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. Larry

    One thing I would like to add to this site a little bit of info I found out in my personal search. Check the laws in your home state. There are quite a few states where it is illegal for employers to even ask about criminal history and many other stipulations like only list convictions of the last 7 years and so on. Look on your states website for the information. You might get lucky I do know California and Connecticut have strict laws on what employers can and cannot ask at least in the initial process.

  2. Rob Kosica

    I’m struggling with the consequences of a marijuana felony conviction in 2016.
    One year ago i pleaded guilty to a felony cultivation/
    distribution charge that ended my 20 yr nursing career.
    I was very fortunate to have a close friend ask his supervisor to hire me for an entry level assembly position at a local manufacturing facility.
    It’s difficult to accept if I sit and dwell on the fact that my $60,000 /yr position has been replaced with a $14.50 / hr job.
    So i try not to let it get me down. But it does sometimes. I like to think that this job will a temporary necessity until I can figure a few things out in the next year or so. Over the years, my extensive clinical experience opened the door to some great opportunities in Sales and Marketing within the Healthcare industry. And while my nursing license is gone for good (realistically at age 48 and a 10 yr suspension handed down by the State Board of Nursing)
    I still carry those skill sets that leave the potential and possibility for a better job someday. The hurdle I need to overcome is the background check that is inevitable with any company hiring a selected candidate for a Sales and Marketing position. I’ve seen differnt law firms through google seaches that offer background cleaning services for a significant fee. If anyone readingthis can provide some input in regards to these legal services it would be greatly appreciated. They claim to have the ability to remove your background information from the top 30 companies that HR Depts use for employee screening.
    If that is true does it allow you to check the no box for the felony question on employment applications and feel confident you’re not going to be caught in a lie??
    I’ve owned my mistakes..and I’ve made peace with myself over those mistakes I’m half way through my 2 year probation sentence and I want to move past this period in my life and hope to be at least half of what I once was. When I thought I could save my nursing license I voluntarily entered into a 28 day rehab facility with a peer group of other nurses. I was the only one in that group not guilty of stealing patient medication for personal use. I rolled thru a stop sign any just happened to have 2 pounds of pot in my trunk. Those junkie nurses all got to keep their license and careers but I didn’t. None of them had to plead to a felony to avoid jail time. Half were even criminally charged.
    This is our society.
    I’ve been beaten down but I’ve always been a good nurse and never worked under the influence of anything but compassion and empathy for those entrusted in my care.
    But it is what it is and I apologize for the rant but I have difficulty excluding it from my story.
    If you’re struggling with life after a felony conviction you’re not alone. I am as well
    Thank You for reading this
    Rob K

  3. Joseph

    Thanks,to all of you and this site. I was an insurance agent Charge with fraud, needless to say i’ve lost my licence to practice. I had a great job with a reputable insurance company, lost that job also, lost my family, I am now alone , no money to get by. Terribly scare for the future to come. I made a mistake of trusting someone who committed the crime and now i’m paying for it. There’s not a day that goes by without me only thinking of ending it all. I’m hoping that God would help me. But now I see that I have to help myself in order to carry on one step at a time. Thanks.

  4. Harley

    Loved reading this. Thanks for the great advice!

  5. Dawn Whitfield

    GM Mr. Desdunes
    I pray that all is well. As I prepare for service this morning, I found myself on line reading your testomony. My husband is up for the Board for the 3rd time. He’s done 24 years for crime he didn’t commit. We are truly believing this is our season of “sweet release”. As I read this article im led to ask you personally, are you willing to be the door for my husband the same way someone was the door for you?
    All it takes is God’s hand and a willing vessel.
    It would benefit my husband to have a letter offering him a job opportunity upon release. Are you or anyone affiliated with you willing?
    My husband is 45 years old. He’s obtain his GED, barbering, asbestos , land scaping, and several hours of drug rehabilitation.
    It is time that he’s given a chance to prove himself in this world.
    I am 48 years old. I work as a manager for the NYC Parks Department for over 20 years. I also work diligently in ministry in several churches.
    Romans 8:28 declares all things are working together for our good… im believing I was led to this story this morning in purpose and pursuit of great possibility!!
    God Bless

  6. Kristen

    This website gives me a little hope. I’m almost done with my BA in social work but can’t afford the last semester. I work a shitty job as a supervisor at wendys but they only seem to promote Thier family or own people. I hate. I try to say it’s temporary but I need a better job that lets me spend more time with my daughter cause I’m a single mother. Unfournultly every opportunity I get they background check and see my many felonies . I did time but I’ve been clean and out of trouble for close to 5 yrs. anyway just needed to get that off my chest

  7. Kurt

    Thanks for your words of encouragement. I have just recently started looking for work. I have been one of those felons that have not looked for work because I feel like I would not get hired. I want a career. I worked since I was 15. Got a felony when i was 18. Got a job at a doing concrete work but I wanted more. Joined the army when they would of took your grandmother to Iraq in in 2006. Left military in 2012. Did 4 years of college with my Va benefits. I have not looked for a job ever since. Wife works but I see it is hard for her not to think of me as garbage even though i take care of the little ones and have supported her for years. I feel ashamed for not being able to let my wife be the homemaker. Started applying online at some of the big chain stores around here. I like the idea of creating a list of businesses near home. Hopefully my honorable discharge will help my odds. Probably not. Darn it, suppose to think positive.Good luck, fellow felons.


    On this website/blog more than two years ago, I expressed that I spent 8 years behind the wall for non-violent crimes. Only three days after returning home from prison, I acquired work in criminal court system that sent me away. For the next 13 years I worked in that court, including 11 years as a Law Clerk to an elected judge. From there, I worked for the local district attorney (who happened to be the former judge who sentenced me to prison). I worked for 7 years as a paralegal in the DA’s office which employs 50-60 attorneys and approximately 100 other support staffers. Recently, I landed a job as a hearing officer in the local jail. I conduct disciplinary hearings for inmates accused of rule violations. I bring a wealth of knowledge of both the court system and the penal system. During these years, I earned an A.S. in Paralegal Studies, a B.S. (Cum Laude) in Legal Studies, and was accepted into Law School. Having a criminal history doesn’t necessarily mean that one cannot find gainful and meaningful employment. You have to be diligent, skilled at your specific craft, and convince those decision-makers that you can provide valude to their operation. Turn those negatives into positives. I studied law on my own and through my experiences from the age of 19 to 36. I was 36 when I was released from prison the last time. Now I am 58, and still striving for higher ground. I plan to shoot for a Master’s Degree in Legal Studies in addition to a Juris Doctorate. I do not want to practice law – even if my state allowed me to take the bar exam. I would rather teach paralegals and other law students or criminal justice students, or individuals who work in the field. So, to the brothers and sisters who have a criminal history, be encouraged. You can turn the corner. You let your history define you, or you can let it serve you by giving you the skills to achieve goals. Be encouraged.

  9. Jon V

    Tell him he needs to apply for everything regardless if he’s qualified or not.

  10. Mr.Waller

    Wow!! this site has been a blessing.I ended up getting a felony charge while I was in college studying for my Masters Degree.I was only put on probation for 1 year.Although I didnt do any time in jail,its still been difficult finding work in my field.Im truly inspired by reading other testimonies.Be encouraged

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