Ex-offenders Employment: Finding a job with a felony

finding a job with a felony

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This is being created to provide a guide to felons trying to find a job. With the monumental barriers convicted felons face when trying to find work, I feel that these articles might be able to ease their re-entry process. It’s already hard enough to find a job with a clean record, and finding a job with a felony may seem like an impossible task. In addition to the things written in this article, I also am a contributor at Exoffenders.net which was created back in 2011. This site has a lot more resources for finding a job with a felony. This article was originally on my Squidoo page.

First Things First: The Mindset

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Finding a job with a felony is going to be difficult, so you’re going to have to prepare yourself for a struggle. For me, prison was easy compared to my re-entry process when I got out. Companies that are “felon friendly” are starting to dwindle, and it’s becoming increasingly harder for felons to find jobs. But you don’t have to tell an ex-offender that, he or she is already dealing with the discrimination on a daily basis.

You have to prepare yourself for a fight. Go into it with a positive outlook, but understand that you’re going to encounter a lot of negativity. A lot of HR departments and hiring mangers will throw your application out if they see you’ve checked the “Have you ever been convicted” box. They might not publicly say that they do this, but you and I both know better. There is some more information on how to handle that question box, as well as other resources for finding a job with a felony, on Exoffenders.net.

Understand that it’s going to be a struggle. Personally, when I was released from prison, I applied to over 80 different companies in my area. I received call-backs from 4 or 5, and none of them were what I would consider a “career.” But I did land a job which worked for the time being. I figured it is better to work at a bad job making crap money than not working at all.  Sometimes you just have to grin and bear it, muscle through until to you get to the light at the end of the tunnel. Sometimes a crappy job is just a springboard when you’re trying to find a job with a felony.

Avoid the defeatist attitude! This is an extremely common pitfall for ex-offenders, and I see it all the time in the comments on Exoffenders.net. You’re going to get denied employment. It is absolutely going to happen, barring some incredible stroke of luck. You cannot, under any circumstances, talk yourself into quitting this job hunt. It’s happened to me, I’ll admit, and it really held me back for my first year or so after I was released. It’s so easy to revert back to what we know, which usually in an ex-offenders case, is illegal activities that landed them in trouble in the first place. I believe it’s the main reason why the rate of recidivism in this country is so high. Always try to stay as positive as you possibly can, even when you feel incredibly overwhelmed and hopeless.

Get into the groove of having a job before you actually have one. I found that waking up at 7 AM and starting my job search was actually really helpful for my overall mood. It, at the very least, made me feel productive and gave me a sense of accomplishment. I felt that I was moving forward. That was key to dealing with my re-entry.

Maintain a clean appearance and good hygiene. Not only will you feel better about yourself, but you never know when an opportunity might come up. The last thing you want when you’re finding a job with a felony is being called into an interview and you look like you crawled out form under a rock. I’ve detailed this a little bit more in a later section as well.

Don’t beat yourself up about your past, because it is your past. Fact of the matter is, when you’re finding a job with a felony, people will do this for you. You’re more than likely going to have people holding it against you when you reintegrate yourself into society. So you really don’t need to be doing it as well. It’s your past, leave it there. It’s time to move forward into your future.[line]

The Job Hunt

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To be perfectly blunt, the job hunt is going to make or break you. Finding a job is difficult nowadays anyway. But when you’re finding a job with a felony, it’s much harder. This could be one of the most depressing times in your life. You’re going to have to deal with a lot of negativity and rejection. Just remember to keep a positive mindset as best you can.

One thing I did when I was finding a job with a felony was to just apply everywhere and anywhere. When I was released, I did research on the internet of companies that were in my area. Also, if I was ever out of the house, I’d always keep a notepad and pen with me to write down any business that was in my general area. I’d be sure to make a note of (roughly) how far of a walk it would be for me to get there. When I first got out, I didn’t have a car, so the time it would take to walk to a job was a factor. I then applied to every company that had an online application on their website. I usually tried to do this at night. During the day I tried to be out and about as much as I could, applying at companies that didn’t have online applications. Finding a job with a felony was actually really good exercise. Now, this was back in 2008. There were still a decent amount of companies that you could fill out a paper application and turn it in at a store. Now, in 2014, it seems more and more companies are using online applications. In my experience with online applications, it’s a bad thing when you’re finding a job with a felony.

