Category Archives: skills

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



Filed under companies hiring ex-offenders, criminal records, employers hiring ex-offenders, employment ex-offenders, hope for ex-offenders, inspiration, job search ex-offenders, jobs, jobs ex-offenders, second chances, skills, starting over

Guest Post: Jackie Dishner talks about how to inspire a strong recovery in your life

Today I’m thrilled to welcome Guest Poster Jackie Dishner to Out and Employed.   As I noted yesterday, Jackie is a writer, author, bike enthusiast and motivational speaker, who has lots of good advice from personal experience on turning your life around.  Jackie believes each of us can transform obstacles and setbacks into opportunity by finding our Best Self, developing Inner strength, learning to trust our Killer Instinct and using our Expressive Voice.  She believes it so much, in fact, that she’s in the process of writing a book on her BIKE principles.  I’m sure you’ll enjoy what she has to say….


By Jackie Dishner of BIKE WITH JACKIE

Although I have never specifically worked with ex-offenders, some of the women I’ve worked with in my volunteer service to Homeward Bound have been ex-offenders. I’ve heard the challenges and hardships that follow time served. I’ve heard the concerns of not being able to find better employment, about being judged, about feeling dead-ended.

That’s a tough place to be mentally. I get that. I’ve felt dead-ended before. I’ve felt hopelessly lost and unsure.

I didn’t like it.

That’s a good place to start if you want to move forward. Don’t like it. Don’t. Use that distaste to propel you to a better place—even if that better place, for right now, is only in your mind. That’s how you begin to inspire a stronger and long-lasting recovery.

I learned this in my own Recovery. I’m a Recovering Codependent. I discovered my affliction while going through a divorce from a man who claimed to be a sex addict. I’m not sure if that’s true or not. He denies it now. But what he said made sense to me. It explained a lot about his behavior. And it sure was a frightening way to feel forced into a divorce. I didn’t like that. So I got on a bicycle to figure things out. On the seat of my bike, I learned a lot about myself. I reconnected with the me I wanted to be. And I learned how to take back charge of my own life. He could be whatever he was. But I wanted the same for me. And that meant a life without him in it—I wanted the life I deserved.

So now that you realize something similar for yourself,, are you wondering what’s next? From the seat of my bike, I learned a lot of personal growth lessons that helped inspire my own recovery. If you want a stronger recovery for yourself, you’ll have to take action. Here are eight steps you can take now:


Because recovery is a lifelong process, it means you continually get the chance to make a fresh start. We’ll never stop making mistakes, missing the mark on something, doing something we wish we wouldn’t. We’re human. We won’t be perfect. Ever. So start by letting go of that expectation. When you let go, you’ve gained an immediate sense of liberty. You’re making room for fresh starts and do-overs. If you need to let go of something else—and only you know what that is—do it. Give yourself the opportunity to start over.


Every day that you wake up, you are faced with a choice of how you will approach your day. Well, then, why not make it simple? Decide to be your best. And I mean, literally, say out loud so you can hear the words, “Today, I live my best life.” And then go about the day becoming aware of your behavior. Periodically ask yourself: Am I responding in the best way I know how? Could I do better?


It’s time to set aside blame, guilt or anger and begin to realize only you are in charge of you. If you’re supposed to meet your probation officer, then you go. No questions. No complaints. If you owe people money, you figure out a way to pay—even if it means partial payments over time. If you have a job, you show up—on time. You don’t run away. Not when you’re in Recovery. You stand up and take charge. Embrace any uncomfortable feelings you might have and realize you’re practicing living the authentic life; you’ll improve in time.


Coping skills are the tools we have within and without that help hold us up when we feel weak. Like a tall building has an iron frame and the body has a skeleton of bones, the mind also needs something to shore it up, something to help it adapt to change. That’s where coping skills come in. They calm our nerves when we feel anxious, protect us from harm, and help hold us accountable. They include such things as journaling to get out our crazy-making thoughts, exercising to relieve stress, or setting a personal boundary when we need to say no. Coping skills have a lot to do with our individual personalities. Do you know what yours are? Do you need to use them more often?


