Working with Felons
I received a letter from a manager about working with felons:
We' have been discussing in our office how or what Felons should say on when filling out their application regarding "Reasons for Leaving" do you say I was in prison or do you say, I will discuss at the interview...our office is split on this. What is your opinion...can we toss it out to the readers?
Thanks M. N.
I have worked with quite a few felons myself as a case manager. The purpose of an application and resume is to screen out people who do not fit into the company's profile. I went to prison does not look good on either. I would put personal reasons down on the application and then discuss it at the interview.
Two things that are important to tell the client
One: It may take longer to get an interview then normal.
Two: The client should say up front during the interview. Something like this.
"I want you to know that I was in prison. I understand many people would be turned off by that, but I want you to know that I made a mistake, I have paid for it and I have also learned a valuable lesson. I would like a chance to prove to you and my community that I have learned that lesson."
What thoughts do you have about this issue?
I have had numerous opportunities to work with felons. One of the
key factors in getting a job for a felon has been, brief answers and only
providing what was requested. If the employer expresses concerns about hiring a
felon and has communicated this to the applicant the applicant has been
coached on educating the prospective employer on the resources available
to the employer.
In Alaska our Department of Labor and Workforce Development
has a Fidelity Bond we offer the employer as an incentive to hire a felon. The bond protects the employer from losses up to $25000.00 with
approval from the bonding contractor.
My recommendation is to explore this option in your state.
Alaska Department of Public Assistance
In speaking with felons,
I impress upon them the importance of being up front with the interviewer about
their past. On the application or resume, I would put "Personal
Reasons" where it asks for reason for leaving a job or to substantiate a
lapse of work time. I would tell the interviewer that in my youth or previously,
I was in jail or prison for using bad judgment. That while in jail or prison, I
worked toward or obtained my G E D or some other training if that is the case.
Try to point out something positive done or achieved while incarcerated. Tell
the interviewer that "I understand that employers may have misgivings about
hiring me, and that I plan to work hard to earn their trust and to help them see
I can be a valuable employee."
It would be a good idea to go before youth groups at schools and churches and give their testimony in an effort to prevent others from going down the same road. If employers see that a person is going out of their way to turn the negative into a positive, they will be more likely to give someone a second chance. If given that second chance, always be early to work and late to leave. Take lunch hour and breaks appropriately and don't be late. If caught up with their work tasks, go to the supervisor to ask for more work to do. Let the employer know that they are not there just to draw a paycheck, that they are interested in the well being of the company and take every opportunity to be a team player and always do more than is asked.
On a personal note: My oldest brother, Jim, passed away in Oct 2000. At the funeral, I approached the casket and a young man was standing there in tears. All afternoon I had heard how my brother had helped people. I commented to the young man that I had not known Jim had helped so many people. The young man looked at me and said "Helped people? Jim Gresham saved my life. I was a bad drug addict/alcoholic felon and no one would give me a chance. No one, until I walked in to his office. He put his arm around me and told me he would give me a chance. He was like the father I never had. I will continue to honor him in death by not ever going back to my old ways and always working hard".
Susan – GA
Regarding felons, were
you referring to my family or felons in general? I go with honesty is the best
policy. This is one of the few times a resume' is actually more useful than an
application. It is a chance to talk about your skills without the nasty gap in
employment that sends up those red flags. The employer reads the resume' and
talks to the person prior to the felony issue, and is not immediately bias
against the applicant. When we think felon we generally think low income, or low
life, or uneducated, but the reality is that we have more and more white collar
felons that are pretty sharp. Martha Stewart as an example. Assault is a
difficult one to sell to employers no matter how pretty you wrap it up and
stealing is a close second.
Some applications asked
if you have ever been convicted of a felony, this is where one needs to be
honest and answer "yes" and put "willing to discuss at
interview" so that they have an opportunity to disclose and discuss
Unless the application asked the question about convictions, I would avoid bringing up this issue as a reason for leaving any employment.
If an application does not ask for the information, this information is probably not relevant to the position.
