Today, we’re very fortunate to have Eric Mayo visiting Out and Employed to answer some of the most common questions ex-offenders have about their post-release job search. Eric is an author, lecturer and motivational speaker who began working with the unemployed and underemployed 12 years ago. When he found many of them had criminal histories, he began to focus on the barriers these individuals face. He now writes the popular Jail to Job blog, where he regularly takes on all types of queries from former offenders and their families. I recently named Jail to Job one of my must-read blogs. It’s certainly one I turn to regularly for Mayo’s deeply researched and insightful answers to some tough questions. Here’s what he had to say to some from my readers and students:
What is the most common question you hear from ex-offenders?
The most common question I get is “Where can I find a Job?” Jobs are always where you find them. There is no one place to get a job because jobs can be found just about anywhere. You have to be ready to dig, network and dig some more.
Many people got their job leads from people they know. This is called networking. Networking is the most effective method of finding employment leads. Most jobs are never advertised because they are usually filled by personal contacts. In fact, employers would rather hire someone referred to them by people they know rather than to painfully sort through resumes and applications. People in your life who might be potential leads for a job include:
· Parole/probation officers
· Members of your religious group ( ministers, priests, imams, etc.)
· Former teachers
· Former co- workers
· Former employers
· Casual acquaintances
· People you do business with (hairstylists, barbers, doctors)
In each group, see if you can list five people that you can contact. That is at least 55 people that could help you in your job search. Let each person know that you are looking for a job and that any information they have for you would be helpful. Have copies of your resume handy for your contacts to give to other people.
Never ask for a job. Only ask for information about job leads or for advice. The more people you’re able to contact, the more leads you will get. Remember, this is a numbers game. Often getting a job lead may circumvent the entire application process and the dreaded “have you ever been convicted of a crime?” question.
What’s the best way for ex-offenders to answer questions about their criminal record that appear on job applications? Sometimes reentry counselors recommend writing “will discuss at interview.” Is this a good strategy?
That totally depends on the question. The question is usually “Have you ever been convicted of a crime other that a traffic violation.” “Will discuss at interview” does not answer the question. Often applications with this response are removed from consideration.
What is the biggest mistake ex-offenders make when they look for jobs?
Many ex-offenders are simply not competitive. Many lack interviewing skills, interpersonal skills and visual presentation. Getting a job with a criminal record is tough enough. Without even these basic skills, it’s that much tougher.
One-stop Career Centers provide an extensive list of services that can help anyone prepare for a successful job search. I have posted a video on Youtube that speaks briefly to this. You can find it here:
Often ex-offenders will decide to move to another place to escape their records. Is this a good strategy? Does it work?
In this age of computers that offer instant access to information, moving to escape records is nearly impossible.
Are there certain jobs that ex-offenders simply can’t get? How difficult is it for a former felon to get a job with the federal government? In the medical field?
The federal government does background checks, but having a record will not automatically disqualify ex-offenders or felons. Licensing or certification in the medical field will vary from state to state and is at the discretion of each state’s licensing board. Ex-offenders and felons can inquire directly to their state’s board to see if their respective conviction will keep them from being licensed.
Are there particular companies or industries you know of that are more open to hiring ex-offenders?
It is my experience that ex-offenders and felons will be more successful in the building trades or construction fields. Manufacturing, warehousing, restaurant and maintenance are other options.
Are ex-offenders required to disclose information about arrests that didn’t lead to convictions or juvenile offenses? Can companies still use information obtained through a background check about these types of offenses as a reason not to hire an individual?
Applicant’s should pay careful attention to the wording because it will vary from application to application. Typically applications will ask for convictions and not arrests. Applicant should always give the information that is asked for. As for juvenile convictions, they will not appear on most background checks. Employers may have access to law enforcement background checks that will include all convictions including juvenile and sealed. It is next to impossible, however, to contend exactly which information is used to disqualify an individual.
When should ex-offenders consider expungement? In the days when so much information is available on line, does getting your record expunged still help?
It may help, but most states are very conservative when it comes to expungement and sealing of records. I encourage ex-offenders and felons to simply look at their criminal records as handicaps that they will have to work extra hard to overcome.
What other misinformation or bad advice do you see out there for ex-offenders?
Often unscrupulous attorneys will claim to be able to have records expunged. A little homework and a trip to the local legal aid office will help ex-offenders and felons get honest advice as well as assistance.