You Can’t Change Your Past
In this section:
- Felony Convictions and Jail Time
- Laid Off: Now What?
- So You Were Fired?
- Credit Scores and Job Offers
Felony Convictions and Jail Time
Finding a job with a stellar background isn’t always a breeze, so it’s no wonder that the process is all the more challenging when coupled with a felony conviction and jail time. For most ex-convicts, securing employment is critical to staying out of prison and building a positive future.
We often receive emails like this: “I made a few mistakes and wound up in jail because of a felony conviction. I have a good education and several years of experience, but due to the felony I’m unable to find a job. I know I am not the only one who faces this when they are released from jail. My issue is without employment I can not make restitution which will keep me from returning to jail. I also have a child to think about as well. If you have any advice, please let me know.”
The best advice starts first and foremost with helping you cultivate an attitude that’s primed for success.
Exude confidence. Personality and passion can often compensate for lack of solid work history and lack of specific skills. An employer can teach you how to perform the necessary functions of your job, but they can’t teach you passion for the work. You must bring that to anything you do and you must be confident in your abilities at all times.
Think positively. Stay in the right frame of mind: you have to believe it in order to achieve it. Stay positive and believe that you have the ability to go beyond your current situation. You’ll face rejection because that’s a normal part of the job search process. You’re not alone. Everyone experiences rejection. Some people sulk, while others brush it off and carry on.
Banish negativity. Don’t let negativity hold you back from success. Surround yourself with positive people and don’t let your environment make you or bring you down. If you allow naysayers to fill your head with pessimism, you’ll find it very difficult to succeed. Keep positive thoughts at the top of your mind as you look to achieve your goals.
Promote yourself. Sell yourself with enthusiasm and specific facts. Focus on all of the things you are good at and make sure you portray them to others. Create your own sales pitch. Practice, practice, practice! The more you do, the easier it will be to do it in front of prospective employers. Learn about how to create your pitch HERE.
Reinvent yourself. Create a new outlook on your life and your career. Figure out what it is you want to do and what you’re passionate about. Research and know all about it. The goal is to make potential employers see what it is that you want to be and not what you used to be.
Since attitude alone isn’t enough to overcome the barriers of a felony conviction, we’ve put together a list of organizations in select states that focus specifically on working with individuals to secure employment upon release. We have no affiliation with these organizations; these are only provided as resources for you to pursue independently. Since everyone’s circumstance is different, we suggest that you check with multiple outlets to determine which might be best suited to assist with your needs. If your state isn’t listed here, contact your local government to find out more information about programs and services available to you in your area.
REMEMBER: Women For Hire is rooting for your success!
Center for Reconciliation and Social Change
American Friends Services Committee
Legal Advocacy for Incarcerated Mothers
Inner-City Muslim Action Network
Lutheran Social Services of Illinois
Springfield Employment and Training Centers
Action for Boston Community Development
American Friends Services Committee
Community Resources for Justice
American Friends Services Committee
Sanford Bates House New Brunswick
Aids Related Community Services
American Friends Services Committee
Center for Employment Opportunities
Episcopal Social Services Bronx
Episcopal Social Services Manhattan
Women’s Prison Association and Home
Inmate Families Organization Inc.
Offender Preparation and Education Network
Restorative Justice Ministry Network
Center for Multicultural Human Services
Kingsway Prison and Family Outreach
Offender Aid & Restoration Richmond
Offender Aid & Restoration Arlington County
Offender Aid & Restoration Fairfax County
Richmond Community Action Program
Corrections reentry Transition
Don’t be Embarrassed by the Loss of a Job
Today, the stigma of being laid off has diminished and employers no longer see your “laid off” status as a reflection of poor job performance. It is quite common for companies to downsize, and it doesn’t necessarily reflect the actions of the employee they cut. Time are rough! Do not feel this is something you need to hide or feel ashamed of, especially in our current recessed economy.
Wish your coworkers good luck. Leave on an optimistic and positive note. Do not act as though you are being fired. You want to secure as many contacts and future references as possible.
Get on the phone. Send out a mass emailing and inform friends and business contacts why you were laid off before they receive misinformation from another source. Let everyone know how they can reach you in the future and what kinds of positions you hope to pursue.
Do not encourage people to feel sorry for you. Pity will not earn you the respect you need to get a job.
Take people up on their offers. Especially in the beginning, people will offer to take you to lunch and send news your way. This is a golden networking opportunity that you should take advantage of while it lasts.
Wait for the one you want. Avoid the temptation to take any job offer that comes your way because you’re afraid of not having a job. Clearly finances play an important role, but if you accept something that makes you miserable, you’ll be unemployed again in no time.
Plan something positive to keep your spirits up. The weekend after your last day, go on a trip or a shopping spree. If you’re watching your budget, spend the day relaxing in a museum. This will refresh your energy.
