Category Archives: employers hiring ex-offenders

Another employer who gets it…

I’m caught up with other projects this week, but would be remiss in not posting this story about Eric Smith, a carpenter in St. Paul, Minnesota who has no qualms about hiring people with criminal records.  Why?  It’s been his experience that if a  person is hardworking and good at what he does, his background has no relevance to the job. Smith says:

I tend to hire people I like personally — no indicator of talent, but I have to spend a lot of time with them. I’ve discovered over the years that I’m drawn to people who have a little bit of darkness in them — people who have peeked over the edge, maybe even gone over it, at some point in their lives.

People with this kind of background are not uncommon in remodeling, probably because it’s one of the dwindling number of mentally challenging careers that require almost nothing in the way of qualifications except a strong back, common sense and a willingness to work hard.

For people who’ve been unable to fit into standardized corporate slots, or haven’t passed the tests or graduated at the top of their class, construction can offer a rare second or third chance.

I love the wisdom in this.  You can read the whole story here:  The Healing Power of Construction Work

Enjoy!

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Ban the box update

As I noted in my last post, this week is devoted to checking on the status of legislation affecting  ex-offenders.

One of the more effective strategies — and one that seems to be  gaining steam —  is the  “Ban the Box” grassroots campaign.  The box, of course,  is that section of the employment application that asks about whether you have a criminal record.  The question can come in a variety of forms as  blogger James Walker notes in his very comprehensive post. Sometimes it’s even a series of questions, as I discovered when my son recently applied at our local grocery store for a job as a bag boy.  These are usually yes/no questions, typically followed by a space where you’re asked to explain any charges in further detail.

The problem is that once you check “Yes,” your application often goes no further.  One human resources professional recently told me  that in cases where someone answered yes in an online application at his former employer, the application was automatically deleted. 

Since 2003, some 30 cities states and counties have eliminated the box and the question from applications.  These include:

    Hawaii (1998), Minnesota (2009) and New Mexico, this year.  Just last month,  Connecticut passed a law removing the box from applications for public jobs.  Bills are also pending in Wisconsin and Nebraska.   Major cities that have banned the box for government jobs include San Francisco, Chicago, Boston and Minneapolis/St. Paul.   

The National Employment Law Project offers a comprehensive update by state and city.  The Safer Foundation also provides a detailed list of recent legislation. 

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While I was out ….

Happy belated Independence Day!  There’s been so much going on  that I’m sorry to have been away. 

Now that I’m back, however, I’ll try to spend the rest of this week talking about what’s happening on the legislative front in terms of criminal justice reform and other measures to assist ex-offenders.

Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA)

On that score,  the first thing I wanted to direct your attention to is some terrific work being done by Representative  Bobby Scott (D, VA) to help offenders with some of the barriers faced in reentry.  Translation: he wants to do something to minimize the negative impacts of background checks. 

 On June 9, Scott chaired hearings on the topic and introduced  H.R. 5300, the “Fairness and Accuracy in Employment Background Checks Act.” If passed, this bill would require the FBI to update it’s woefully inaccurate database so that any arrest or conviction records use correct and up -to -date information.  As I’ve noted before, the FBI database is notorious for failing to note cases where charges were dropped, or a defendant was later found innocent.   This bill would require these records to be updated.   

I found all this information and even copies of the testimony before Scott’s committee in a recent update from the always thorough National Reentry Resource Center.  So check it out.

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Job interviews and ex-offenders: maybe it’s not the crime that cost you the job

In my last two class sessions, we’ve been talking about answering job interview questions.  Yes, that includes the $64,000 biggie:  Have you ever been convicted of a crime?

And yet, for all the emphasis put on being able to look an employer in the eye and honestly discuss your record or those huge gaps in your work history —  it’s often the simple and seemingly benign questions that can trip up an ex-offender. 

This came to light last week after a lively class  discussion about what to say when an employer opens an interview by saying:  “Tell me about yourself.” 

Most of my students felt this was an easy question. 

It’s not. In fact, if you don’t handle this one carefully you can end up stumbling right out of the starting gate.   Despite seeming open-ended, an employer isn’t asking for your life history here. Nor does he want  a long-winded dissertation on why this job  is your dream come true.  As one inmate wisely noted, the employer doesn’t just want to know what you’ve done in the past, but who you are and what you can do for them.   In Michelle Rafter’s  blog for SecondAct.com, Georgia Tech University professor Nathan Bennett  offers good advice when he says,  focus not on what you enjoy, but on what you bring to an organization that is uinque and hard for others to copy.

So how do you  do this?   The key is tailoring your skills and abilities to the needs of the employer, but in a way that doesn’t come off sounding like a canned sales pitch.  Sally Chopping, a Pittsburgh-based interview and public speaking coach, suggests breaking the question down into 3 parts

  1. Identify the 3 most important qualities for the job.
  2. Mention the most relevant last job you had and highlight one of your achievements.
  3. Say why you’d like to work for the particular company. 

If you put these together as she does, you end up with a response that encapsulates your unique strengths and abilities in a way that shows how they will benefit the company. 

