Prison Records and Your Job Search

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Have you ever made a mistake in your life that led to a felony conviction and incarceration? My advice to you is to take full responsibility for your actions. Own up to it. Honesty is always the best option. Inform the hiring manager that you have grown, matured, and that you have learned from your mistakes. Tell them that your incarceration taught you valuable life lessons and prepared you to be a better worker. Be humble, don't make excuses, and say that you are not the same person you were before. Keep in mind that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has guidelines for employers to follow when evaluating ex-offenders. They must give you the chance to explain the circumstances surrounding the conviction. It is illegal for the company to discriminate.

Don’t cover up your record because background checks will catch you and an employer may reject you based on your credibility. You don't have to have it on your resume, but make sure you explain in the interview. You don't want to get to the actual application and background check without being honest. If they don't hire felons, then you have wasted their time. However, some may respect your honesty and give you a chance. You may get fewer interviews by stating it up front in your resume or via phone screenings, but the companies that do respond to you are already open and willing to hire ex-offenders.

What can you say? Keep it simple and concise; you explanation should not exceed 30-45 seconds. For example,

“I have made some mistakes in my past, but I have paid my debt to society. I am ready to re-enter the workforce and demonstrate that I am reliable, hard working, and determined. I am looking for an employer who will give me a second chance.”

Try not to get into the details of the crime, but be prepared for employer questions. Your offense may conflict with the position. For example, an individual with a burglary offense may be rejected when applying at a bank.

End your statement with 2 or 3 personal attributes or lessons you learned in prison. Leave the topic positive and emphasize the work you did while incarcerated, classes you have taken, and your community service or volunteer work. It all counts to your experience and education. You want the employer to see what you are like now, not how you were when you first went to prison.

Having a prison record is not always a job-hunt dead end road. Navigate that path with honesty and humility and you can succeed in finding a position suited to you.

Some Tips:

  • Find a re-entry program and work with the counselors. Go to career centers offered through your city, the Chamber of Commerce, vocational training schools, or through local colleges.
  • Join a support group (for example, A.A. or N.A.) Finding people in similar circumstances can help you navigate your path.
  • If you are not required to perform community service as a condition to probation, spend your time volunteering with local organizations. Networking is key – find people who can help you find a job.
  • Use and expand on your network of contacts to work your way into the invisible job market. Get in the back door by knowing someone who already works there.
  • Check online for companies that publicly acknowledge that they hire ex-offenders.
  • Do research on your case and find out if it is possible to have your record expunged.
  • Check out for current laws and regulations concerning discrimination of ex-offenders. Familiarize yourself with these laws.

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