Robert Blake starred in a television series in the 70’s called “Baretta.” He played an undercover detective with “issues” but effective in finding the bad guys. The intro and theme song, sung by Sammy Davis, Jr., gave a warning—
“Don’t go to bed with no price on your head, No, No (Don’t Do It).
Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time. (Don’t do it)”
Good advice, but if you already have a criminal record and have served your time, you now face a tough challenge —getting a job. How do you find a job when you can’t pass a background check? Or how do you explain the year or two gap since your last job? Everyone needs a source of income, and when no one will hire you, it’s no wonder ex-offenders return to their former habits and end up back in jail.
This is a tough economy, with many qualified individuals without the burden of a criminal record unsuccessful in their job search. It’s forcing all unemployed to seek out resources and become creative in a job search and career choices. While some felons may have skills and experience, they have the added hurdle of convincing an employer to take a chance that they have left their former life behind and can be trusted to do a job with honesty and integrity without jeopardizing the company or its employees.
Finding employment for felons is difficult but not impossible. There are resources and strategies to help in the search.
If you are a felon and the end to your sentence is in sight, check to see if your correctional facility has any programs to help you prepare for release. A comprehensive resource for those preparing for or recently released is the “Recently Released Prisoner Employment Handbook,” distributed by www.felon-jobs.org.
Some of the major roadblocks to employment for felons are background checks, bad driving records and suspended drivers licenses. This guide has information on what an inmate can do while still incarcerated to gather the documents needed to restore a drivers license and obtain a birth certificate and other documents needed to apply for a job.
Some correctional institutions offer classes on how to write a resume and application, explain gaps in employment, and answer tough questions. Getting some of these tasks out of the way before release can help keep the momentum going once your sentence is up.
Rules for Applications and Resumes
To an employer, your resume is going to be pretty standard, except for a gap which represents your incarceration. “Convicted felon” is not a bullet point on your resume; but the truth of your incarceration will most likely be a question on an application or an interview question. The word of the day is: Honesty.
When you see the question, “Have you ever been convicted of a crime?” you can answer two ways. About 80% of employers do background checks, so you may get lucky if you leave it blank. “No” is a lie, and falsification of an application, in most companies, is grounds for immediate termination. If you get fired, you are not only a convicted felon with no job but also have a termination on your job history. “Yes” may stop the process before it begins, but some employers will appreciate your honesty and give you a shot. In most states, a conviction over seven years ago is not reported and you could answer “No” honestly. Read the question and explanation carefully and answer honestly.
Tough Questions, Gentle Answers
When the subject of your criminal record comes up, there is no need to go into detail. They know the story from the background check. The best thing is admit to making mistakes in the past, but you have made your amends, have learned a lot and are ready to begin a new life and are looking forward to working hard, learning as much as possible and making a positive contribution to the company. Don’t look back. Keep your focus on the future.
Ex-Offenders Need Not Apply
There are some jobs that will be off limits. Sex offenders or those convicted of sexual assault may not be able to work at most companies, especially around children or those at risk. If you lost your license or have a lot of DUIs or alcohol-related convictions, jobs that require the use of a company vehicle are unavailable, since the employer’s insurance won’t cover you. Convictions for theft, embezzlement or credit card fraud are at risk for any position handling money, customer credit card or bank information. Companies are responsible for the safety of their employees and customers. A company can be found negligent and liable for damages for an employee’s actions if an employer disregarded warning signs and hired an employee anyway.
According to an article, “The Top Five Jobs for Felons,” a little creativity can eliminate the background check and open up some employment options. Freelance work is #1 on their list, since there is no background check required. You can work for others designing websites, writing articles, or computer programming, or set up your own business selling over EBay or Craig’s List. You can participate in medical testing (#2) or depending on your driving history and driver’s license, work as a delivery truck driver (#3). Depending on your age and criminal record, you may be able to begin a new life in the Army (#4). Working in a family business, even if it means starting at the bottom, will build a work history, bring in some money and may even put you in the corporate office one day (#5).
Mary Nestor-Harper, SPHR, spent over seven years as a human resources director and is a career coach, consultant and freelance writer focusing on how to land your dream job in a tough employment market.