I would avoid being too honest with reasons for leaving, such as, pregnant, getting a divorce, going to jail, etc., etc., etc.
Using reasons which have to do with a career change are far better. For example, one could list the following: decided to concentrate on family development, furthering education, moved out of area....anything but going to jail.
Once one has an interview, then maybe the time to expand the reason, if asked. Otherwise, I would not mention it.
We have a great partner
in our one stop system here in Tulare County
that work with felons. Their name is Turning Point/REAP. Their staff
is terrific and have been successful in establishing a wide network of
employers who are willing to give felons a second chance. Sandi Miller CA
I would advise all your ex-felon clients to be honest this
way they start off with a clear head, and not having to watch their back
constantly. I know their chances are slim in obtaining employment, and they may
even receive twenty no's before they receive that one yes, however this has
worked for my clients and I have wonderful success. I always recommend
employment or training that would be flexible with the type of conviction they
have, and I also recommend to expunge records on any old felony's or all
misdemeanors. If the clients have no income this process could be done for free.
If have any question please feel free to call me.
Sarah Toni Mendoza
I have also worked with a number of felons as an employer and as a job club
facilitator, I agree that using the term "personal reason" is good but
even more important is to make sure that the applicant with a felony follows the
outline below during the interview.
Bring it up early.
Admit to making a mistake (generalize rather that specify)
Admit to paying the price.
Discuss how you have learned from this.
of this should take about 2 minutes or less. If the employer wants to
discuss more, be prepared to so but try to keep the conversation as general as
possible and continue to remind the employer that it was in the past, you have
paid, and have now moved on.
process have led my clients to have a fairly high level of success.
R. Wright ESC II CA
Honesty has always been the best policy. so being. I believe that it
better to tell the truth up front. If the employer is interested in hiring you it
will make for a better relationship. No pressure to hide your past. On the other
hand if you disclose that information and you do not get hired. move on
and try another employer. It is much easier to make a change in your life when
you do not have to function under pressure.
Another member of my staff indicated that if you are granted an
interview after disclosing that particular piece of information (Verbally or
otherwise), it's not necessary to bring it up again.
Elton Blake CA
Finding a job for someone
who has legal and or criminal issues is difficult here in Alaska, as I'm sure
every other state. Working with smaller businesses and or people we know,
has been a resolution in the past. Larger companies/businesses that want
finger prints or criminal histories tend to look only at the person as they
appear on paper, rather than meeting them and listening to what they have to
For example, I work with a young man in his 30's who calls 911 inappropriately on a regular basis. He has a police record, but when looking at it on paper it doesn't define the criminal act, and the potential employer only sees that there is a criminal record. This young man (other than his obsession with 911) has not committed any other crimes, but because it is on record he looses out on a lot of opportunities. I ended up asking a friend of mine with a lawn maintenance business to look past the paper and see this person for who he really is. The job creation and match are a success and this young man now has a steady job. When he does end up in jail, his employer has natural consequences of not being able to give him a regular paycheck.
Other experiences with people have been much more difficult, and again we have had successes with smaller businesses, another thing we tried was developing a small business for the person with legal/criminal issues, that too has proven successful.
Carrie- Wasilla, Alaska
I teach a Housing Workshop at a local jail for female inmates.
I give them job leads when I can, but the main thing that I do is to give
them the skills that they need to find and keep stable housing for themselves
and their children. I always tell them to answer truthfully any questions
asked verbally or on applications. I also advise them to bring letters
from case managers at the jail or from the leaders of any programs they
participate in after their release. This would include drug and alcohol
programs. I also advise them to go to transitional housing at first and
then use that housing as a reference.
There's a great book No One Is Unemployable by Elizabeth
Hartnett. I would use that in working with ex felons.
I have also compiled a list of local (LA area) employers
willing to hire ex-felons. I'm not sure the list is accurate, but it is a
place to start.
