Whether it’s a misdemeanor that put you on probation, or a felony that landed you in a correctional facility, you’ve probably seen how much more difficult having a background issue has made your job search. Even with the Second Chance Act funding more assistance programs, and numerous insurance and tax credit programs for companies, the reality is that many employers won’t give a second chance to those with background issues. Nothing makes it harder for someone to turn their life around than not even being able to make a living.
So as I tell my clients with these problems: none of us can control how the rest of the world will be; let us focus on what YOU can do to overcome these challenges, which is to control your own actions and attitude. Here are some tips on moving forward with your job search:
1.) Know your record and know what you can do about it. Obtain a copy of your record from the courthouse(s) in which the infraction occurred and go over it thoroughly so you understand the terminology within it, what it states, and what it leaves out. Also find out if and when your record can be sealed, expunged, or legally minimized. This information should be available from the state court system as well.
There are usually free law services available that can assist you in finding out if you’re eligible for a change to your records, preparing your documentation for court, and possibly even help present your case to the court. This is extremely well worth the time investment. Try beginning with your local law school, and also try searching on the following website: http://www.abanet.org/legalservices/findlegalhelp/home.cfm
2.) Never lie, and only provide information that's specifically asked for. Never lie when asked about your record. Even if you do get the job, you could be fired later if they find out the truth. Being fired for lying could haunt you when it’s time to look for your next position and you have no good references to supply. Honesty really is the best policy.
However, in being honest make sure that you are not giving out information on your background that isn’t specifically asked for. One of the most commonly made mistakes is providing information regarding your background when it isn’t asked for. If you have a misdemeanor from 7 years ago and on an application it asks you if you have been convicted of a misdemeanor with the past 5 years, your answer is “NO”. Also, if you have a court case pending for a misdemeanor, then “NO” you have not been convicted. Be extremely careful and aware of the language that is used in these questions so that you do not give out information when you don’t need to.
If you must answer similar questions with a “YES” where they ask for more detail, write in “will discuss”. When asked, keep your explanation as brief as possible, showing remorse and understanding that what you did was wrong. Don’t try to justify your actions. Take responsibility quickly and put the focus on how you’re trying to overcome and improve your life now.
3.) Arm yourself with knowledge. Take time to pick up and read some books from the local library about the topic of returning to work after prison, or finding work with a less than squeaky background. The more tips and tricks you can learn, the better prepared you will be, and therefore more successful. Three of my top picks include:
How to Do Good After Prison: A Handbook for Successful Reentry (w/ Employment Information Handbook) by Michael B. Jackson and Ron Kenner
Job Hunting Tips for People With Not-So-Hot Backgrounds: 101 Smart Tips That Can Change Your Life by Ron Krannich
Job Interview Tips for People With Not-So-Hot Backgrounds: How to Put Red Flags Behind You! by Caryl Krannich
4.) Seek assistance. There are many professionals out there who work at government or community assistance programs who help people in your situation for a living. It’s their job to be very familiar with local resources that can help you. They can assist you to build your resume, practice your interviewing skills, provide you with computers and office equipment to use, connect you with employers who will hire you, and more. Reach out to them – that is what they are there for and you don't need to do this alone!
- Your parole or probation officer may be able to refer you to some services for assistance, ask!
- Servicelocator.com is a site where you can find your local free-to-the-public Career Center
- Ask your local ACLU affiliate for a referral to a program in your area that may be able to assist you in your situation. You can find your local branch at: http://www.aclu.org/affiliates/
- http://hirenetwork.org/resource.html Another great resource-finder for people with criminal records
5.) Know where to begin searching, and dedicate yourself to the job hunt. Although you can enlist professionals to help you, ultimately, it’s your job to find yourself a job. So get ready to full-time job search, which means spending eights hours a day doing job-search related activities. Where to start? Small companies, trade-related industries, warehouses, and sometimes temporary agencies do not do background checks. Look for their ads in newspapers and flyers, inexpensive job posting sites like Craigslist.org, by going door-to-door applying in-person, and calling up potential employers to see if they are hiring.
Don’t stop at those options – put your resume everywhere! There are some online job boards created specifically for ex-offenders, including http://www.fairemployers.com/. Make sure you use the common resume boards as well, such as http://www.monster.com/, http://www.careerbuilder.com/, and http://www.hotjobs.com/. Attend Job Fairs, network, ask your friends and family if they know anyone hiring – use every possible method you can to dig up job leads! The wider you cast your net, the more likely you’ll catch something!
6.) Get your first job and do it well; then worry about your career. The first job offer may not be what you want; but what you really want may not be attainable right now. The best way to build a solid resume is to take a position where you can stay for a year or so and put in your time to build experience and gain a quality professional reference. You may even get a promotion and find a career path in what you once thought was just an entry-level job. You have to start somewhere, and by proving that you’re a good worker at this position and building a strong work history you will be laying the building blocks for your future, when your conviction is further behind you.
7.) Get retrained and focus on your career. Once you’ve got your job, start thinking of what you would like to do in the future as a career, and begin to work towards it now. If you’re not sure of what you’d enjoy doing for a living, or unsure of whether you can hold the position with your specific background, see a free Career Counselor at your local Career Center. (Locate one at http://www.servicelocator.org/) You can also use the search box at the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ website (http://www.bls.gov/) to look up different jobs and learn all about them, including educational requirements and future job market outlook.
The local Career Center can also help you to find training programs and financial assistance for education needed for the career you are interested in. Furthering your training and education isn’t only necessary to get closer to the career you are interested in, but also to prove to future employers that you are truly dedicated to turning your life around and build up your resume.
Along with education comes experience. Find a volunteer or internship opportunity related to the field you’re interested in. If your new career interest has anything to do with your current job, ask your employer if you can take on more tasks related to the field. Once you start your education you can try to move into an entry-level position within your field of interest as well.
8.) Keep a positive attitude. In order to make the most of your second chance you have to keep a positive attitude. It’s not going to be easy, but it is of the utmost importance, and it will be worth it in the long-term. You have to be patient, strong, persistent, committed, and have faith. Even in the face of rejection, stay calm and positive. Thank the person for their time and tell them you hope to connect at a later date. Save business cards and follow-up from time to time to see if employers have a different position you may be suitable for. Every person you meet is a potential future contact, so don’t burn any bridges by losing your cool.
Half of what gets you hired (or doesn’t) is your attitude. Nothing turns off potential employers like someone who is negative, complaining, or blaming others. Think about it – do you like to work with people like that?