So I got a retail job as soon as I turned 16, and was employed there for over a year and a half. I loved it there but took advantage of the system and stole a few clothing items.

While it isn't an excuse, I was young and foolish and certainly wouldn't do that again now that I'm nearing 18 here. Obviously I got fired, but wasn't charged. I applied for another retail job, and did not want them to know about my previous experience (I just wanted to forget it even happened), so when asked, I told them I quit. About a month after getting hired and working constant shifts, my manager told me they found out and that I had to be let go.

Now I don't know what to do. I need a job due to my family's financial state, and I am completely embarrassed about my previous actions and am scared I wont get another job because of it.

I don't know if I should list those two as a reference or just say I have no work experience and get a non-retail based job. I have other references form babysitting and volunteering but nothing else.

  • Do you know HOW they found out? Did they check your employment record and call that company? In some countries saying negative things about a prior employee is actually against the law. Second, if you had admitted you had worked there, they may have simply not investigated further. Or did the managers know each other somehow?
    – AndreiROM
    Nov 20, 2015 at 2:00
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    @AndreiROM I can't think of any country where telling the truth is illegal. You may be confusing that for the refusal to provide references that some companies enforce, where they only confirm employment dates to avoid frivolous litigation.
    – Lilienthal
    Nov 20, 2015 at 9:38
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    @Lilienthal: Telling the truth may well be illegal - that's called "right to privacy". I'm no lawyer, but for example in Germany, the usual advice to employers is that you need the candidate's permisson to even call an old employer. Laws are complicated...
    – sleske
    Nov 20, 2015 at 10:50
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    @sleske Had a quick look but my German isn't strong enough to track down an actual legal source. It does seem like employers can be sued for badmouthing employees, even if what they say is true, because it's "unfair". Supposedly there's an entire code around the "Arbeitszeugnis" (a form of reference letter) with coded messages to badmouth an employee without doing so outright. I should have known there'd be countries with more insane employment laws :). Regardless, this doesn't really affect the OP.
    – Lilienthal
    Nov 20, 2015 at 12:10
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    @Lilienthal - Here in Canada it is illegal for any former employer to speak ill of you. The most they can say is "I refuse to comment". The circumstances of how you were fired are 100% confidential, and if they find out without your telling them, then that's a clear violation of the law.
    – AndreiROM
    Nov 20, 2015 at 14:13

3 Answers 3


This is a spectre that is going to haunt you for the rest of your days if you don't face it sooner or later. You will never know from day to day when the tap on the shoulder will come, asking you to leave the premises because your past has been discovered.

I would strongly suggest being up front and honest about your background. Explain that you understand just how wrong it was, and that it was something you would never do again. Be honest and show just how remorseful you are. Yes, there will be some companies who will not hire you, but they will also be the ones who will fire you as quick as look at you when they do find out.

Being honest about it will show a prospective employer that you have matured and accept the consequences of your actions, and that you simply want to move forward. Explain that you were fired from the first job because of it, and the second because you were scared to mention it to employer. You realise now that to hide it was the wrong thing to do, and you wish to be open about your past.

Remember, which is worse: Accepting your actions now and remove this monkey from your back forever, or live in fear every day?

  • 5
    +1 for the fact that gaving it in the open means you can't be blingsided by it -- or blackmailed with it -- later. If it is at all likely to turn up in a background check, you're better off pre-empting that.
    – keshlam
    Nov 20, 2015 at 5:21
  • @keshlam Exactly. I prefer to choose the time and place of my battles (where possible). If it's out in the open, it can't hurt you later.
    – Jane S
    Nov 20, 2015 at 5:24
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    While this is great advice if you want to take the moral high road, I'd argue that it's in the OP's best interest to just never mention either of these jobs again and start from a clean slate. He has no record and is only 18 so could just leave these retail jobs off his resume. The odds of future employers ever finding out on their own is infinitesimal except in small communities. In this job market and especially in retail, stealing is such a huge "don't hire" flag that it's not worth coming clean.
    – Lilienthal
    Nov 20, 2015 at 9:35
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    @blankip On the contrary. At this point in the OP's career this is having a significant impact. If she continues to get fired because of this, then it will have a serious long term impact. As I say in my comments, face up to it now, get it dealt with and she won't have to deal with it in future.
    – Jane S
    Nov 20, 2015 at 21:01
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    The goal for the OP right now is to attain that first longer-term employment that will "wipe the slate clean", so taking another new job with the risk of being fired again when the past misstep comes out seems like an unnecessary risk. I would therefore take Jane S's recommended approach and if at all possible, look for the new job in a field where there is no/less possibility of "stealing" such as a conventional desk job or the like. Whether it's legal or not is irrelevant, if the OP has another employment terminated because the past indiscretion comes to light the problem will persist.
    – Cronax
    May 6, 2016 at 12:25

I would just start over if I was you, forget that episode ever happened. No one in their right mind in the retail industry where staff are easy to come by, would hire someone who got fired for stealing. It sounds great, mature and brave and all the rest, admitting to your wrongs and swearing you'd never do it again. But in real life most employers would immediately chuck your resume in the rubbish no more info needed.

That work experience is basically worthless so best not to mention it. Unfortunately that sort of thing can follow you around for a long time.


You have two options:

  • Forget the past and start fresh, staying away from retail and forgoing any experience gained in your previous jobs. Don't use the jobs as references. This has the advantage of giving you a clean slate, and the disadvantages that a common type of job for unskilled workers is no longer available, nor can you claim any experience.
  • Own up to what you've done and be prepared to explain what you have learned and why it will never happen again. This is potentially more dangerous, as many retail jobs won't both listening or believing that you've changed. But if anyone does take the chance on you, that will help clean up your past.

Actually, you have a third option: a combination of those two. For jobs that are not retail, you can go with the first option, since your experience probably won't help that much anyway. And you can still apply for retail jobs, being upfront with your past and see if any retail jobs will take a chance on you. You'll need a very convincing (and true) story of how you've changed, what you've learned, and how you will ensure nothing like this happens again.

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