(Reuters) - Governor Terry McAuliffe on Friday signed an executive order making Virginia the latest U.S. state to prohibit government employers from asking job applicants about their criminal history.

Virginia joins more than a dozen other states in its decision to "ban the box" on job applications that prospective employees are asked to check if they have been convicted of a crime.

An individual's rap sheet may be considered only if it "bears specific relation to the job for which they are being considered," such as child care workers, state troopers, court officers and jail guards, said gubernatorial spokesman Brian Coy.

"In a new Virginia economy, people who make mistakes and pay the price should be welcomed back into society and given the opportunity to succeed," McAuliffe said in a statement.

"This executive order will remove unnecessary obstacles to economic success for Virginians who deserve a second chance," the Democratic governor said.

While the restriction applies to state hiring practices, McAuliffe said he hoped it would encourage private employers to follow suit.

The National Employment Law Project estimates that almost one in three adults in the United States has a criminal record that will show up on a routine criminal background check.

The move was applauded by Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring, who aims to improve job re-entry programs for inmates released from jail.

"This is a responsible approach that keeps initial background checks for sensitive jobs in state government while ensuring that a youthful mistake or wrong decision doesn't close the doors of opportunity for a lifetime," Herring said.

Other states that have banned the box, Coy said, include California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico and Rhode Island.

(Reporting by Barbara Goldberg in New York; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)