Job Search Tips for Ex-Offenders, Part 2: The Interview

The Career Center recently presented a pair of job search seminars at a local correctional facility, focusing on the resume and the job interview for ex-offenders. Here are some of the greatest takeaways from those seminars. Read the first post in this series here.

Should I talk about having a criminal record in the interview?

  • It is crucial that you talk about your criminal record in the interview, even if they don’t bring it up. Why? Because they will run a background check and discover your criminal record, and if you haven’t prepared them for that, it will come as a nasty shock. Much better for you to talk about it in the interview, where you can explain the circumstances and reassure them that you’ve changed.
  • One hiring manager we spoke with explained, “If they tell me about the conviction in the interview, I can work with that. I can ask follow-up questions to figure out the details of their situation. I can give them the benefit of the doubt. But if they never tell me, and I find out from the background check, I feel like they were dishonest with me. I don’t appreciate that.”

Dos and don’ts of discussing your incarceration

  • DO: Bring up the incarceration early in the interview, maybe as part of your answer to the very first question, “Tell me about yourself.” Take responsibility for your mistakes. Tell a redemption story about your path to rehabilitation. Focus on the valuable skills and experience you gained while incarcerated. Emphasize your commitment to becoming a contributing member of society again.
  • DON’T: Spend too much time talking about the details of why you went to jail. Blame other people for your situation. Appear hostile or negative. Seem unrepentant for your crimes. Beg or seem desperate for any job. Neglect to convince them of your skills and qualifications for this job.

winning examples of interview answers

  • Tell me about yourself. As you can see from my resume, I’ve got several years of industrial experience. I spent a year as a warehouse technician, which involved operating a forklift and pallet jack, and another six months as a laborer on several different construction projects. After that, my career got derailed a little bit. I made a series of stupid mistakes and wound up in jail. While I was in jail, I realized what a mess I had made out of my life, and I felt ashamed. I decided to turn my life around. I wanted to make sure that I would never go to jail again, so I decided to learn new skills that would help me in the real world. I signed up for vocational training classes to learn new skills. I also worked as a mechanic at the prison for 3 years, which gave me a lot of experience working with my hands and with tools. I’m not afraid to work hard and get my hands dirty, and I think that all of these skills would be useful to your company.
  • Tell me about your criminal record. I was incarcerated for possession of narcotics. I was addicted to heroin, and was too stubborn and stupid to get help for my addiction. I feel like the conviction was justified. I didn’t think this at the time, but now I almost see it as a blessing in disguise. Because I hit rock bottom in jail. The first time my daughter saw me behind bars, I finally realized what I was doing to her. So I made a promise to myself that from then on, I was going to be someone she could be proud of. I enrolled in the prison’s drug rehab program and got clean. I started attending classes and vocational training, so I could be a valuable employee once I got out. I turned around my life and got paroled. Now that I’ve been released, I’m staying on the straight and narrow path. I’ve been drug-free for two years, I’m a deacon at my church, and my daughter is proud of me. If you hire me, I will put my skills and training, as well as my ambition to be a successful employee, to good use for your company.
  • Why should we hire a convicted felon? I can understand why you’d be hesitant to hire someone with my background. I know you’re probably worried that I’ll disappoint. But I’m not going to go back to my old, bad ways. I was young, foolish, and made a terrible mistake. But I decided to turn my life and attitude around. I took advantage of every educational, vocational training, and work opportunity available to me in prison. I now have clear goals, which including being a model employee for a successful company like this one. I have character references from my parole officer and pastor, both of whom would tell you that I am a changed man. If you have any doubts about me still, please hire me on a probationary status until I can prove to you that I am the best man for the job. Frankly, I plan to become your best employee within my first three months.

helpful resources

  • 70millionjobs.com, a job search website devoted entirely to companies willing to hire people with criminal records.
  • Goodwill Industries of Southeastern Louisiana, which has an ex-offender re-entry program offering free training and employment services.
  • The Capital Area Re-Entry Coalition
  • Any book by author Ronald Krannich, including The Ex-Offender’s Re-Entry Assistance Directory, The Ex-Offender’s Quick Job Hunting Guide, Best Resumes and Letters for Ex-Offenders, and The Ex-Offender’s Job Interview Guide. All of these books may be checked out from the East Baton Rouge Parish Library.
  • The Career Center (inside the Main Library at Goodwood, 7711 Goodwood Boulevard) can offer personalized assistance with job search strategies, online applications, resumes, and interviews.

Written by Lynnette Lee

Job Search Tips for Ex-Offenders, Part 1: The Resume and Application

The Career Center recently presented a pair of job search seminars at a local correctional facility, focusing on the resume and the job interview for ex-offenders. Here are some of the greatest takeaways from those seminars.

Should I include my criminal record on my resume?

  • You do not have to mention your incarceration at all on your resume. But be prepared to discuss it in the interview. The difference is, the interview will give you a chance to explain your record and ease the hiring manager’s worries. The resume will not.
  • If you don’t mention your incarceration on your resume, there will be a gap in your work history. You may need a functional resume to cover that gap.
  • If you gained valuable skills, education, or work experience in prison, you probably should put it on your resume. You may even be able to disguise it, so that it’s not obvious that you were incarcerated.
  • Whether or not you include your incarceration, make sure that your resume highlights the skills you have  which are most relevant to the jobs you’re applying for.

how can I disguise my incarceration on my resume?