Also, the best process is by personal referral. Tell the
employer, (with whom you have a good relationship and they trust you), about
the person, and their background, and then set up a face-to-face meeting.
office in particular work with a few categories:
that are leaving the military after 180 days of activation and their spouses.
of Defense workers that our down sized and their spouses.
of service members that arrive new in the area that quit a job voluntarily due
to permanent change of station orders.
of service members that leave San Diego going to another state and voluntarily
quit a job due to permanent change of station orders.
of service members that fit no other category.
spouses can have learning disorders, felonies, disabilities, never worked at all
or have large gaps in work history, little education background or master
Re: Dealing with felons
I like your suggestions. However, I would think twice about putting
"personal reasons" which could also be used to screen someone out. (It
raises the question What type of personal problem was there? Divorce,
medical, mental, incarceration or other situation that might be viewed
as negative.) I encourage all with this challenge to read the
application carefully. Many times the best response is to say "will
discuss at interview."
Many times the best service we can give to these customers is to
prepare them for the long haul. They have a serious barrier that will
require finding an employer who is willing to give them a chance. They
will need thick skin and good job search skills that create lots of
contacts. They will need to network and find those community agencies
that can give them special assistance. They should know if expunging
and/or sealing records could help their situation.
It can not be stressed enough the importance of being able to tell an
employer, face-to-face, that you made a mistake, you've paid for your
mistake, and you need someone to give you a chance to become a
productive member of society.
I know individuals who have changed their lives and done their
time in prison but cannot find employment to take care of themselves.
Especially since drug felons cannot get any assistance from the county.
Theses individuals are left to go back to the streets. I am printing what
we have so far and forwarding it to individuals who have felons and having
difficulty getting full time employment. Please if there are any more
ideas for this topic forward it to me.
Thank you Kinnia
I agree with the # 2 statement. I believe honesty is a must
job you either make an application for, or receive. As a supervisor I
would be impressed with a job applicant that was totally up front with
me on his/her past history. When you review an application for
employment and see a gap of " x amount" of months or years, a red flag
is going to come up. I would rather hear about the prison history
during the interview, then have it come out at some inopportune time
down the road. If the conviction was for an offense that prohibited the
person from being hired ( such as a conviction for felony child or
spousal abuse with the person applying for a job in the human resources
field) , I think you owe it to the applicant to deny him/her the job and
allow them to seek employment elsewhere. I believe this to be more
desirable then spending the time to train and individual and then find
out that you were unable to keep him/her on your employment rolls. TW
Center services are available to felons. We do not find jobs for our
customers, but prepare them for the job search market. We provide computer
skills, resume writing, interviewing, self esteem, and other job search
workshops plus they have access to computers, printers, fax, phones and copy
machine at no costs or fees. We also provide job leads that employers and
organizations send the Center. I hope this information will assist.
It's funny you would email me on this subject because I am
to help a member of my church find employment and he just was release
from prison maybe a couple of months ago.
He seems to be a nice young man and has been living in a half way house
for a bout a year. I usually tell my customers to not show on their
application that they have been in prison, it is a screen out method
that most employers use. My recommendations is that they state they will
discuss it in a interview. Maybe that way it will increase their
chances of getting screen in for the interview. Once in the interview I
do recommend that they be as honest as possible and that the do express
that they've learn from their mistake. Sharon Warren
Our take is, first on the application a person should
answer the question
of... have you ever been convicted of a felony. They should answer yes and
list the offense(s). If and when an interview is granted they should be
prepared to answer with supportive documentation what the y have done or
are doing to "correct the wrong" i.e.: parole, probation, community service or
restitution, counseling etc.
I have had success in finding employment for felons by doing the following.
1. I have identified and know the employers in my area that are willing to hire felons.
2. As the One-Stop Operator, I personally interview the customer to determine what skills he/she possesses.
3. I make contact with the employer to highlight the felon's skills and work attitude before sending the individual over for an interview.
4. May staff the prepares the individuals for the interview process, i.e., videos, interviewing tips, how to dress and etc.
