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Felon needs to ask for help in job search

December 29, 2008

The Client
Name: Todd
Age: 35
Industry: Construction
Issue: Getting back to work after committing a crime
Q. Do you know how to get a job when you have a criminal background? I have a felony on my record from an incident more than seven years ago. I’ve gotten help for my anger and haven’t had any problems since, but never get interviews when I apply for jobs.

A. It’s hard to get a job once you have a criminal record. Focus on relationships to increase your chances.

The inner game
Explore your options. Look at your skills, be open to different roles, and be willing to learn new skills. Examine the impact of your offense on your options. Someone who has committed fraud, for example, won’t be hired to handle money. Large companies often have strict HR policies, so you may have more luck with smaller firms or the public sector.

Identify resources that can help. Start close to home. Who will vouch for your personal growth and your progress in anger management? Who have you helped in the past seven years?

Find organizations that can help. Minnesota has an extensive network of workforce centers. Other states likely have similar systems. There’s a bonding program that takes the risk out of hiring a convicted felon that you can mention to potential employers. Many nonprofits offer support groups and help ex-offenders find jobs. The key — and the hardest part — is being willing to ask for help. If you’re aware of these resources but haven’t used them, think about what’s been holding you back, then take steps to overcome your reticence.

Know your message. What would you tell a potential employer about yourself? Be clear about what you offer while being honest about your past errors. And never give in to the temptation to lie about your past.

Maintain your energy. Do the basics: nutrition, exercise, and rest. Find a way to make a difference, which will help you maintain a positive attitude. Volunteering provides structure to your time, helps others, and builds a track record that you can use as a reference.

The outer game
Seek leads. Use job centers, ask people you know, and keep your eyes open. Don’t be shy about talking about your job search. People like to help others, but they can’t help you if they don’t know that you’re looking. If the lead comes from someone who knows and trusts you, ask them for a reference.

Be active. It won’t work to just submit an application. Instead, make a personal connection with the employer. If possible, personally deliver your application or résumé, or follow up by phone. Your goal is to make it feel safe for the employer to hire you, and to demonstrate that you’re a better choice — both because of your skills and because of what you’ve learned from the hard times you’ve been through.

Be persistent. Stay positive so that you have the energy to check back with potential employers. They will pick the person who builds a connection and shows that they want the job.

The last word
To overcome your past and get in the door for an interview, build trust and go the extra mile.

Liz Reyer, President RCC - Posted December 28, 2008
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