Over the years, we have received many questions regarding criminal histories and a life in public accounting. Not surprisingly, most of these cases have revolved around drugs or alcohol. We aren't talking about major meth production rings (that might be a small disqualification) or moonshining operations, but your run-of-the-mill silly college mistakes like getting tossed in the drunk tank or being busted smoking a joint in a marijuana-hostile state. Normally we would be loathe to answer this same question for the thousandth time but this one is a tiny bit different from others we've answered in the past so it's worth revisiting once again, especially because this future intern sounds so genuinely concerned.
I needed some brief advice. I was just offered an internship with a Big 4 and I accepted their offer. Last year, I was pretty much in the wrong place at the wrong time and was put into protective custody for underage intoxication at my school. I sought an attorney, and the charges were dropped. However I really dont know how the 'protective custody' will look on a background check. Technically, per my lawyer, I wasn't arrested.
My question is, should I contact my recruiter and let them know of this incident in case it does show up on a background check? Do you believe this incident has enough impact to have the firm rescind my offer? Any advice would be greatly appreciated.
First of all, let's practice a little honesty and accountability before speaking to your recruiter. Were you really "in the wrong place at the wrong time" or were you wasted with your buddies before the age of 21 and got busted? It's okay to say that, I don't think many of us here waited until the tender age of 21 to take our first sip of booze. I think I was 12 when I first got the bright idea to mix some of my trashy BFF's mom's Miller Lite with orange juice because isn't alcohol supposed to be mixed? Let's just say that didn't end well. But hey, look how I turned out!
So, once you've come to terms with what happened and are ready to be a grown-up and take responsibility for your actions, let's look at this for what it is. You got thrown in the drunk tank. Again, happens to the best of us. Hopefully you've since learned to drink in the privacy of your home like the rest of us professional alcoholics. The infinite upside to that is that your cats can't call the cops when you get belligerent.
Should you disclose? Yes. You should always disclose. Even if the charges were dropped, the charge may still show up on a background check as just that, a charge. But in this case, the offense is so minimal and irrelevant to the question of your character that even a conviction likely wouldn't have an impact on your offer. It was a mistake. No one got hurt. You were young. Not a big deal. By disclosing, you've covered your ass and don't have to live in fear every day that they'll find out your dirty little secret.
Now, perhaps if you're in a highly competitive market and you're some underachiever with a low GPA, this might not bode well for your long-term career aspirations but assuming you have half a brain, work well with others and can figure out how not to screw up the Starbucks order, you'll be fine. Again, just be sure when you tell your recruiter you are honest and take responsibility for what happened. Don't blame your buddy who made you hold the open can of Icehouse; just tell them what happened, that the charges were dropped and that you've since learned your lesson. Then crack open a nice cold beer and pat yourself on the back for doing the right thing.