Ex-cons need to make their case when looking for work

Most people agree that job searching can be a challenge for individuals from all backgrounds. You have to research companies, contact potential employers and encourage at least one hiring manager to like you enough to offer you a job.

Yes, you have to make employers like you. Trust you. And appreciate the value that you will bring to the business. This is why it can be particularly difficult for people to find employment after their release from prison. Not only are certain jobs off-limits to past offenders, but companies can legally screen out candidates based on criminal history alone. Even if the violation doesn’t relate to the job.

Let’s say that you were convicted of a crime. While serving time, you earned a degree and actively pursued skills to help you succeed in the workplace. You were optimistic at first, but after your release you realized that landing a job is much harder than you expected. Not because of the economy. Not because you lack knowledge, skills or commitment. In your case, employers tell you exactly why they won’t hire you. They’re uncomfortable with your criminal record.

Don’t allow yourself to get discouraged. There are lots of employers seeking motivated, reliable job candidates (and it’s a fact that many ex-offenders make for truly dedicated employees). These companies need people for entry- and mid-level positions — and some of these opportunities have plenty of room for growth.

It might take extra effort to find these businesses, but they’re out there. Especially since there are attractive government incentives for businesses that hire individuals with criminal histories. Here are a few tips that may help with your job hunt:

Think like an employer: If you were a manager looking for a new employee, what kind of person would you hire? Probably someone who is dependable, trustworthy, friendly and has the right skills for the job. These are the specific attributes that you should showcase in your job search.

To create a positive impression with employers, always arrive on time. Dress appropriately for the meeting. Make eye contact. And write clearly on the job application or present a resume that lists your past experience, skills and training in a way that highlights your best qualities.

Talk to people: Keep in mind that it is generally easier to land a job when someone introduces you to the hiring manager (this applies to all job hunters, by the way, not just candidates with criminal histories). Since the majority of positions are filled through word-of-mouth, don’t be shy about discussing your professional goals with friends and acquaintances. Plus, the more people you meet, the more opportunities you will have to build relationships with prospective employers. Relationships open doors.

Be brief and honest in answering questions: It might be tricky to talk about your past, so prepare responses to tough questions ahead of time. Don’t lie, give excuses or provide too much detail regarding your conviction. Be brief and straightforward. Admit mistakes. Focus on what you’ve learned and describe the steps that you have taken to improve yourself. Make it clear that you are ready to move on with your life and you’re willing to work your tail off to get there.

Eve Nicholas: Eve.GetAJob@gmail.com.

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