Over the years I’ve seen job seekers with arrest records or felony convictions. Individuals from all walks of life with a variety of work experience. For some, it’s a matter of having been in the wrong place at the wrong time. For others, they’ve made mistakes that they’re sorry for. In any case, just like anyone else, they’re trying to build a better life. Every situation is different. An arrest or conviction doesn’t mean you’ll never be able to find a great job, but it does mean there are unique challenges that must be considered.
Today’s blog is in response to a request I received on a survey I sent out last week (access here). I will try to address some of the challenges that arrests and felony convictions present in the job search. I tried, but there was no real way to shorten this blog without losing valuable content!
Whether your conviction is old, or if you’re just “re-entering” the workforce after paying your debt to society, you may feel like there’s no hope of putting your past to rest and moving forward. Quite the contrary! There are many employers willing to hire ex-offenders who are seeking a new path in life. Let’s see if we can’t put this in perspective. Please note that I’m not an attorney and am only providing practical advice and resources.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
It’s very important to have the right mindset, especially if you’ve lost your job or are just being released from incarceration. Face the fact that this IS going to be a struggle. But, whatever you do, DON’T go into a job search with the attitude that no one will hire you. You MUST have confidence! Yes, on most applications you will be asked about your record, and you will be rejected. But by facing the reality of it, you’re taking a stand against disappointment! Good news … there ARE resources that will help open doors for you.
With that said, start developing good habits right away. Get up early, get cleaned up, start organizing your job search (tools to get you started) and be prepared to go on interviews at a moment’s notice. Make sure you are well groomed and neatly / professionally dressed. This is going to be key in helping you maintain a good mindset. You must “feel the part.”
TARGETING YOUR SEARCH
Let’s talk for a moment about what you can do to “target” your search and open doors. While the concept is the same for everyone, the nature of the conviction will dictate your approach. It’s important for you to understand that this isn’t all about you and while difficult, try not to take it personally. An employer’s first obligation is to their company and current staff. They will consider the risk (liability) of bringing someone in that could potentially put the company or any employee in harms way. Remember, they don’t know you. All they have to go on is your past work history, and your record. Let’s take a look at a couple of examples. I hope you’ll see the foundation I’m trying to lay for you. For each scenario, look at your transferable skills and see how you might apply them to other lucrative positions that won’t put you or an employer at risk.
FINANCIAL OFFENSES: If your conviction is white collar, like financial, don’t try to apply for jobs where you will be handling or have access to bank accounts or funds (banking, insurance, etc). Chances are high that you won’t be considered. There are plenty of white collar jobs you can be considered for that don’t require that you work with financial records. Depending on your record, the chances of being bonded or obtaining a security clearance are seriously hampered!
DRUG OFFENSES: If drugs lead you down the wrong path and you wound up with a felony conviction, you know what to avoid … pharmaceuticals (drug stores) and / or alcohol (bars). There are plenty of other opportunities out there where you can add value. Again, don’t put yourself in a situation that calls for scrutiny or puts you at risk for a setback if you’re an addict. Apply elsewhere.
VIOLENT OFFENSES: Admittedly, these are going to be tough. Employers are going to take great care not to put their employees or customers in situations in which they may be harmed. The liability is HUGE! Once again, try to find positions that limit your exposure to situations that might be considered risky (i.e., working with the public, in sales or with children).
Along with your other job search documents (resume, letters of recommendation, etc.), you’ll want to have any certificates of completion for classes or therapy on anger management, addiction rehabilitation, impulse control, etc. Being able to show an employer that you acknowledge your past and that you’ve been working on it will go a long way.
Something very important to note here. Finding SOMETHING is better than trying to find the “perfect” something. Getting stable work under your belt with an employer that will vouch for your stability, timeliness, character, work ethic, etc., is so critical. Just get started.
GETTING STARTED / Transportation and Internet
Now let’s talk about how you can best get yourself in front of employers. If you’ve just been released, you might not have a car or Internet access. If that’s the case, know your options with public transportation. One of the first things you should do is locate a public library that will allow you to schedule computer time. Many libraries offer this for free but you do have to call ahead and schedule your time. You can prepare your resume, do Internet research, etc. It’s a great service so take advantage of it.
DO get out during the day and try to apply for positions in person that are close to home. A potential employer seeing you in person goes a long way vs just seeing your online submission. Chances are that if you’re applying online, you will have to answer the “felony” question on the application and you’ll never be invited for an interview.
If you do have a computer and Internet access, another very viable option is to look for work that you can do from home. There are a lot of good opportunities out there to choose from. Be careful and do your research so you don’t get sucked into any scams. Working from home could be a life-changer for you!
Lastly, BE HONEST. Be prepared to talk about your situation … where you were, and how far you’ve come. Provide reference materials and recommendations from those who have helped you in your rehabilitation. Understand that getting out there and working is a part of your rehabilitation.
Trending: There’s been a National movement to remove the conviction “box” from applications that label you before you’ve had a chance to be considered for a position (read about it here). This doesn’t mean the employer won’t find out, it just means that you will have an opportunity to interview before the information is exposed in a background check (after an offer of employment). “Postponing the question gives a prospective employee an opportunity to explain the circumstances of the crime, to point out how long it has been since it was committed, and to present evidence of rehabilitation.”
Post prison: Programs By State * Returning to the Workforce * Housing, Employment, News, Legal Services
CONCLUSION: Be prepared! Know what offenses / convictions are showing in public records so that you can deal with them accordingly. Second, make sure you are in touch with advocacy groups (a few referenced above) as they will have knowledge and resources available that you are unaware of. I also recommend volunteering where you can. You might try animal rescue groups, for example. This is a great way to get some experience back on your resume and to do something meaningful with your time. Finally, don’t blame others for your current situation. Taking responsibility shows a lot of integrity and maturity.
Do you have career or life questions?
If so, comment below and I’ll be happy to respond!
Thanks for sharing your time with me and reading my BLOG!
Warm regards…. Debra
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