This video, courtesy of CollegeGrad.com, (which is equally applicable to jobs that don’t require college degrees, by the way) also spells out a good approach to the “Tell me about yourself”  query:

How about you?   What have you said when an employer opens with this question?  What’s worked and what hasn’t?

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Another company that gets it

Found this story today, which highlights Electronic Recyclers International, a company that makes no bones about hiring ex-offenders. 

In fact, in two decades as an entrepreneur, ERI founder and chief executive John Shegerian says he has given hundreds of former felons an opportunity to start over.   His involvement started in 1993 shortly after the LA Riots when he founded Homeboy Industries, a non-profit set up to help provide ex-gang members with jobs.

Today he proudly boasts that over 60 of his current employees were formerly incarcerated, in substance abuse programs or on welfare.   Many of them are now in management at his company which is the nation’s leading recycler of electronic waste (think old TVs and computers) .  Shegerian hopes talking about his experiences will encourage more businesses to give people with criminal records a shot:

“Most CEOs and HR directors have a good heart and want to help people who need a second chance, but the four-letter “F” word gets in the way: fear. My advice to them is to overcome it, because it’s a great experience for their company and their community to hire people who need that chance. This is now the time for all businesses across the U.S. to open their hearts and open their doors.”

Shegerian sounds a lot like Jeff Brown, who I wrote about in an earlier post.  Brown, who founded Philadelphia-based Shop Rite Fresh Foods, is also very upfront about the benefits of bringing motivated ex-offenders on board. What do you think?  Are there other employers you’ve encountered who espouse this belief?


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Who hires violent offenders? You’d be surprised.

Their crimes aren’t easy to stomach.

VASAVOR job developer Mouly Aloumouati

Murder. Rape. Armed Robbery. Aggravated Assault.  But when they come to Mouly Aloumouati, they’ve done their time and have one thing in common.

They want a job and they want to start over.

Aloumouati does his best to accommodate.  A business developer at SkillSource Center, (a One Stop Career Center operator in Virginia), he also manages  the VASAVOR (Virginia’s Serious and Violent Offender Reentry) program in conjunction with re-entry organization OAR.  Over the past seven years, he estimates he’s dealt with some 400 violent offenders and found jobs for more than 75 percent of them.

“I’ve got a recidivism rate of 5 percent,”  he says, which isn’t bad, when you consider that nationally nearly two thirds of offenders return to prison or jail within two years.

Affable and approachable, Aloumouati’s secret is a mixture of practicality, doggedness and a willingness to do what it takes to help get his people placed.  When he started, he  had no experience with offenders, but over time he’s developed an acute understanding of the challenges they face and the way to overcome these.

I was fortunate to catch up with Aloumouati two weeks ago when I stopped by the local Career One Stop Center in Falls Church, VA.  Here’s some of what he had to say about how he works and what he’s learned:

On the biggest challenge the violent offender faces:

Some would call it the “fear” factor.   “I would say the hardest thing is getting over the stigma.  But I try to show the people I work with that the stigma is not the end of the world.  You can get past it, if you’re willing to work hard and be persistent.”  The important thing, he adds, is how you come across and whether you are employable.  This means do you have your IDs, do you know how to conduct yourself in a workplace, have you taken responsibility for your actions or are you in denial…otherwise I’m wasting my time because you’re not ready.”  The first step he takes with people who come to him is to do an employment assessment to see where they are.

On what kind of jobs serious offenders can get:

Aloumouati has placed offenders in the labor and construction industries, administrative and clerical jobs, the trades, transportation and food service, among other areas.  Many of these positions are entry-level, but he’s also helped individuals find more advanced positions in the medical and other professional fields.

On how the ex-offender should present himself:

“I tell people I work with you spend 10 seconds explaining your record in an interview, then you spend 10 minutes telling the employer what you can do for him.

On his job hunt secrets:

Aloumouati keeps a file on every employer who’s ever hired one of his clients.  Any reentry organization can develop a similar list by going to case files for the past three to four years and looking at where the offenders they worked with got jobs, he says.  Everywhere he goes, he brings business cards and makes sure he gets them from any employer he meets.  He scans the want-ads and Craig’s List regularly and follows up immediately.  “Youve got to get to the job before the non-criminals do to make your case,” he says.  In fact, he’s been known to drive offenders to an interview to take advantage of a hot lead right away.   Even if the job doesn’t work out — he keeps track of the employer so he can check back periodically and find out about new openings before they’re advertised.

On getting professional jobs:

Aloumouati has worked with former doctors, lawyers, police, judges, military, engineers and plenty of others with impressive credentials.  Sometimes these individuals will no longer be able to work in their field because of their crimes or licensing requirements. Nonetheless he has still been able to help many find very good jobs.  “I have five clients right now, who are making more than $85,000,” he says.

On his advice to an offender who can no longer work in his/her field:

You need to be very creative and change direction. “I tell the people I work with they have to dig deep in their souls and brains to bring me other industries where they can work.”  A medical doctor may never be a doctor again with a felony, but he can work with or for a doctor.  People may lose security clearances, but not the knowledge and experience they had previously.   I have a number of engineers and people in IT that I’ve been able to place in good jobs in the industry.  They may not be doing exactly what they were doing before, but they’re still using their skills.

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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.

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