If You Have Been To Prison, And Are Looking For Employment, Make Sure And Ask The Right Questions In Your Job Interview.
SUMMARY: I frequently get calls from defendants who struggle to find employment after prison. Given all of the ancillary consequences that accompany a felony conviction, it makes sense that finding employment may be difficult. In this blog, I offer strategies felons can use to improve their chances of getting hired. Those chances improve if we start asking the right questions. Sound good? Let’s get started…
Disclosure: Generally speaking, at Prison Professors we favor being upfront and clear about your past. By disclosing your past, we think you’ll build trust with potential employers and find out if the new role is a good match for you. It may not always be a match, but in the long run, we believe disclosing your past, as opposed to living in the shadows and hoping they do not find out, is a better strategy. Like anything you must use your own judgment and determine what is best for YOU: hence the term “generally speaking.”
#1 – Ask 3 Questions In A Job Interview -“Does your company have a formal policy that precludes hiring convicted felons?”
“But why would I ask them this question, Justin?”, I have been asked. “If I ask them this it will give away that I am a felon. Maybe if I do not disclose my past they will never find out. Maybe I will never have to talk about, and by bringing it up I disqualify myself at once,” I also hear.
As I wrote above, we believe disclosing it is the best option. If they do not find out initially, you may always wonder, “What if they find out.” You will never be at ease and it is tough to thrive at work when one is uncomfortable.
If it comes up, be prepared to share valuable lessons you learned during your prison term. If you plead guilty, do not offer excuses about your conduct.
What did you do in federal prison?
Perhaps you educated yourself in prison, helped others, beat an addiction or developed skills that you KNOW would be of value to an employer. If you have, be proud of your accomplishments. Be proud that you used your time inside widely. Rather than watching television all day or playing ping pong, you worked hard in federal prison. Let them know…
I start with question one because it puts you on the offensive. Instead of waiting and wondering, “wow are they going to ask if I have a conviction,” you can get there right out of the gates. Plus, if they immediately tell you they would never hire you, you save time. Move on.
If they are not interested in hiring you over your past, YOU DO NOT WANT THEM ANYWAYS! They are not worthy of you. Again move on…
The goal, of course, is that the interviewer becomes intrigued and wants to learn more about you. It is important you spend time telling your story in a way that covers the pertinent facts–do not get bogged down in every detail. You may only have a few minutes.
I know from personal experience it might feel uncomfortable to bring this up during an interview. But it will ultimately help you in the long run. Additionally, most businesses run background checks: if you don’t ask about restrictive policies it will come up as a result of looking at your record. Have an open discussion with the interviewer about your situation. If their business doesn’t have any limiting policies, discuss how you plan to move forward and your future goals as they relate to your potential new position.
# 2 – Ask 3 Questions In A Job Interview: Do you know about the Work Opportunity Tax Credit?
Sell the benefits!! Some employers might not know there are tax benefits associated with hiring convicted felons. I worked for a real estate company when I was at the Vinewood Halfway House in Hollywood, CA. I sold the tax credit. The Work Opportunity Tax Credit is available for employers who hire felons within one year of their release date; they stand to gain up to $2,400 in tax credits per new hire. This could be potentially advantageous for you to bring up during an interview, although you want to supplement this benefit by discussing the other great qualities you bring to the table. By discussing your work history and any classes or educational programs you may have undergone while in prison, you’re providing a well-rounded package for consideration.
#3 – Ask 3 Questions In A Job Interview: Ask detailed questions about the role
You don’t want the entire interview to revolve around your incarceration. Do your research ahead of time and draft up any questions you have about the company and the position. Some questions to include are: What does a typical day look like for this position? Does this role come with benefits? What opportunities for growth exist at the company? In addition to making sure the employer knows about your past, you want to let them know that you’re looking toward the future.
You don’t know how a potential employer will react when they learn about your felony conviction, but you can prepare to the best of your ability. Research the role, think of any potential questions you may have, and practice the interview with a loved one if possible. Although it might take a few interviews for you to find the role that’s right for you, with enough preparation, you will find a fulfilling job. If I did it, so can you!
Michael Santos and I are going to film a series of video on this subject. For now, I wanted to start with this short blog. Please feel free to call or text 818-424-2220 with any questions. Also, make sure and grab one of our free e-books, Lessons From Prison.