Landing Employment with a Criminal Record!

By Joe Stein

Quite surprisingly, one of the more common themes for questions e-mailed to me from readers is: how does someone go about finding employment with a criminal record. Often, the question is posed by a family member frustrated or concerned regarding the difficulty a loved one is having finding gainful employment.
 
I am not sure if it has always been this difficult. My guess is that this obstacle has always been a challenge, but is probably a greater hurdle in present time due to the widespread use of economical criminal background checks. Many employers go back several years to determine relevant criminal activity and factor that into the employment decision. Although it is true that the U.S. employment law prohibits discrimination against ex-criminal offenders, the law is designed towards minor offense convictions and not what are considered serious offenses such as rape and other violent crimes. Employers typically will look at the nature of the offense and compare it with the position, to determine suitability. Employers are a little skittish since they have increasingly been stung with negligent hiring lawsuits regarding the hiring of a person with a criminal record who has then done something unfortunate while with the company.
 
Although having a background that includes incarceration will provide a challenge, it need not prove to be an impossible task to overcome. If you or a loved one finds him or her in this dilemma, examine some of the tips below.
 
·         Seek Out An Assistance Program - There are programs available for individuals with a criminal record to assist them with their job search. These programs will have assistance officers who will work on your resume and interview skills, and may even be able to provide a referral. Your parole officer or clergy person may be of assistance in finding a program for you.
 
·         Consider Bonding – Bonding is a type of insurance program that will protect an employer against any damages. The damages in this case would be related to employing you with your ex-offender status.
 
·         Know Your Status – In the role of a Recruiter, I have been amazed in the past by the number of individuals who are not sure where they stand regarding their criminal history past. Know whether your offense has been pardoned or excused due to the level of offense or the time spent in prison. Be sure that your record is accurate because you know that most medium-large employers will perform a criminal background check, so be sure that they are receiving a true read. You may want to consult an attorney to ensure that you know how your record reads and that it is correct.
 
·         Don’t Lie – My simple point-of-view is that any lie regarding your record will catch up to you. If you happen to slip by the screening process, don’t think you are home free. I have seen more and more instances where co-workers have researched and found the past history of those they are working with. Withholding information regarding your past when requested on an application is an almost guaranteed way to be fired under falsification of records. This is generally true even if your offense would not otherwise prohibit you from originally being hired. A key is to make sure any request for information is being done lawfully, so know your rights under Federal and State law.
 
·         Consider a Functional Resume – If your incarceration will leave a sizable gap in employment, you may want to consider a functional resume where the focus will be on your knowledge and experiences, not on chronology. There is also no reason to place your criminal record on your Resume or in your Cover Letter.
·         Have an Interview Answer – This is perhaps the toughest part of the process. You will be asked to explain a gap of employment or something related to your incarceration. My suggestion is to be direct by accepting responsibility, stressing the lesson learned, how it will never be repeated, and attempt to redirect back to your positive attributes.
 
·         Show Action – You will want to display that you have taken an active role in changing the direction of your life. One way to do this is by adding to your educations by means of finishing school or adding an additional degree. Also, volunteer with organizations to display your desire to give back to the community.
 
·         Build References – If you reach the point of reference checking, you will want to have a strong list of individuals. Construct a list of people, providing a cross-section of past employers, mentors, and clergy (if applicable). These individuals must be able to speak passionately regarding your career desires, skills, and rehabilitated character. Develop a strong group that you can positively network with on your job search.
 
·         Consider Entry-Level – You may have to rebuild your work reputation one step at a time. So, even though your may be “overqualified” for a position, if it gets you in the door with a good company then it may well be worth trying. Finding and maintaining employment will be crucial not only for your psyche but also to show future employers you are on the right track. For many employers, as a criminal conviction fades into the distant past, it becomes much less relevant; another reason why a long-term view may be exactly what is needed.
 
·         Do Everything Right – Have a typo-free Cover Letter and Resume. Be accessible for interviews. Arrive early for all appointments. Dress professionally. Be polite and courteous to everyone you are in contact with.
 
Finding employment while carrying a criminal record provides an additional challenge for that Job Seeker. It is hard to compete with others who do not have this type of record to overcome. This challenge can be surpassed with hard work, a great attitude, persistence, and confidence.
 
As always, I wish you the best of luck in your job search.
 
 
The following has been prepared for the general information of wnyjobs.com website visitors. It is not meant to provide advice with respect to any specific legal or policy matter and should not be acted upon without verification by the reader.
 
 
Joseph Stein
WNY Human Resources Professional
Feel free to e-mail any questions or comments.