If you haven’t drawn out a picture of what your best life looks like, try doing it now. What do you look like? Draw a picture. Where do you live? Illustrate that on paper as well. What is your job? Can you picture yourself in that position? Who are your friends and what do they do? Once you have an illustration (If you don’t draw well, use stick figures or pictures from a magazine), then you have the beginnings of a plan that will help you do two things: 1) decide what you want out of life; 2) decide the steps you need to get there. This is not a static plan; revisit it often and make changes where necessary.


When you have a plan ready to go, each time you do something that moves you closer to your goal, that’s a success. No matter how tiny. If you made a phone call, or sent an e-mail to a potential employer, that’s a positive. Take time first thing every morning to acknowledge how far you’ve come. If you focus on what you’ve accomplished, you’ll feel good about yourself. You won’t spend wasteful moments beating yourself up for what you haven’t yet done. Consider any resistance you might be feeling. That resistance might be trying to tell you something. Pay attention.


If there’s one thing you can count on in Recovery, it’s a setback. You may experience several. Accept them for what they are—temporary—and then decide what you need to do to move them aside. Do you need to journal? Will that help you figure it out? Do you need to apologize to someone? Do you need to correct a mistake? Think of your setback as a life challenge to face and then set aside when done with it. It’s not your friend. It’s not your enemy. It’s just another challenge. Like a jigsaw puzzle. once you figure it out, you’ll be able to figure it out sooner if you do it again.


Other people’s success stories, your own, famous quotes that inspire you. Find people, places and things that remind you where you going and why. Use what you learn to teach others. Find ways to remind yourself that your Recovery is worth the work. You are worth the work that it will take to find your personal and professional success. No one else can define this for you. No one else can fully understand your internal struggle. But you can. Look for the things that speak to you and write them down on Post-it Notes or start a file of clippings and kudos that you can refer to for inspiration.

Now it’s your turn. Can you think of other inspirational tips you’ve learned so far? Recovery is a lot easier if we’re in it together, so please feel free to share.


Filed under addiction and recovery, education ex-offenders, ex-offender psychology, Guest blogger, hope for ex-offenders, inspiration, Jackie Dishner, personal responsibility, reentry, second chances, skills, starting over, taking responsibility, talents

More jobs to say goodbye to…

The New York Times has a good  article on jobs that won’t be coming back even after the recession is over.  It tells the story of Cynthia Norton , a 52-year-old former administrative assistant who hasn’t been able to get a similar position since she was laid off two years ago — this despite sending out more than 100 resumes. Instead, she’s been working at Walmart for a third of her former salary.

The writer’s point  is that Norton’s difficulties have less to do with the bad economy than the fact that, as I’ve noted before, many clerical and other jobs — travel agents, manufacturing, data entry –are being eliminated because they can be easily automated or done overseas.

The story goes  right to the  heart of  what many ex-offenders must deal with as more  lower-skilled but decent paying jobs disappear.  What I don’t get is why the  Obama administration continues to  downplay the permanent loss of these  jobs due to structural changes in the economy.

As I often tell my students,  certain doors are going to be closed to you, and it’s better to  know that at the outset.  Individuals who were sentenced for drug offenses aren’t going to get jobs in medical offices.   If you stole money from your last employer, you’re unlikely to be hired as an accountant.  Petty larceny?  You can probably forget the job as a bank teller.

So why can’t the government be as straight with us?  After all, their own statistics support declines in certain occupations and even spell out the reasons why.  And it isn’t just low-skilled jobs, either.   Take computer programming.  Many people believe  having a background in information technology (IT) is a golden ticket.  But it really depends where your expertise is.  And right now the demand for computer programmers isn’t exactly growing.  In fact, since peaking in 1999,  the number of computer programming jobs in the U.S. has actually declined by nearly a third –529,000 to 394,000.   Current projections see the number of positions going down  by 3 percent  through 2018.

What gives?   In part the fall-off  is due to advances in programming languages and tools, as well as the growing ability of users to write their own programs.  In addition, these jobs are very easy to outsource to places like India where programmers are a good deal cheaper.  Instead, the demand has moved to software  engineers, who design and develop software for users and systems.  The number of these positions is expected to increase by as much as 32  percent between 2008 and 2019.

The takeaway here: Be prepared for the fact that not being able to get a job may have less to do with you and your record, than the fact that certain jobs are disappearing and/or morphing into something else.  These days everyone is having to learn something new — so don’t feel bad if you need to update your skills.  Fortunately, the government is also putting a lot of money into retraining, so you may qualify.

