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Can a convicted felon find a job?


long journeyHarold asked:

What job search advice do you have for someone with a felony conviction on their record?  What should I disclose and when?  Are there resources available for people like me who have served their time and want to make a fresh start?  Any advice you have would be really helpful.

Hi Harold

First, congratulations on this new chapter in your life. Starting over after a conviction and period of incarceration is not easy.  You will face a lot of obstacles in seeking employment that most other job seekers will not.

Of course, I don’t have to tell you that! You are living it right now.  Here is my advice:

Surround yourself with positive influences

Think about the crowd you ran with when you got in trouble with the law.  How much influence did those people have on your daily decision-making?  I’ll bet they had great influence and, as a result, you made some bad decisions which resulted in your arrest and conviction.

If you want to take positive steps forward in your life and career, you need to surround yourself with people who will help keep you in check, offer positive advice, and provide encouragement. You will come to depend a great deal on these people and the support the can provide. They will become your “advisory board”- the people you turn to for advice when you have to make important decisions.

Your “advisory board” could include some friends and family members, your parole officer, your pastor/priest/rabbi/imam, fellow parolees who have successfully transitioned into new careers, and others.  Everyone’s situation is unique.  Surround yourself with people who can help you.

If you don’t  surround yourself with positive influences, you will find yourself surrounded by negative influences and/or just feeling isolated.  Don’t let that happen!

Use the resources and assistance available

There are many resources available specifically to assist people just like you.

The Safer Foundation, a non-profit organization that  focuses on reducing recidivism by supporting the efforts of people with criminal records to become employed, law-abiding members of the community, has a full portfolio of Employment Assistance Services, including a Transitional Employment Program

There are other organizations and resources that specialize in helping people with criminal records enter the workforce, including:

The Center for Employment Opportunities
Project RIO 
Career One Stop 
The National HIRE Network

There is even a page on Facebook: Moving Forward offering advice, assistance and community.

I also recommend you review the article: The Top Five Jobs for Felons.

Finding a job post-incarceration is not easy, but it is a lot harder when you don’t do your research, and you don’t take advantage of all available resources.

Recognize both your options, your opportunities and your obstacles

The terms of your parole may limit where you can look for work.  Your criminal record many prevent you from pursuing or being considered for certain kinds for work.  Your financial situation and your family/personal obligations may factor into what you can and cannot do.  Medical/health considerations may impact the type of work you can consider.

Be as thorough as you can when assessing your options and opportunities, and recognize the obstacles you must overcome in seeking employment.  Despite the challenges you face, you can be optimistic in your your job search, if you are realistic about your options, opportunities and obstacles.

Be prepared to discuss your past AND your future with potential employers

You’ve made some mistakes in your past.  You must be prepared to discuss your past and frame your future with potential employers, and you have to do so authentically. Trust me, employers can tell when you are trying to avoid a topic or feeding them a line of BS.

Your job in an interview is to convince the employer you deserve the opportunity they have to offer.  Give them reasons to hire you, not reasons to turn you down.

When you discuss your conviction, do so briefly and honestly – don’t dwell on the details. Admit your mistakes and then shift the focus to what you learned through your mistakes that has made you a better person.  Share that you did your time in prison, but focus on how you used the experience to prepare to re-enter society and the workforce productively.  Recognize the challenges you face re-entering society, but focus on how and why you know you will be successful in becoming a productive citizen this time around.

When you apply for a job, you are asking an employer to take a chance on you.  Be prepared to tell an employer why you deserve that chance.

Celebrate the little things as well as the big things

Finding a job and re-entering society after a period of incarceration can be really challenging.  You need to recognize and celebrate the little victories and accomplishments along the way, so that you do not get too frustrated or discouraged by the journey. Set job search goals for yourself each week.  When you reach these goals – celebrate a little!  Pat yourself on the back.  Give yourself credit for the work you have done, and then set some new goals for the coming week.  Doing this will help you stay focused and positive.  It will also give you a reason to kick yourself in the butt when you don’t meet your expected goals for the week.

When you don’t have a job and your are looking for one, your full-time job is looking for work.  How are you using your 40-hour “work week”?  Ask yourself that question every day.

Harold, you have a challenging path ahead.  I hope my advice helps you along the way.

Good luck!



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