According to the National Employment Law Project, 65 million Americans have criminal records that may be a hindrance to obtaining employment. Whether it’s a felony or serious misdemeanor, many who served prison time assume they will have little luck in today’s job market. However, that’s not the case at all. With the nation’s job market growing stronger, ex-cons have many skills and abilities that can translate into successful careers. And for those who dream of being their own boss, there are many small businesses they can start to be self-employed. So whether you’re a person with a criminal record or the owner or manager of a business who’s wondering about taking a chance on someone with a criminal background, here are some factors to consider.
While a criminal conviction is a life changing event, the details of the criminal offense matter to a potential employer. HR professionals will assess the degree to which the criminal history is relevant to the job opportunity. A felony conviction will receive more scrutiny than a misdemeanor conviction, although both remain relevant for senior or high trust roles.
The hiring decision will be influenced by the arrest record as well, including prior conviction history. Candidates with an extensive criminal past or a deep felony record will face barriers to high trust roles: look for opportunities where the hiring process is more open. Focus your job hunt on employers with a history of tolerance; this may cause you to shift from working with the Fortune 500 to smaller businesses. While there are some hard stops (law enforcement is unlikely to hire a convicted felon), other industries and government job opportunities may be more open to job seekers with a troubled past.
You can often assess company’s policy about a criminal background check from a little research on the Internet. As a job seeker, be ready to lead with your side of the story: it will all eventually come out, so you may as well be the one to tell it. That allows the job applicant to frame their past in the best possible light vs. checking a box on an application form.
It’s important to keep focused. There are high paying job opportunities out there that are open to ex offender candidates. Your job search needs to be pragmatic, avoiding delays and focusing your efforts on employers willing to look past your involvement with the criminal justice system.
For many inmates, they can receive training in a variety of vocational trades while in prison. Whether it’s carpentry, electricity, welding, plumbing, or auto mechanics, these are great opportunities to secure training and licensing in some of today’s most in-demand professions. And along with having an in-demand skill, the construction industry is more willing to take a chance on someone with a criminal record, since many companies have working arrangements with jails and prisons to help inmates gain employment upon release.
If I’ve learned anything working with inmates, it’s that they have many skills that if used in a positive manner can lead to tremendous business success. Patience, ingenuity, attention to detail, and being unafraid of hard work can all lead to success if applied correctly. Because of this, many opt for self-employment opportunities that can be started with small cash investments. Two of the best are lawn care and cleaning services, both of which can be started for as little as $250 and have unlimited potential.
While some people with criminal records may balk at working in a fast-food restaurant, the fact is these are large corporations that often hire ex-cons and offer great advancement opportunities. While a person may start out in an entry-level position, hard work leads to quick promotions and increases in pay.
Just because you’ve got a criminal record doesn’t mean you can’t find yourself with a great job in the business world. For example, since many ex-cons actually have great people skills, many can find employment as telephone-based customer service representatives, with pay averaging $10-$15 per hour for a job requiring only a high school diploma. But for those who have gone on to earn an Associate or Bachelor’s degree, are outgoing, and don’t mind traveling, they can find themselves working as sales representatives, earning annual salaries of $30,000 or more. And perhaps most rewarding of all, some ex-cons who dealt with addiction issues go on to become substance abuse counselors, where they can use their unique insight to help others avoid making the same mistakes they did.
Be Open and Honest
For many people with a criminal record, their first impulse is to do everything possible to keep their criminal record a secret. However, in job interviews where they are under serious consideration by the employer, a background check will be conducted, revealing the criminal record. Therefore, it’s best to be open and honest about having a record. Surprisingly for many applicants, by explaining the circumstances and having a sense of pride and self-esteem, many employers are willing to give them a second chance.
Letters of Recommendation
For those about to be released from prison, letters of recommendations from teachers, counselors, or others who knew them can be a great way to impress a potential employer. In addition, it provides a verifiable reference that can be contacted, allowing employers to get many of their questions answered by someone who worked with the person for possibly many years.
Have Realistic Expectations
For many people recently released from prison, they re-enter the outside world with unrealistic expectations. For example, they may feel as if they should start out in a higher-level job than they will likely get, or believe if they start a business it will make large amounts of money immediately. While this may happen, it’s important to have realistic expectations and prepare for a setback or two along the way. However, as I often told inmates who expressed concerns about being released, if they could make it through prison, they could handle anything life throws their way.
While there are people in society who feel those who commit crimes should never get a second chance, the fact is there is a very thin line between those who have criminal records and those who don’t. Rather than being judgmental about a person’s past, it’s more important to look at what the person has done with their life since then. By trusting someone with a criminal record, you may be pleasantly surprised at the results.
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