I'm a second year Accounting & Finance student at a university which ranks in the top 10 universities in the UK. Last year (age 18) I was arrested and given a conditional caution for possession of a class A (MDMA).

It's my understanding that drug-related criminal records are viewed as extremely bad - especially a class A. I've been trying to deal with it and I've thought about it every day since it happened. I massively regret it but nothing I can do will change it now.

I am looking at applying for accounting placements at the Big 4 accounting firms and possibly Financial Analyst roles.

What is the most effective strategy of addressing this issue during my job hunt?

  • 7
    On a more serious note, drugs site:workplace.stackexchange.com and drugs site:clearancejobs.com. Usually two things are applicable: (1) honesty about the incident; and (2) reformed character that's been tested over time. It will be 5 or 10 years before you can put it behind you and not look back (assuming you stay clean).
    – user25792
    Oct 11 '18 at 10:33
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    conditional caution isn't a conviction?
    – Kilisi
    Oct 11 '18 at 10:47
  • 2
    @jww not sure USA examples for real clearance very few UK employers actually are allowed to put people through the security clearance some of the big 4 do but that's only if your working for certain clients - you can still work for the big 4 and not have SC or DV Oct 11 '18 at 20:53
  • @Neuromancer - Yes, agreed. I was not implying one needs a clearance to be an accountant. The important piece of most discussions are, the employer wants to see honesty and disassociation from past behaviors. The grey area seems to be "how long". A college student experimenting (youthful indiscretion and poor judgement) is different than someone who smoked pot regularly into his/her 30's or 40's (lack of willingness to follow to rules and regulations).
    – user25792
    Oct 11 '18 at 21:33
  • @Neuromancer but working for the government, or defence related work, will normally require security clearance in the UK. Oct 12 '18 at 7:18

There's good news and bad news..

The Bad News

A caution will remain part of your criminal record for life (well until you turn 100 anyway, see point 30 - it's not a conviction though) and will show up on all Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) (formerly Criminal Records Bureau (CRB)) checks (basic, standard and enhanced). If your planned career would take you into a position that the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) consider a "controlled position" then they are legally required to carry out a DBS check before employing you. They won't be doing this until the offer stage at the earliest though so you will have a decent opportunity to explain yourself.

The Good News

Certain types of caution (including your specific one) are eligible for what is called "filtering" where they after a certain amount of time they are automatically filtered from the results of a DBS check. As you were 18 or over at the time this will take 6 years from the date of the caution, so although it's technically still on your record (and available to the Police in a Police National Computer (PNC) check) it won't be affecting the DBS results after that point.

There's more good news in that having a record doesn't automatically mean you won't get approved - the FCA take various factors into account:

  • The nature of the offence and the relevance to the controlled function
  • Whether the nature of the offence raises questions about honesty, integrity and/or competence
  • The amount of time that has passed since the offence occurred
  • Whether the offence relates to an isolated incident or forms part of a pattern or behaviour.
  • The applicant's honesty when applying.

The last one is especially important - basically for the 6 years post-caution you need to disclose it before the DBS is carried out. Lying or neglecting to mention it will kill your FCA approval dead. They take that very seriously Once your caution has become eligible for filtering it's up to you but feel free to not disclose it as it won't show on the DBS check.

So in summary it's bad - but not career-ending. I doubt the FCA is going to consider a one-off caution for possession when you were 18 to be particularly relevant to most positions and as long as you are squeaky-clean after that point

  • very thorough answer
    – Kilisi
    Oct 11 '18 at 16:09
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    @Kilisi thanks :) Having to go through my various clearances as well as managing checks and clearances for others has given me some insight, just happy to find a use for it all!
    – motosubatsu
    Oct 11 '18 at 16:16
  • Just a slight little addendum you might want to add: stay completely clean so nothing shows up in a drug test.
    – DonQuiKong
    Oct 11 '18 at 19:37
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    DBS? CRB? PNC? I see you defined FCA inline, that's very nice of you—could you do that for the others?
    – Wildcard
    Oct 11 '18 at 23:54
  • 3
    @Wildcard oops.. my apologies, no excuse but I'm so used to typing those three on autopilot! I've added the definitions in now.
    – motosubatsu
    Oct 11 '18 at 23:58

Be prepared to be questioned about this, should your application prompt a background check.

There's obviously a chance that your application might get immediately rejected at this, but there's also a chance that you have other redeeming qualities that merit an interview.

All you can do is admit to what happened and don't make excuses - use this as a way of demonstrating how you're going to behave should you make some kind of mistake at work, so treat it as such.

Be upfront and honest and view this as something to be learned from. Make that lesson a positive and use it to show how much you've learned and matured since then.

If you find that your applications are being rejected a lot, then talk with your career advisor (or whatever rehabilitation resources you were offered after your caution) with a view to dealing with these rejections and look for ways of moving forward from here.

Be prepared to accept the impact this has had on your future career plans and that you may need to see your sight lower than your ideal should things not work out for you right now.


Honesty is going to be your best policy. I wouldn't explain this on your resume, or bring it up in a job interview, unless asked. However at some point you'll have to sign the paperwork to have HR pull your criminal record. In addition to providing your signature, a short document highlighting what they are going to find, and your good explanation of what you just stated to us about this being a mistake and you are a different person would go a long way.


Although I live in America, same issues for legal offences apply. I suggest following tips given here in the comments. I would add that it could be most helpful to establish verifiable patterns of improved conduct, and to combine that with relevant community service (active membership in a 12-step program i.e. Alcoholics Anonymous which actually treats any chemical substance -- liquid or drug -- that impacts thinking above ones chin, etc.)

Your involvement in community service groups and self-help or peer-to-peer help would exhibit you acknowledge there was a problem at 18, and would show that you take steps to solve problems.

Every employer or potential employer can get on board with being human and making mistakes, but having the courage to face up to our missteps is most important. It is your job to build trust and show that you are dependable and reliable.

I would also start social media searches for posts, discussions, blogs of how others have actually approached such matters where you live and intend to work in the job application process. Yahoo Groups once had groups of interest groups who focused on various matters. Helpful to gather as much information and then use universal principles (honesty, common sense) as you approach actual interview process. Best wishes!

  • 3
    The OP was cautioned for possession of ecstasy. We have no knowledge (and no reason to expect) that this implies that he/she has a drug addiction problem. If not, demonstrating current therapy would actually be disadvantageous in most situations, as it would signal that the OP has an ongoing problem, rather than a one-off (and relatively minor) historical issue. Oct 12 '18 at 4:32
  • @MichaelMacAskill Yep - possession is peanuts compared to evidence of actual substance misuse (and at problem levels at that) when assessing fitness for a controlled position.
    – motosubatsu
    Oct 12 '18 at 9:46
  • @motosubatsu conditional cautions are called conditional for a reason. What's the Condition in your Caution?
    – RonJohn
    Oct 12 '18 at 10:30
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    thanks for your replies everyone. @motosubatsu the condition was that I attended a drug awareness course - which was only one session because the person doing it understood what had happened and she knew I didn't have a problem. However, I feel that I can use this to my advantage when trying to explain myself because I can say that the course opened my eyes and made me realise the problems and the risks of using drugs.. etc.
    – user93283
    Oct 13 '18 at 8:39
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    @MichaelMacAskill yes if I try hard enough (reeeaaally hard) I can almost see the good side of getting caught with MDMA, rather than an addictive substance like cocaine
    – user93283
    Oct 13 '18 at 8:45

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