Answered by Rachel, Hiring Expert at Eaton, on Tuesday, September 5, 2017
First off good for you for changing your life around and focusing on being the person now, that your younger self needed then. Hopefully you can be an example to other young people who are facing challenges in their life and they can look to you and make a different, more positive choice, because of your example.
The answer is yes to both questions. Sometimes it is beneficial to just get it out in the open, especially fi it going to pop up on the background check. I would emphasis the positive changes and choices you have made in the last 15 years that shows that the person you were then is not the same as the person you are now. Many employers are using behavior based models for interviewing and there will usually be a learning question in there as a part of the process that will allow you to bring this up organically.
Regarding fields and companies you will need to do some research here to decide where you want to go career-wise. Unless your previous conviction is in direct conflict to the job you are interviewing for, employers cannot use that as the sole reason to not hire you as it may be a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 if they significantly disadvantage the Title VII-protected individuals such as African Americans and Hispanics; AND, they do not help the employer accurately decide if the person is likely to be a responsible, reliable or safe employee. There are several states that have laws that limit an employer’s use of an arrest and conviction record to make employment decisions. You can contact your state fair employment agency for more information and to see if you are protected by a specific state law.