In 2018, I had a job interview at Walmart. It was for a job as a Stocker. It paid $11/hour; not much for a grown man to live on, but hey, that’s $11 more than what I was currently making being unemployed and living with my mother.
When I got released from prison back in 2016, I talked with my family and decided to take the slow-and-steady route. I enrolled back into school to earn a master’s degree. A couple of months prior, I finished up my university program and earned my master’s in business administration (MBA). I was ready to start looking for a real job now, my first since being released from the halfway house. Now I know what you’re probably thinking, “Why the hell are you applying for an $11/hour job when you have a master’s degree (and the student loan debt to go with it)?!?!”
Well, the Walmart position wasn’t high on my list of desired jobs. In fact, it was one of my “safe” job options; it was one of those “break glass in case of emergency” ones. But, I had already exhausted the more exciting options, getting a lot of unreturned calls, or emails stating, “We’ve decided to go with another candidate to fill the position.” You win some; you lose some. Okay, cool, I can live with that. I mean, not everyone will like me as a person to hire into their company, that’s understandable. But surely, if all else fails, Walmart will hire me. There are Walmart’s all over the country with numerous employees. They’re easily one of the biggest employers in our nation. My thinking was sound, I can start earning an income again, get on my feet and out of my mother’s house, work hard, be patient, and this will lead to bigger and better things down the road.
The night before the interview, I ran through my check-list, making sure I’m knowledgeable and well prepared to make a good impression. I show up to the interview 15 minutes early. I’m dressed professionally, wearing a pleasant smile, and a confident, chest-out posture.
Day of the Interview
The interviewer is this nice lady. She has a soft demeanor that emits a gentle warmth about her. She thanks me for coming in and compliments me on my professional attire. In a back room, we settle in for an interview. There were two other managers also in the room, in another corner busy on their computers.
“So,” the woman starts out, “Tell me about yourself.”
As I begin to speak with clarity and confidence, she stops me after less than 30 seconds.
“Ummm, Mr. Lewis, is it?”
“You’re overqualified for this position.”
I smile. “Well, I just graduated and am currently unemployed, so I don’t think there’s anything I’m too qualified for.”
She goes on to explain to me how this job does not necessarily require a lot of critical thinking skills or much mental stimulation, and that she suspects I’ll get bored easily and want to leave. She informs me she’s looking for a candidate who has the potential to stay on long-term if hired. Then, eavesdropping, one of the other managers in the room, a polite, blonde woman, suggests I apply for a manager position. The blonde manager says there’s no need in me wasting time applying for this job, I am more of a fit for a managerial role, and Walmart does, in fact, hire outsiders to fill management positions directly. The woman interviewing me agrees with her colleague. She recommends I go online and apply for management. She lets me know how confident she is in me being better suited for the role, and even offers to re-consider me if for some reason her management recommendation doesn’t work out for me.
As we step out of the room, I seize the private opportunity afforded to us. I level with her.
“Miss, the reason why I applied for this job that most people would say I’m overqualified for on paper is that I have a criminal record, and it’s been difficult finding employment.”
She looks up at me. “I see. That makes more sense. Well, unfortunately, Walmart doesn’t have favorable hiring practices for felons in general, and even for this position I may not be able to hire you based on your felony.”
I explain to her that my felony is non-violent, but it is for fraud.
She gives me a sobering look. “That’s not good. Fraud felonies aren’t favorable in retail. We fire many employees for committing fraud.”
I can understand that. When I first committed my crime, fraud was still one of those acts that not many people were knowledgeable. It was looked at as a “whites-only” kind of crime. That didn’t stop my judge from sentencing a first-time, black male offender to 70 months in federal prison, but what’s done is done.
The interviewer states that Walmart will not allow her to hire me. The system will do a background check (that I would of course consent to), discover my felony for fraud and decline my application.
I can see in her eyes she wants to help. Her heart seems to shed a tear for me. She even offers up some alternative suggestions to make a living, like starting a business. I let her know that I have dreams of being a successful author, and I do have a business, but it’s not generating enough money for me to currently survive on.
I extend my hand to thank her for taking the time out to interview me. She squeezes it, wishing me luck.
Back to Square One
And, that’s where I was. Back on the job hunt, but now with a realization that no job option is “safe”. Not for a felon, anyway. So, I went back, back to filling out job applications that take 30-45 minutes to complete, knowing that 9 out of 10 of them won’t even invite me, an overqualified candidate, in for an interview because of my criminal background that’ll set off a red flag in their system.
“This is America.”