Job Search Tips for Returning Citizens


Finding a job can be difficult for anyone, but finding a job with a criminal record can be extremely difficult and disheartening. I know, I have been there myself. However, what I found was that I was actually making my job search harder than it had to be. In my mind I was focused on my conviction and how I felt others would perceive that conviction either before, during, or after an interview. More importantly though I was consumed by how my friends and family felt about the conviction. What I learned though is that when I faced my fears and stopped letting my conviction hold me back the opportunities poured in. Regardless, finding a job with a criminal conviction is a tiring process and you are going to have the door closed on you more often than not, but here are some tips I found along the way that helped me land a job:

1. Don’t sell yourself short.

This is critical and the best tip I can give you personally. Just because you have a criminal record does not automatically disqualify you from every job. Go for the jobs you want, not just the ones you think want you. The minute you give up hope and think that you are only qualified for certain jobs now that you have a criminal record you are giving up on yourself. I am not discounting taking any job to get back on your feet, but just don’t think that because you have a criminal record that nobody is going to hire you. Aim for the stars and keep trying. For example, I have seen doctors go to federal prison for prescription fraud, get released and find jobs working in medical or other scientific labs. They are able to utilize their medical and science background, without having patient interaction or the requirement for licensing. Think outside the box and find similar jobs in related fields.

2. Never give up, finding a job with a criminal record will be hard.

Nobody said this was going to be easy, but the minute you give up is when that dream job passes you by. If you try and don’t give up, you will succeed in finding a job. It may not be the first one you apply to, but you will find one. Even if it is not your dream job, take it! Every job can be a stepping stone to the next better job. You have to start somewhere and sometimes that means at the beginning. If you were a warehouse manager before, don’t be afraid to take that job pulling boxes or packing trucks. My first full-time job post conviction was a line cook. I worked hard, built trust, was promoted and went on to managing a multi-million dollar restaurant responsible for thousands of dollars worth of transactions daily all with a conviction for theft.

3. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Your family, friends, previous employers and co-workers need to become your best friends during the job search. Reach out to everyone you know. The old saying of “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know” applies when you are trying to find a job with a criminal record. Family, friends, and past employers can all be the lead you need to finding a job. This also relates to #11 below.

4. Be honest with yourself and others.

If you were arrested for theft or fraud the chances of getting a job as a bank teller are going to be very slim. Know your conviction, and understand what jobs you can reasonably apply for. But also keep in mind #1 above, don’t sell yourself short. Like I said above, I had a theft conviction and was able to prove I could be trusted with thousands of dollars in cash and credit cards on a daily basis. Also, if someone asks you about your background, be upfront and honest. Lying about your background will only hurt relationships and decrease employment opportunities. You are turning a new leaf in your life and to start turning that leaf with a lie will get you nowhere fast.

5. Be open to career changes or new ideas.

While you are looking for a job, use your downtime to further your education or explore other careers. There are plenty of online resources for learning and many are free. Take advantage of any employer sponsored training. The more initiative you show towards turning your life around, the more attractive you become to an employer. Even after you are hired always look for new opportunities, even if they are in different departments or groups. Being able to adapt and find opportunities on your own will only further your career.

6. Talk to your attorney.

Often times when you are arrested you will have a thousand charges thrown at you. In the end though you may only formally be convicted of one or two of those charges and the rest will be dropped. Some states will allow you to have the charges that were dropped removed from your criminal record. As each state is different you will need to speak with your own attorney or an attorney in your state familiar with the criminal laws and/or having your record expunged. There may be a waiting period, but in the end if you can reduce your criminal record from ten pages to one with a simple court filing than by all means do so.

7. Dress for success.

When you get a job interview, no matter where, for who, or even if you already know the person interviewing you, dress as if you are going to the nice dinner. Even though you may be wearing jeans and a t-shirt to work every day, doesn’t mean you need to show up for the interview dressed that way. This doesn’t necessarily mean you need to wear a suit, wearing nice jeans with a nice shirt and shoes, and possibly a tie can go a long way towards landing that job.

8. Apply for every job you can.

Apply for every job you can possibly apply for. The more jobs you apply for the better your chances are. This relates to #1 and #2 above. Don’t sell yourself short and don’t give up. Even if you don’t get the job, the more experience you get with interviews and answering tough questions about your background the better off you will be. In addition, you never know who you will meet or what opportunities may present themselves. You may apply for one job only to ace the interview and be offered a different or better job.

9. Be professional.

Whatever you do, do not show up late for the interview. If the employer is normally 15 minutes from your house, leave at least an hour before your interview. This is especially true if you are driving yourself and will need to find parking. If you are early, use the time to walk around, see if you can see other employees and how they are working. Does it look like a place you would want to work? Also, if you smoke, either do not smoke before you go into the interview or bring some gum and a little cologne or perfume to mask the smell. If the interviewer does not smoke the last thing they want to smell is someone that smells like they just got out of a chimney (you know the smell I am referring to). I smoked for well over 20 years before I quit and it is amazing to me now that my sense of smell is coming back stronger how many things smell like smoke and how bad it really does smell. Also see #7 above and #12 below.

10. Be ready to work.

When you do get the job, be ready to work. You don’t need to be a kiss ass, but be willing to put in the time and show that you are a hard worker. Volunteer for extra shifts when you can and show the boss you will go the extra mile. Take any available training and look for promotion opportunities. Even if you hate the job, this is your chance to show that your background is a thing of the past and you are ready to turn a new leaf.

11. Don’t burn bridges.

If the job ends up not working out for you, leave on good terms and do NOT burn the bridge with co-workers or your boss. You never know when your paths may cross again. Plus you will want a glowing reference from them when you go for your next interview.

12. Don’t drink or do drugs.

I know this is easier said than done for some, but it can mean the difference. If alcohol and/or drugs are your thing, first and foremost do not go to the interview intoxicated. If you do have an alcohol and/or drug problem and are offered a job, try to be as upfront with the employer as possible. If you are in rehab tell them that. Having an open and honest line of communication with your employer about these issues can be the difference between keeping your job and getting fired for being late. In addition, some employers may offer support or other programs to help you on your path to recovery.

Bonus: 13. Know your rights and your background.

This doesn’t mean to show up at an interview demanding the employer hire you because they have to. But just because you have a criminal record does not give anyone the right to take advantage of you. Some states limit what jobs can run background checks and for what period they can look back. Federal civil rights laws apply to hiring individuals with arrests or convictions. And many states and cities have started enacting ban the box laws. Knowing what laws apply in your state can go a long way to protecting yourself from being taken advantage of.

Also, be ready to discuss your background. Be honest about it. If the employer runs a background check and already knows what they are going to find this starts to build a foundation of trust for them.

Most importantly though, never give up hope. You can and will find a job.