But before you set your heart on a certain job or career, do your research.  Talk to real people.   You may be surprised.  When I was over at my local  Career One Stop Center recently, manager Trang Montgomery told me that despite declines in many manufacturing jobs, there were areas where there  were going to be shortages.   Welding, for example.  Yes, apparently this is an specialty where employers are having difficulties finding skilled workers.  If this interests you, you might want to check out training and apprenticeship opportunities.

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Filed under economy, job search ex-offenders, job training, jobs, recession ex-offenders, skills, unemployment

What would you do if you could be paid to be yourself?

“I wish I could just be paid to be myself,” a friend who’s looking for work said recently.

“Don’t we all,” I concurred, thinking, in truth, that it was kind of a strange statement, bordering on egotistical.

For some reason, though, I was still mulling it over a day later.  In fact, I was  actually starting to think she had a  point.

Why shouldn’t we all try to get paid for being ourselves, since that’s essentially what we do best anyway?  Anyone who’s  read career classics like What Color is Your Parachute? and Do What You Love and the Money Will Follow? , or their more recent successors, Do What You Are or The Purpose Driven Life knows that these books make a veritable mantra out of following your passion.

And yet, when I  ask my students to talk about their interests, or what they really love to do, they’re often a little reticent. It’s as if they believe hoping someone will actually hire you for what you do best is asking too much.

It’s gotten even worse with this economy.  So many of us feel we can’t be too picky with jobs in short supply.  It can also be difficult to square this advice with what ex-offenders are typically told.  That is, to take a job, any job, just to get work, since finding employment has been proven to reduce recidivism.

But I don’t think anyone should give up on the dream of being hired to use their best skills.  Letting your gifts go to waste isn’t good for the psyche.  You’re more likely to get down on yourself, or start feeling resentment.    And you know where that leads.

If you’re willing to do some soul-searching and apply a bit of creativity, however, you can learn to let the best you shine through even at a job that’s less than ideal.  Here’s how:

1.  Know what your best qualities are. You can’t sell what you don’t know.  Assess your interests and talents.  What do people compliment you on again and again?  When do people ask for your help?  What tasks do you enjoy so much that they make you lose track of time?   Are you the one who heads projects? The motivator? The salesperson?   The trouble-shooter?  The idea generator? The technical guru?  The artist?  The peacemaker? The person who gets things done?  Organizations always need to fill these roles.

2. Apply for jobs that require that talent or ability. If you’re frustrated about not being able to find work doing what you love, perhaps you need to broaden your search.  The very useful ONET online, an occupational information site developed by the U.S. Department of Labor, offers details on requirements for different jobs.  You can also look for jobs that might need your talents.   On this page , for example, you can check off the boxes next to skills you possess, and ONET will generate an entire list  of occupations requiring these abilities.  Some may require additional training or education, but others may be a perfect fit and something you might not have thought of otherwise.

3.  Find a way to use your greatest talent on the job, anyway. Back when I worked as an  accountant, I made sure my bosses knew my true love was writing by making my audit reports as good as I could.  I also volunteered for any other writing projects that came up.   If you’re a sanitation engineer who dreams of being a salesmen, you can start by developing a good relationship with all the families on your route.  If you work  in a restaurant kitchen, but your dream is to create recipes of your own, what’s stopping you from making suggestions, or getting the cooks to try out your specialty after hours?   Sometimes the very act of using your favorite skills will show a side of you that your employer hasn’t’ seen.  Who knows where that might lead?

If you feel you simply can’t  exercise your abilities on the job, perhaps it is time to look for something better.   But that doesn’t mean you can’t put your talents to use on a volunteer basis somewhere else.   Maybe your church needs a good organizer/people person to put together a potluck dinner or Spring Fair.  Or you can’t find an IT job, but your neighbors would love to have someone show them how to keep in touch with their families via a computer they just can’t seem to get working.

The key is realizing that even if what you do best doesn’t seem to be paying off right  now, it could  pay off in the future.  But if you don’t keep exercising and building on these skills you’ll never know.  As Benjamin Franklin once said, ” Hide not your talents, they for use were made. What’s a sun-dial in the shade?

He had a point, I think.

How about you?   Have you had success getting paid to do something you love?

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Filed under employment ex-offenders, ex-offender psychology, goal-setting, hope for ex-offenders, recession ex-offenders, skills, talents