  • Use the name of the state or parish, not the name of the prison, when listing work experience.
    Example: Landscaper, State of Louisiana, 2007 – present
  • Use the name of the contract company you worked for while incarcerated.
    Example: Cook, ACI Food Services, 2012 – present
  • Make it look like you work directly for the prison.
    Example: Program Clerk, Angola Prison, 2013 – 2017
  • For educational programs, use the name of the organization that provided your training.
    Example: GED, Adult Literacy Advocates, 2016

should I include my criminal record on the application?

  • Only mention your incarceration if they specifically ask about it. Since the passing of “Ban the Box” laws, a lot of applications no longer ask if you have a criminal record. If they don’t ask, don’t tell. The best time for you to discuss your criminal record is in the interview.
  • If they do ask about your criminal record, you must answer honestly. But don’t just say, “Yes.” Take the opportunity to explain your record. Don’t appear hostile, negative, or unrepentant. Don’t blame other people. Instead, take responsibility for your mistakes, and emphasize your path to rehabilitation.

helpful resources

  • 70millionjobs.com, a job search website devoted entirely to companies willing to hire people with criminal records.
  • Goodwill Industries of Southeastern Louisiana, which has an ex-offender re-entry program offering free training and employment services
  • The Capital Area Re-Entry Coalition
  • Any book by author Ronald Krannich, including The Ex-Offender’s Re-Entry Assistance Directory, The Ex-Offender’s Quick Job Hunting Guide, Best Resumes and Letters for Ex-Offenders, and The Ex-Offender’s Job Interview Guide. All of these books may be checked out from the East Baton Rouge Parish Library.
  • The Career Center (inside the Main Library at Goodwood, 7711 Goodwood Boulevard) can offer personalized assistance with job search strategies, online applications, resumes, and interviews.

Written by Lynnette Lee

Book Review: The Knack

The Knack by Norm Brodsky and Bo Burlingham is a must read for all small business owners and would-be entrepreneurs. Loaded with need-to-know information, this book gives straightforward, invaluable advice and walks its audience through real life situations that can help the astute reader to avoid the most common pitfalls of business development.

CREATING A BUSINESS PLAN

One recurring bit of sage advice was “Business is a means to an end.  Do a life plan before you make your business plan.”   Brodsky advises that you should prepare for a “long-term commitment.”   In doing your first business plan he lists four questions that should be answered as honestly as possible:

  • “What is the concept?”
  • “How are you going to market it?”
  • “How much do you think it will cost to produce and deliver what you’re selling?”
  • “What do you expect will happen when you actually go out and start making sales?”

Creating a good business plan will require a lot of research.  Doing your homework is another major ingredient to success.  Being able to speak passionately and knowledgeably about your business can be powerfully persuasive and completely necessary when explaining your concept to investors or potential clients.

THE KEYS TO SUCCESS

In the “X Factor” chapter, the authors’ advice can be summed up in one word:  Perseverance.  Rome wasn’t built in a day (or even a week), and thus the average entrepreneur can expect to put in several years of focused, dedicated sweat equity before taking a rest. One of the most important messages within this book is the idea of having an inherent ability to not give up when the going gets tough.

Along with perseverance, a successful entrepreneur must have an innate aptitude to sense customers’ needs and the flexibility to adjust accordingly.  Brodsky and Burlingham bring home that point in the chapter “Keeping and Losing Customers,” where they describe a complete failure in public relations and a really good save.

Internal customers are equally important to the success and failure of a business. The authors explain that “Your company’s culture can be your most powerful tool for finding and keeping great employees.”  This is beautifully illustrated in the retelling of Elsa the cat and her missing kittens, as it brings home how important the culture of a business is, and how seemingly unrelated moments can define a company’s culture.

If this sounds like the book for you, you may check it out from the East Baton Rouge Parish Library.

Written by Cynthia Payton

New Career Center Books

This month, the Career Center has gotten in several new titles about effective communication and presentation. You may place a hold on these titles at the East Baton Rouge Library website.

The Power of Presence: Unlock Your Potential to Influence and Engage Others
by Kristi Hedges

“Presence has many descriptions. We may call it confidence, or charisma, or being compelling – but we experience it the same. When we meet someone with a strong presence, we can feel it. And if the person is a leader, we are inspired by it.” Thus begins this book, dedicated to helping its readers develop their own presence. Its chapters contain tools, strategies, exercises, and personal stories from years of corporate experience. These tools are designed to help you improve your ability to connect, communicate, inspire, motivate, and impress.

You Said What?! The Biggest Communication Mistakes Professionals Make
by Kim Zoller and Kerry Preston

Putting your foot in your mouth in a professional setting can be more than simply embarrassing -it can hurt your career. Learn to polish your communication skills with these stories, including specialized sections on small talk, email, social media, communication styles, handling and giving feedback, and the most common blunders.

The Small Talk Handbook: Easy Instructions on How to Make Small Talk in Any Situation
by Melissa Wadsworth

Calling all introverts: this is the career book for you. You probably dread having to make conversation with people. Yet when used appropriately, small talk can be a powerful career tool for making connections, winning over clients, and impressing your superiors. This book contains concrete suggestions in such areas as: recognizing your natural conversation style, making a good first impression, finding icebreaker topics, remembering people’s names, and improving your body language. It covers settings from business meetings and trade shows to networking parties and luncheons.

Manners Boot Camp: Professional Courtesy
by Learning Zone Xpress

This one is not a book, but a DVD. It teaches a lot of the unwritten rules of proper office behavior which a first-time job-seeker may not know. Its topics include etiquette for the job interview, phone, and email, as well as an explanation of why manners are important in a work setting.

Written by Lynnette Lee