Jail to Job’s Eric Mayo answers questions for ex-offenders

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:

·         Friends

·         Relatives

·         Neighbors

·         Parole/probation officers

·         Members of your religious group ( ministers, priests, imams, etc.)

·         Former teachers

·         Former co- workers

·         Former employers

·         Classmates

·         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.



Filed under background checks, companies hiring ex-offenders, criminal records, discrimination, employers hiring ex-offenders, employment ex-offenders, ex-offenders moving/relocating, expungement, job search ex-offenders, jobs ex-offenders, reentry, reentry resources

11 responses to “Jail to Job’s Eric Mayo answers questions for ex-offenders

  1. Really wonderful post O&E! Packed with good information.

  2. This is good advice. It’s so easy to give up in the face of difficulty for the average person. But what about the ex-offender with marks already against him or her? Where can an ex-offender go to find advocacy, besides online? This interview makes me want to go back to Homeward Bound and offer assistance in helping the women there gain better ground, helping them with the search and locating resources like yours. Finding a job that pays well enough, a job where they feel they can make an impact and feel safe were a few concerns I heard a lot. It made me sad to think how deeply the odds can be stacked against you. Sometimes, we just need someone to hold our hand and help us work our way through the systems that can pull us down. Makes me think what else I can do.

  3. I have to agree with Mr. Mayo’s comments regarding networking. This is really important because your friends and family, former co-workers,ministers, former teachers can give respected testimonials to perspective employers.

    Just going on regular job interviews without a personal recommendation, is a much tougher road.

    Glad to see some one else is interested in helping felons fight job discrimination……….kudos!!!

  4. Thanks. I’ve been wanting to get Eric over here for awhile, since he has such a depth of experience in this area.

    And Jackie, I hope you do go back to HB or wherever, as you have so much inspiration to offer!

  5. James E. Walker Jr.


    A criminal conviction WILL automatically bar one from certain federal occupations. For a good list, see:


    Otherwise, the information in this post is right on the mark.

  6. Thanks, James. That’s a good point and a very useful list.

  7. Pingback: How law-abiding are you: take 2 « Out and Employed

  8. ed

    plumbing our contacts, we gots to do it.

    ‘where can i find a job?’ is the question everyone is asking, only makes it tougher, as you have said, for those former offenders who aren’t at the front of the line.

  9. Pingback: Felon’s mom wants to help him get a job | Help for Ex-offenders and Felons Looking for Jobs

  10. patricia jetevu

    I have a serious question! My son just became 29 years old in September 2010, He is a eight time felon! he has not Killed anyone, but his record looks very Bad, He has not been in trouble for two years! his unemployment from working in construction doing electrical work has expired, it is just about impossible for him to find employment! he is attending the local community college has been on the dean”s list and has already received two certificates and working on a degree in engineering, But I know he is depressed, with the economy the way it is is there really any hope for my son? when folks who have never been to jail can not get a job? most of the programs tha help felons show them how to fill out applications etc. and this is important but few if any actually have hook ups for jobs! Iam telling him to be postive and I do not say I told you SO! about how Rebellious he has been, God made him Gifted and he wasted so many years fighting me and everything that was right! now he has a three year old son of his own, and No my son never had the right kind of father for his life! But he wants to now be the right kind of father for his son! But who will give him a chance, because he was silly and played with his life many of the felons he got, were not even felons when I was his age! But yes he was wrong ,Housing will not even allow him a place to live, if he had a job and money, but will allow others from other countries, when does the pumnishment stop

  11. Enjoyed the Q & A and think it’s helpful to anyone who struggling to find work due to their criminal record. One answer I’d like to build on is regarding expungement. I would highly encourage anyone with any charge on their record to investigate expungement of that charge. It may seem like it costs to much to get it done or have an attorney help you but if you can land that next job because they didn’t find the charge on your criminal record, it will certainly pay for itself.

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