5. We do a thorough assessment of their needs other than employment as well. (Transportation, training, etc) James
RE: felons- after 25 years in HR I can tell you that it is ALWAYS better to be truthful on the application. All companies today do background screens and it is much worse if they find out and you didn't tell them up front.
We have partnered with "felon friendly" employers who will take felons and there is a specialist at our local EDD to whom we can also refer them.
Since we send a lot of our clients to classroom training, we know which vendors will take them and do job placement for them ( Ex. truck driving schools who will place them. The only thing is they can only do intra-state driving not inter-state ( across state lines )
This has worked well for us. Sue Maloney
I'm responsible for assessing each applicant's
ability to perform well enough in classroom training to land a decent job
upon graduation. Certain career paths are nixed up front because of the
felony, such as nursing or teaching. But, because most of the schools work
with a set group of employers who hire their grads on an ongoing basis, I
tell each participant to be up front with the advisor when applying for
school---ask if the felony will interfere with finding work after graduation.
I also tell them to discuss the nature of the felony during the subsequent job
interview, stressing how long ago it happened, lessons learned, etc.. This
approach has yet to backfire. Josette
I have been waiting a long time to get feed back on this issue. I have
tried to contact many people (locally and at the state level) in the penal
system for help. They are always going to call me back! Guess what?
Never received one call. I have looked through many books and can't find
any help in this area. These customers that come in and want to get to work
have no resume. As we all know they need one. These felons have been let
down so much that know I feel like we are letting them down! Someone out
there please give me some idea's for resumes and interviews! Appreciate any
help. Looking forward to receiving your input! GO
I agree that you might not want to mention up front on the application that
you have been in prison. I liked the idea of putting "Personal
Reasons" or "Will discuss in interview."
Felons have become my new passion. My brother was a judge (recently retired) and I used to call him continually about what felons could do in an interview. He gave me some ideas about how to get expunged and information available in the library for this purpose. But I think Dick Gaither's book (The title is something about putting your foot in your mouth and getting "Sneaker Breath" - Maybe Sneaker Breath is the title)
has wonderful answers for felons at an interview. These answers were a great deal like the last person stated in your e-mail about being completely honest, saying you've learned your lesson regarding your mistake, and asking for another chance to prove yourself. There's no point in hiding a prison sentence - it will come up in the background check, so you may as well be honest! If the employer admires your honesty, he may actually hire you. If being a felon is a big issue in the industry you're applying for, they can't hire you. Be selective about the industries you apply to for jobs, and when you are interviewed, be honest and admit your mistakes. I don't think there are any other choices.
I had a felon who needed a job immediately, so he entered our State Tested Nursing Assistant program, which requires only 3 weeks of study. When he graduated he found out he wasn't allowed to be hired for 5 years after he had his record expunged.
I wrote to all the counselors and suggested that we might want to make some statements about felons signing up for this program and their inability to get a job, without making them have to admit their felon status - just informing them in a somewhat casual manner, just in case they have a felony on their record. I think this might be working. I haven't received any calls lately from other felons in this program.
I really think these felons need an advocate when it comes to finding a job - perhaps someone at the prison could contact some employers before these people are released and get them some job interviews. That way the employers would already know they are felons and could help them or not help them if this was their policy. But then that person at the prison could share this information with the felon so they'd know where they might be able to find a job and where they aren't able to be hired. I know a felon cannot be hired for work with any person who is dependent on them (like mentally retarded people or people in nursing homes or hospitals). I'm not sure felons know this information, but they should be informed to help them in their job search.
