criminal record to access useful or relevant careers advice, worrying about how this information might be received, or with whom it will be shared.

Access to support should not be contingent on disclosure. Yet, staff should be trained to respond appropriately if a student wishes to discuss their criminal record and their future career. Pre-empting a student’s questions about whether they can get specialist advice, how their information will be used, and how they will be treated, can encourage students and ensure they feel welcome. So make it clear in the service materials/advertising that the careers team can offer specialist, confidential advice.

“For the duration of the course I had no way of knowing if I would encounter problems after completing the course…having a police caution affected my confidence and self-esteem and I had convinced myself that even if I completed the course successfully employers would not employ me – this was difficult to talk about”


Choosing a career path, or knowing what options are available as a graduate, can be a challenge for any student (27% of students surveyed for careers 2032 reported that the biggest obstacle to their future careers success is not knowing what field to go into). The additional pressure of choosing a career path that will be available as a person with a criminal record may feel overwhelming.

As our work on employment highlights, practice is often poor towards people with criminal records in many sectors. It can be a real challenge to find out how employers will respond to a criminal record disclosure before completing an application However, it is important to remember that even though people with criminal records can face barriers when seeking work, these can be navigated with support.

There may be some fairly simple, practical ways to encourage those with criminal records to take full advantage of higher education careers services. On our site, there are numerous guides for individuals, offering practical advice for things such as:

These resources are designed for those with criminal records, but careers teams can adapt the guides as appropriate, if students would like to work through some of these with support. Other practical careers sessions or resources could include:

Providing tailored guidance:

Identify the possible impacts of a criminal record on common career paths, especially those linked to the subjects offered in your institution. In a given field, is it likely that applicants will need to disclose their criminal record as standard when applying for roles? Are there certain kinds of criminal records that will pose greater barriers than others? This will vary from role to role, and depend on the specific policies of each organisation. However, there are some industries which have generally greater reliance on criminal record checks than others.

Where students are studying a regulated course, such as social work, they will likely already have considered the impact of their criminal record on their access to employment in the future. However, there may be some subject areas that are less obviously regulated or challenging. Careers teams should identify which subjects in their institution may fall into this latter category and be prepared to support students looking to work in these fields.

Fields that may be less obviously challenging could be:

  • Aerospace engineering – roles in this field may require high levels of security checks, where they are largely defence-focused
  • Non-therapeutic sports-related courses – this can involve working unsupervised with children, and therefore engage higher level DBS checks
  • Subjects that often lead to government roles, such as public policy or public health
  • Psychology and related courses – even if someone does not want to work with vulnerable adults or children, regulation may give them the authority to do so, and therefore may be subject to higher level checks

If you are unsure about what challenges a student may face, you can contact Unlock. We work directly with employers and regulatory bodies to encourage good recruitment practice. We can explore what a student may need to consider, what the relevant industry standards are, or try to identify employers with positive recruitment practices.

“I was given no careers advice, but I did not approach the careers department, as I did not feel comfortable disclosing to more people.”

Opportunities during study

Many students have the opportunity during their studies to develop their employability through internal placements and programmes. This can be a vital aspect of the higher education experience, developing transferrable skills and an understanding of workplace norms and culture. Yet, students with criminal records again face barriers to participation in these activities.

These are the same barriers as posed elsewhere. For example, blanket questions about criminal records and no guidance on how a criminal record might affect an application. Or, a lack of guidance as to how criminal records data will be treated; some students may fear that disclosing a record for a placement might lose them their place on their course.

The recruitment processes for these roles should be reviewed in the same way that your institution examines its admissions policy, or its paid roles. Is it necessary to ask about criminal records for every internal placement? Some may involve regulated activity, and may be eligible for a Standard or Enhanced disclosure and barring service check. Yet, many have no clear reason for asking about criminal records, and continue to do so regardless.


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