Establish a daily routine until you have your next position. Include “work hours” when you will search for jobs and assign yourself tasks. Set realistic goals such as when you will have your résumé complete, how many letters you will send out each day, and when you should have your first interview.
You Got Canned
Maybe you weren’t a strong performer. Perhaps you were late too often. Or it might have been that you did something more serious or even illegal. Even though you had the rug pulled out from under you, you’re by no means the first person to be fired. You can get back on your feet. It’s time for some damage control.
Have a pity party for no more than a week. It’s okay to pull the “woe-is-me” stunt, but only for a short time. Then get up, dust yourself off, and get moving.
Be honest with yourself. It does no good to kid yourself into thinking you were innocent. You were fired for a reason even if it’s as simple a reason as somebody higher up didn’t like you. To move on with your career, you must figure out exactly what that reason was so you can correct the problem. Was it a one-time thing, or do you have a history of certain negative behavior?
Take the initiative to fix the problem. Fired for alcohol abuse? Begin rehab or find help through a program immediately. Take care of yourself and your personal challenges before attempting to regain your employment. Fired for showing up late every day? Take a course in time management and purchase three alarm clocks. When you go in for future interviews, it will look much better if you have at least sought help for your problem and taken responsibility for your actions.
Be straight with future employers. More than likely you will be asked in interviews why you left your previous position. Don’t lie. It’s possible to verify this information. State in the most positive way you can the reason you were fired. If you continuously missed work, consider saying, “I was terminated because it was challenging to manage my time effectively. I didn’t have a good work/life balance and failed at juggling all of my responsibilities. Since then, I’ve taken time management courses and I’ve experienced a dramatic improvement with terrific satisfaction in this area.” If you were fired for a personality conflict, tell the interviewer that, while you’re very proud of the work you did at your last job, the office culture just wasn’t a good fit for you.
Resist the temptation to bash your former boss. Maybe you got the pink slip because you spoke up against someone who was cooking the books. Even though you took the honest, ethical road, you paid a hefty price. Instead of trashing the boss, simply tell prospective employers that you recognized some things that didn’t seem kosher so you opted to speak up instead of staying silent – and you’d do it again because you place a high premium on ethics. Do not reveal the details. If asked, you can say you’d rather not reveal confidential information about your former employer, but that this characterizes the incident that led to your dismissal. Offer solid references who will back up your stellar performance.
Get creative. If you have been fired repeatedly, or committed a serious act, you will have to take a few steps back and try again. Ask friends, family, and networking contacts if you could work for them for a probationary period at low pay. Consider freelancing. Take what you can get and slowly rebuild your trustworthiness the old-fashioned way.
Money History a Problem?
We all know that our personal credit history affects our ability to secure a home loan or open an account at a department store. But most Americans are unaware that bad credit could cost them a job. Many employers use credit history as a tool in their pre-employment screening as just one measure of judgment and character. If you can’t manage your financial obligations, they wonder if it’s a sign of irresponsibility. If your monthly debt payment is higher than your salary, some employers worry that it may distract from your performance.
If you have poor credit, it doesn’t automatically mean you’re unemployable. You should focus on three steps so you don’t lose out on positions.
Check your credit report. Even if you’re not actively job searching, everyone should know what’s in their credit report. Under federal law, you have the right to receive a free copy of your credit report once every 12 months from each of the three nationwide consumer reporting companies.
(Visit www.annualcreditreport.com to access those reports.) Don’t bury your head; if you have problems with your credit or you find mistakes on the report, address them immediately with creditors and the reporting company. This will come in very handy should you find yourself looking for work.
Ask the employer’s policy. When it comes to job searching, avoid bringing up the subject of your credit history during the interview process. There’s no need to knock yourself out of the running prematurely. When you receive an offer that’s contingent on a background check, ask about the policy directly by saying, “I’m thrilled at the prospect of working here. What is your policy on background checks? I’d like to know what specific screenings you use and the general timeframe for that process.” At this point, they’ve said they want you, so you’re in a good position to ask such a question with relative ease. Most employers will gladly walk you through their process.
Speak up with confidence. If an employer says the background screening includes a credit check – and you’ve seen the negative activity on your credit report – then you should consider speaking up. You can say, “I’d like to tell you in advance what you’re likely to find on my personal credit report. Please allow me the opportunity to explain it, too.” It’s important to have a solid rationale. Maybe you hit a challenge because of an unexpected layoff, a divorce, a medical necessity, or a problem with your mortgage. Maybe there are mistakes on your report that you’re working to fix.
Talking about personal credit can be embarrassing and difficult for anyone – you’re not alone – so at that awkward this moment it’s essential to have a clear, confident explanation that you’ve rehearsed. You don’t want to babble or look like a deer in the headlights when explaining why you have a complicated credit history. Speaking up at the right moment can make or break the job opportunity.