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What to Know About Job Searching After Prison

September 18, 2020

Finding a decent job is hard enough. Finding one with a criminal record can seem nearly impossible, especially if you have a serious felony or multiple convictions. And while certain organizations (like the National Employment Law Project) have been working to improve employers’ perceptions of hiring convicted workers, finding a job after serving time in prison is still a formidable challenge. You should expect to put in a great deal of effort and time into your job search. It’s still possible to get hired with a record, but it will take quite a bit of patience and persistence.

Understanding Your Rights

Nationwide, there has been a push to “ban the box.” This refers to the box that applicants are asked to check on an employment application if they have ever been convicted of a crime. In 2019, the federal Fair Chance to Compete for Jobs Act was passed that prevents federal employers and private government contractors from asking about an applicant’s criminal history right away. Note that this law does not apply to private companies that do not act as government contractors. In addition, all employers may still inquire about an applicant’s criminal history after a conditional offer of employment is made.

However, this “ban the box” law can be helpful in allowing former inmates to get their foot in the door. For this reason, don’t automatically assume that a government agency job is out of reach for you because of your record.

Landing a Job Through Networking

It’s often easier for someone with a criminal record to land a job through personal connections. For example, if your cousin’s boss is hiring, he or she might be more willing to give you a chance if your cousin vouches for your work ethic. Don’t hesitate to call family and friends, discuss the type of work you could do, and ask if they have any leads. You might also consider calling past employers to explain your situation and ask if they would consider rehiring you.

Checking Restored Citizen-Friendly Companies

Some companies have publicly announced a commitment to hiring former inmates (also called restored citizens) as long as they are otherwise qualified for the position and are willing to be diligent workers. These companies include PetSmart, Ace Hardware, Delta Air, Kohl’s, Olive Garden, Chili’s, Denny’s, and Sprint. These are just a few examples; you can check for others in your local community by doing a Google search or by contacting companies directly to inquire about their hiring policies.

Meeting Employers in Person

It’s easy for employers to shuffle job applications from the “Maybe” pile to the “No” pile, especially when they haven’t met the applicants. It’s a little harder for them to turn someone down whom they’ve met in person, especially if that applicant makes a favorable first impression. Look for local job fairs to attend, which allows you to meet employers directly. Treat the job fair as if it were an interview. That is, show up dressed respectably, bring copies of your resume and references, and be prepared to explain why you’re the best candidate for any given job.

Acing the Interview

It’s natural to feel nervous about a job interview, especially when you know that you’re at a disadvantage because of your criminal record. Do your best to stay calm and to project self-confidence. Note that if you’re asked whether you’ve ever been convicted of a felony, you’re legally required to answer honestly. (If the employer is a government agency or a government contractor, you’ll only be asked after a conditional offer of employment is made.)

During the interview, try to keep the focus of the conversation on how the company will benefit from hiring you. Emphasize any academic credentials you might have and previous training you’ve received. Discuss your skills and willingness to learn new skills, and emphasize that you’re a hard worker.

When the topic of your criminal record does come up, be honest about it, but try not to over-explain it. Do acknowledge that you understand you made some poor decisions, and that you’re trying to focus on your future now. Then, steer the conversation back toward why you’re a great candidate. You might also mention that the employer could be eligible for the federal Work Opportunity Tax Credit for hiring a qualified ex-felon.

A direct impact on your employment prospects is just one of the many ways that having a criminal record can haunt you for years to come. Take a proactive stance for your future by hiring an exceptional criminal defense attorney in Tucson who will fight for your freedom. Call the office of Janet Altschuler, attorney at law, at (520) 247-1789 to request a consultation.