From experience, as well as a interviewing people in a wide variety of industries, it seems like an online application usually works like this:

1) You submit the application
2) Corporate HR evaluates it. Sometimes it is given a score.
3) In some cases, a background check is done on the individual. (Usually only for larger companies.)
4) If it meets or exceeds a certain score, it is forwarded to a store.
5) At the discretion of the hiring manager of the store, you are called in for an interview.

So why is this bad for ex-offenders? Well, a one of the things you can do when finding a job with a felony to increase your chances of getting hired is selling yourself in an interview. With application screening like this, your application might never make it to the actual store and you will never get a face-to-face interview. Please note that not all companies use a procedure like this. It is just information I’ve found to be recurrent through research and interviews with hiring managers.

If I was currently trying to find a job, I would apply everywhere I could. Just to see what happens. The worst thing someone can do is tell you no or not call you back, right? It’s worth a shot in my opinion to just apply to everywhere you can think of. If you’re not having any luck with larger companies when you’re finding a job with a felony, switch it up. Try to find some smaller businesses. They are usually more lax with doing background checks and hiring ex-offenders. A lot of the work I found, after my initial job at Wendy’s when I got out of prison, was with small businesses. If you can wow them at the interview they might be willing to look past your record and give you a shot. There are also online opportunities where you can make money from your home. When I was finding a job with a felony, money I made online helped me make ends meet. I’d really suggest doing some research on this type of work for legitimate work from home jobs before you venture into this. The amount of misinformation, scams, schemes, etc. for work at home opportunities is astounding. If you don’t know what you’re doing, you could quickly get sucked into one.

Be persistent, and don’t be lazy about this. Your chances of finding a job with a felony if you’re only filling out an application or two a day, passively looking for work, and not giving it your all is astronomically lower than someone who is giving it a true effort.[line]

Your First Interview

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Bring your “A” game and come correct. That was the advice given to me when I started job training at a re-entry program I was in in New Jersey. What I interpreted it to mean was come prepared, be ready for anything, and look the part. You want to walk out of that interview feeling like you aced it. You need to sell yourself, your skills, and how you could be perfect for the job opportunity.

Appearance is incredibly important when interviewing for a job. Before you even say a word, the potential employer will already have an opinion about you based on your appearance. It’s just human nature, we initially judge based on looks and appearance.

For men – be freshly shaved; facial hair should be kept to a minimal length, tight, and professional looking. The exception to this is if the facial hair is for religious purposes, in which case there is no need to worry about your facial hair.
Have a recent haircut – you don’t want to your first impression of you to be that you are disheveled or scraggly looking.
Do not neglect your hygiene – Shower the morning before the interview, brush your teeth, flossing is never a bad idea, slap on some cologne/perfume, use deodorant.

Once you’re a picture perfect image of a stellar candidate, let’s work on your clothes. Ideally, you’d like to look like a million bucks with a tailored suit, but let’s face it, a lot of us don’t have the money for that. We have to work with what we have, or can afford. The following is what I do in regards to an outfit when I go into an interview. This mainly applies to men, as I am one, but can be helpful to women as well.

Proper Fit – While I wear loose fitting, baggy jeans and shirts in my daily life, this isn’t the appearance I want to present to an employer. Make sure your outfit fits properly, not too big but definitely not too small. You don’t want to walk into an interview with pants that are too short and it looks like you’re getting ready for a flood. The exception to this is, of course, religious reasons. If you should not wear pants below the ankles for religious purposes, disregard that.