Jane Renz, Lorain County Community College, Elyria, Ohio
Actually a military person contacted me last week about a relative looking for employment and that he was a felon. Basically because he is not authorized my service i have just be sending leads through the military and i have made some contacts from employers that i know to see what their companies are for hiring felons. Some do and some dont. So i focus on the ones that do. They also told me to let the person be honest from the beginning about his past etc.
all of my experiences with felons, I have not met anyone who does not want to
work or to do better. So, that is (for me) the first point. The
second is on the receiving end (namely the employers), there is always
apprehension and reservation. Good case management and up to date contacts
are the root for taking care of both of these very important points. What
I try to do is establish relationships with providers (state, city, county,
etc.) to get in contact with employers that are already in place and willing to
hire, train… Then I do good case management with the client so as to see
what is needed and try to address as many issues as possible for KEEPING A
POSITIVE ATTITUDE through the process. As far as what to say, there are
some common scripts that work but I would discuss with the client what they are
comfortable with and then practice some scenarios. Again, going back to
case work 101, working with the client (staying focused and on task will
encourage the client(s) to follow along and they can see the progress).
The reason for working with some options is because everyone will interview
differently. So find some comfortable ways of expressing what has happened
and assist the client is getting more confident with speaking with employers.
YES, definitely be honest and open. Just remember that reiterating this
point to the client includes some training so that the client doesn’t feel
that he/she needs to tell EVERYONE everything. Just some thoughts.
(that’ll be 5 dollars please).
I would have to agree that if someone is a felon they need not put on the application but instead write" Will discuss at interview". That way they can explain what happened instead of saying" Yes, I am a felon" and leave it at that. You would also give the people some hope by wanting to know why they were in prison and giving them an opportunity to explain themselves and get to know them before judgment. JL
I have worked with quite a few felons myself as a case manager. The
> purpose of an application and resume is to screen out people who do
> not fit into the company’s profile. I went to prison does not look
> good on either. I would put personal reasons down on the application
> and then discuss it at the interview.
?I want you to know that I was in prison. I understand many people
> would be turned off by that, but I want you to know that I made a
> mistake, I have paid for it and I have also learned a valuable
> lesson. I would like a chance to prove to you and my community that I
> have learned that lesson.?
On our employment application we have a section like this: Have you ever
been convicted of a felony and/or served time within the last 7 years?
(Conviction will not necessarily disqualify an applicant.) Above this
reads: If your answer to any of the questions below is Yes, please
attach a separate page with an explanation. Include all pertinent
facts, dates, locations, complete names of persons involved, complete
names of organizations, etc. You are required as part of the completion
of this application, to authorize contact of these individuals and/or
organizations by the tribe. EJ
At this time, when we have someone on Parole come into the office we refer them to a program by the name of FEAP(Fresno Employment Assistance & Placement). This program only works with people on Parole and offers job placement, interviewing skills, etc. Unfortunately, the funding for this program ends June 30, and another agency will take over. The phone number for FEAP is 559-253-1903 and if you would like to contact Delane, I am sure that she would be more than willing to provide you with any assistance that she can. When we have clients that do not want to be referred or are on probation, we encourage them to be honest, but to put will discuss at interview on the application, not that they were in jail or prison.
We tell our students
who have felony convictions to be honest on their applications. Now, of course,
we do not have them put that information anywhere on their resume. But, if they
are filling out applications that have the question, "Have you ever been
convicted of a felony?", we encourage them to be honest and explain in
detail the circumstances of their conviction, the fulfillment of their sentence,
and how they have put those problems in the past. We have found that employers
are much more likely to hire someone if they know up front about any past
problems that have been corrected rather than finding out later during a
background check that they had been lied to on the application.
I look forward to hearing from you again soon,
Working with felons...I have had a couple of clients with criminal backgrounds. First and foremost, it's important to know what they served time for so that you can better assist them in applying for positions. For instance, if they served time for a DUI, it is important not refer them to truck driving training or that kind of work where they need to look for a clean driving record. If they have any kind of violent criminal convictions, like assault and battery, I know that they will not be able to work in the medical field or social services in PA since they will need to have a criminal history clearances and child abuse clearances. That can help a great deal to prevent some frustration and embarrassment. Depending on when a crime occurred and its seriousness, sometimes you can help them to get their record expunged or sealed, especially if it happened when they were a juvenile or had something like underage drinking.
