Gainful employment is probably the most difficult thing to achieve as a returning citizen. Many returning citizens like you who are job hunting after being released will hear a lot of “No’s” or not even receive callbacks. You are not alone. It happens to almost all of us. The exceptions are probably the individuals who have a strong network that can immediately place them in a job position and their record not be a deciding factor (For more on this topic, click and read the post about How To Get Hired Fresh Out Of Prison). However, for the rest of us, there are still opportunities to get hired. And, once you’re in the door, it is up to you as to how high you climb up the company ladder. You can even one day make it into management or the corporate headquarters. The responsibility does fall in your lap. Why will an employer take a chance on an offender when he or she has other job applicants who do not have criminal records? Read on to find out how…
The First Job is The Hardest to Land
Some people put their prison job on their resume. I don’t know if that’s the best idea. Unless, its relevant to the job you are applying for, or you have a specific trade or skill that you cultivated in your prison job that is attractive to employers. I don’t have a yes or no answer to this, so make a judgment call in this situation.
What I do know is the first job is oftentimes the most difficult to get hired. Why? Well, because you have little to no track record of employment, and/or you have an employment time gap in your resume. Look at it from the employer’s perspective: a resume is simply a record that allows them to predict how reliable, consistent, and good of a worker you may be if hired. Gaps in employment or no past employers to reference makes the applicant more risky than an applicant who has employment history.
Appearance is Everything!
I know some of you may already be making a face or growing or straight up saying, “I’m not changing my appearance.” Before you dismiss this, hear me out, though.
Let’s take a look at a scenario: An interviewer has two candidates to interview for one job. The first is Charles the Convict. Charles the Convict comes in for an interview. He shows up five minutes late for the scheduled interview time and has a scruffy beard and unkept hair on his head. He is wearing a t-shirt and has his tattoos on his arms showing, does not smile or look happy to be at the interview, and is not prepared with a resume and a list of references in hand. The second applicant is Leo the Law-Abiding Citizen. Charles the Convict was late for the interview whereas Leo the Law-Abiding Citizen is fifteen minutes early. Leo has shaved this morning and looks clean and put together. He has on a well pressed, button-up shirt and slacks, is smiling, and genuinely looks happy to have the opportunity to get this job. In his hand, he has a resume and a list of references in his hand just in case the interviewer may want to see it. Who do you think will get the job?
If you answered Leonard the Law-Abiding Citizen, we both guessed the same person. Many individuals are so focused on “keeping it real” or being authentic, they don’t realize the primary purpose of a job interview is to impress the employer and show them that you will bring value to their company if hired. Everybody and I mean Everybody who is job hunting should try to impress when applying for a job. Any now that you are a felon, you need to go the extra mile in impressing because you have an uphill battle to climb to prove you will be a good person to bring into the company and not a headache.
Some of the stereotypes of individuals who have been incarcerated is that they are not polite, don’t like authority, are rigid and unchanging, and don’t have a positive attitude. It is your job to counteract this by showing that you do not fit this stereotype. You are happy to not be incarcerated and in the free world. You are grateful for a second chance and will do whatever it takes to remain free. This requires getting a job, and the best way to do that is to put your best foot forward and take it seriously. Be well-groomed. Be professional. Be pleasant and smile. Show enthusiasm. Impress the interviewer.
Most Important Rule: Don’t Lie About Your Record!
Yes, it’s frustrating and the probability of obtaining gainful employment decreases when you reveal you’re a convicted felon. But, don’t lie. Never lie. While I was incarcerated there was a guy who came back to prison on a probation violation for lying to his employer. His probation officer figured out he never revealed to his employer that he was a convicted felon, showed up to his job, and had a long talk with his manager. This led to the guy being fired, and also led to the probation officer violating his supervised release. He had to go back to prison and do 8 months for being dishonest. In the transparent world we live, where details of any and everyone can be Googled, and background checks can be performed for less than $50, lying is one of the easiest things to get you into trouble.
I’ve heard conversations between individuals where they’re talking about how to execute the cover-up/lie of their criminal background for employment. One of my favorite motivational speakers, Dr. Eric Thomas “ET The Hip-Hop Preacher”, says, “Go where you’re celebrated, not where you’re tolerated.” If you feel you need to lie to obtain employment at a company, then that probably means the company doesn’t see value in giving individuals who’ve made a mistake in life a second chance. That’s not an environment a person like you should want to be in. You don’t fit the company culture and will be uncomfortable in that space. Working there will be stressful with the constant threat of being found out looming over your head every day.
Criminal justice reform is moving in the direction more and more every day (i.e. “ban the box”, etc.), and there are individuals before who have returned to society and been successful by being completely honest about their past. You will be given an opportunity for a second chance. If they can do it, so can you. Trust me, it may not feel like it when you’re job hunting and getting a lot of rejections, but when you finally land that work position at a company that knows everything about your past and still sees the value you bring and is excited to have you on the team, it will all be worth it.
Staffing Agencies are like middlemen for jobs. Companies hire them to find employees for their open positions. Staffing agencies have their own applicant requirements, but they are usually much more flexible with their hiring practices than directly applying to companies. And, many companies see the staffing agency as reliable in vetting applicants and usually do not have additional steps in the process for filling a position by way of staffing. I know a number of individuals who have obtained gainful employment by going through a staffing agency.
Don’t Rule Out Local, Small Businesses
Great places to apply for jobs are at local, small businesses. Local, small businesses are more flexible in comparison to big companies. Big companies have a whole HR (Human Resource) Division that examines each and every applicant for possible hire, and they already have stated hiring policies that may exclude offenders, overtly and not so overt, on obtaining a position within the company. Small businesses do not have an HR department, and oftentimes you can meet face to face the owner or an individual in upper management who you can speak to and convince that you are worth taking a chance on. Again, if your appearance looks professional then they are more likely to be impressed and think about giving you a shot.
Ultimately, it’s up to the individual. It is your responsibility to show that you are no longer the same person your criminal background indicates. You are rehabilitated. The only way you do this is by showing through appearance, enthusiasm, and professionalism that you are ready to be an asset to a company and they won’t regret hiring you.
We also recommend if you are able to get any charges on your criminal background expunged, do it! This can make applying for a job easier. For more on this topic, click and read the post about Criminal Record Expungement.
The main thing to keep in mind is to stay positive, you only need one employer to say, “yes.” After that, you’re in the door and can show them what you’re made of.
Good luck and happy hunting. Without further ado, here’s the list…
*Companies that I’ve personally worked for, or been offered a job, since returning home from prison with a felony on my background.
**This list is by no means extensive, as every day more and more companies are realizing that returning citizens can be great workers and are starting to take a chance and give opportunities
There are many additional issues that come up when talking about recidivism and what factors lead to more crime. It’s imperative that we expand the conversation to get deeper into what causes recidivism, and how we can help to stop a person from going to prison to begin with. To donate to our cause, click the link Stop Recidivism, or the “Donate” button at the top right-hand corner of the web page. Thank you for standing with us.