Accessorize – For me, I prefer simple yet noticeable things to compliment my outfit. I’ll usually wear a titanium or stainless steel watch, as that usually matches better with the outfit colors I wear. I know watches aren’t very widespread anymore since most people just use their phone to tell time, but I feel it really compliments an appearance. In addition, I may sometimes put a handkerchief in my suit pocket that matches. I feel it’s a nice, professional added touch that stands out without being too gaudy. Avoid over accessorizing, meaning don’t wear earrings that are gaudy or very large, stay away from cheap, flashy bracelets, and things of that nature.

Ironing and Cleaning – Make sure that you’re wrinkle-free before walking out your residence. Iron your clothes either night before or that morning, inspect for small spots and stains, minor tears, and other things that may draw the attention of an employer. If there is no other option and you must wear something like this, try to cover it up as best you can. Your shoes should be as clean as you get them. One of the first things I notice about a person is their shoes and anything on their hand and wrist (rings, watches, bracelets.)

This is a crucial moment for you, as you have to sell yourself to the employer. Everyone has to do this, not just ex-offenders. Be ready for any questions they may have regarding your experience, willingness to learn, career & life goals, and yes, even your criminal record. Always try to maintain eye contact when during your interview. If you are asked a question, and your eyes wander off to somewhere else in the room while answering, this can be interpreted as being dishonest. The last thing you want is any inclination that you are a dishonest person when you’re looking for a job with a felony.

One of the more frequent questions I get is how to explain a felony if asked about it at an interview. While there is no one answer to this question, I’ll try to explain how I personally have handled this question in hopes that you can relate it to yourself. First, I always admit that what I did was wrong. In a circumstance where you were wrongly convicted, there may be other ways you want to answer this. I actually have a charge that I honestly didn’t commit, a friend of mine did. But I knew I was going to prison so I “took the weight.” I don’t bring this up. I just admit that I messed up in my past and have moved forward from it.

You’ll want to vocalize your skills, talk about what you can bring to the company. Discuss what you do well and how that relates to the position you are applying for. If you don’t have that many skills, and the felony question comes up, try to talk about what you learned while incarcerated. For example, say you were a cook in prison, say that you can work extremely well under pressure, work quickly, and deliver results. Try to talk about where you want to go in your life, if you feel you can fit that in without sounding too long-winded. Below I’ll give an example of how I have handled the question during an interview.

“I made mistakes when I was younger and had a substance abuse problem, and my history is a direct result of that. I’ve since gone through a long-term rehabilitation program and have been clean for over 8 years. I and am looking to build a better life for myself. Since I have been clean, I have worked as a freelance web developer, and feel that my skills I’ve honed through that would be beneficial to this company.”

Something of that nature personalized for you should work. Keep in mind, employers want to hear different answers to that question, so there is no completely right answer on what to say. Try to get an idea of what type of person the employer is, and try to figure out how they would like to hear that question answered. Do not lie to the employer just to tell them what you think they want to hear, this could end terribly in a multitude of different ways.[line]

Don’t Give Up!

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You’re going to be rejected. You’re going to have a lot of places that won’t call you back. You can’t give up even if your situation looks hopeless. Persistence will pay off in the end. If you do have an interview, send them an email thanking them for interviewing you. It shows that you really do care about a job. You will find employment, it might just take some time. Be patient, be persistent, and always look forward.

I wish you the best of luck in your journey, and hope that this article helped you. If it did, please like it and share it with people you feel may benefit from it. Thank you for reading.


125 responses to “Ex-offenders Employment: Finding a job with a felony”

  1. Cortez wilder

    Man I really appreciate this I needed this cuz I got a felony for theft and I done got rejected so many times but I’m still pushin!!

  2. ken stress

    I am just starting my search…I have a felony for theft…I am thankful for the advice….