The suggestions offered by M. N. were useful...I think being honesty is key. I think helping clients to take responsibility for their actions, admitting wrong, and wanting to change is key to getting an employer to offer them a position. Another suggestion that may be helpful to your clients is to help them realize they may have to start with a less desirable job initially if they are having a hard time getting hired, to build some creditability and some references. If a felon has tried to improve his life in jail by pursuing job training or a GED, that may help to show that this person wants to change.
Well how coincidental that this question comes up again.
I worked with only with felons in our Project RIO (Reintegration Of
Offenders) program for the last 12 years,
In our job search workshop we always instructed the applicant to T T T, Tell
The Truth regardless of how the question is presented...ie verbal or on the
written application. I never instructed any client to mention the word
prison or jail.
Using the word "INCARCERATED" during an interview has a lesser sting to it.
And lastly, "Will discuss during interview" IS THE BEST STAND TO TAKE AT THE
Keep in touch.
Aloha from beautiful Hawaii, everyone. Our agency has little opportunity
these days to deal with this question but from reviewing the opening
remarks, I'd say the answers are already here. Some employers are more open
to ex felons than others and willing to give chances if the person is
sincere, has good skills and is truly motivated to work and their crime
does not present a major conflict with job duties. I once hired a convicted
bank robber with alcohol problems as an account clerk who was not dealing
directly with cash or issuing Purchase Orders. He became exceptionally
skilled and expanded his knowledge to computer technology and eventually
was promoted to an IT position within the Division of the Health
department. He regained confidence in himself, controlled his drinking
problems and had no more conflicts with the law. He just needed a chance
and someone who believed in him. An OJT arrangement for these folks is a
good test period before actual hiring and could be utilized successfully
for everyone involved. I would not recommend referring someone with a drug
conviction to work in a pharmacy or hospital situation where temptation my
be overwhelming. Job matching is always key and prevents problems for
applicant and employer. Never say "NO" for someone else. Everyone deserves
a chance to prove themselves.
I believe that the approach should vary somewhat with the circumstances for both the job seeker and the business with a job opening. We need to remember that the business is our customer as well, and sending over applicants which are clearly inappropriate for consideration ( under a fig leaf ) wastes their time ( and money) If you trick them a few times into interviewing applicants they clearly are not interested in , or cannot really consider, then they will not trust you in the future. You lose a valuable customer. For example; if you have a ex felon who is a sex offender are you going to refer them to a job opening with a local day care or child care provider? I would certainly hope not. Some jobs require special skills, credentials and clearances. Know your customers, and know the industry standards. Some employers actually have a good record for hiring ex-felons, and like the WOTC benefits associated with hiring them. Some employment application forms require disclosure of criminal history. In those situations one must be honest and up front. If it screens out an applicant, then so be it.
In those circumstances where up front disclosure is not required, and where the offender has a record of an offense that is clearly not pertinent or related to the occupation or field of work, then let them use the "personal reasons" on the application , to get in the door and allow them an opportunity for self disclosure, an honest explanation, and a chance to "sell themselves" at the interview. Be knowledgeable and considerate of the employer, and exercise good judgment with common sense in each case. MM
we refer them to a person at the state EDD office, who specifically works with felons. The state will bond them, and he is the job developer, so the people know up front they are hiring a felon. Oftentimes, they are people "with a past" willing to give someone else a chance. I have had good luck with my felons in the past. Once they get the job, they are usually hard workers.
We have a Community Accountability Board (CAB) that meets with with people coming out to the Department of Corrections System twice monthly. The members of this board are from various agencies within the community and we meet with the individuals to see what services that they need and what we can offer them in the way of help. VR and Work Force Development is involved in this board. Although this has not been a question asked at any of the meeting I have had offenders run into this problem. The answer that seems to work best from what I have heard is "I would like to opportunity to speak to you about my past problems with the law privately." Some of the individuals I have worked with have had some success using this approach. This is a problem with people coming out of the system and trying to make a new start. A lot will depend on the individual and the person doing the interview perception of the crimes committed.