  3. krystyn

    My 28 yr old boyfriend is on probation for a battery felony and currently is working for a temp warehouse job making $9 an hr. He is also in college and trying to find a better job. He just started getting down on himself and I stumbled across your website trying to find information on better jobs for him. I’m so glad someone took the time to make this site I hope it can help others and if anyone knows of places in Joliet, or Bolingbrook IL hiring please comment back. :)

  4. Ronald

    Never give up. I was convicted of Manslaughter and did 8 years of a 12 year sentence (released 1988). I worked hard at minimum wage jobs ($3.35 per hour). Volunteered at the YMCA in the evening as a counselor’s aide. Was given a full time job as a counselor after a year of volunteering. Presently I am the Director of Operations for a middle size not for profit organization. It takes determination, courage and commitment on your part to succeed. Don’t use your conviction as a crutch. Also planning and strategy is the key. If you fail to plan then plan to fail. Stop thinking of yourself an an ex offender but rather a returning citizen looking for employment just like thousands of others throughout the
    US. I could write all day from my experiences, but now it time for you to go to work.


    I am a three-time convicted felon who was released from prison nearly 20 years ago (1994). Even before I was released, I knew that I would land a job because, I also knew many people in the legal community, i.e. judges, lawyers, other paralegals like myself. Nevertheless, I landed a job with a popular criminal defense lawyer. He ran for a seat on the criminal court bench in 2006 and got himself elected as judge. Immediately afterward, he appointed me as his Law Clerk. From that point onward and for the next 11 years that I served in this capacity, I made sure that I kept myself clean and free from drugs and alcohol, law abiding, and I treated my profession (Paralegal) with honor and dignity. I was 36 years old when I was released from prison after spending eight years inside. This was my second prison stint. Since that time, I pursued and earned my credentials as a Certified Paralegal (NALA), a Louisiana Certified Paralegal (LSPA), and I have returned to school to earn my bachelor’s degree in Legal Studies. Once I have completed my degree, I plan to enter law school and earn a Juris Doctorate. I want to teach other paralegals, just as I taught several 3rd-year law students who worked their internships in criminal courts in New Orleans. In fact, becoming the first and only Law Clerk in New Orleans without a law degree or an undergraduate college degree did not phase me at all. I knew that I had the knowledge and skill set to do the job. But my biggest concern during those years was the prejudices that I felt along the way – a convicted felon working in the courts for an elected judge. Some lawyers and others displayed jealousies over the fact that someone like me could surpass them in employment, pay, and recognition as a highly skilled practitioner. Today I am an “A” student in college, and I can’t wait to enter law school. At age 56, I am still hungry and anxious to get this career of mine on an upward roll. I plan to become one of the best teachers (and perhaps one of the best lawyers) in this city. Hopefully, by age 60, I can walk into a courtroom and say “Lynell Desdunes, Sr., representing the defendant, Your Honor.” To all convicted felons, keep your chins up, keep on pushing for recognition of your skills and opportunities for acceptance into the mainstream of employment.

  6. Rodney

    I was convicted of a misdemeanor back on 2008 in NY for petty larceny ,I live in VA now and you would think I had a felony on my record, it been very hard to find employment, do I have to go to NY to apply for that Certificate of relief or can I apply on line

  7. Wanda B

    Are you sure its not the Certificate of relief from civil disibilities, that you can apply for at the NYC court in which the arrest occurred i find that a lot of employers ask and accept them, it is not an expungement ( the state of ny does not expunge records) it shows that you have been deemed rehabilitated by the state its sorta like a pardon in a way and its only given for misdemeanors and felons.

  8. Coernell Alston

    Have you ever heard of a Certificate of Qualification of Employment? If so can you tell me what to do to get one.

  9. Daniel Phelps

    it really is hard t o find a job but you have motivated me enuff to do it thanks for everything

    Daniel phelps

  10. David Tangerman

    I am so glad to see a site like this. I was convicted of a felony at 18 . Back in the 90’s. It’s harder now than it was back then to find employment with a conviction. I own my own business now and I’m doing well. Something I do is avoid doing business with those companies that don’t hire felons. Everyone needs a chance to start over. Good luck

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