It used to be that, if you were incarcerated for a felony, your chances of finding a job were as elusive as the proverbial needle in the haystack.
It was a Catch 22: you were obligated to reveal that you’d been convicted, but the fact that you shared this information right away usually cost you the position you were interviewing for.
Since 2013, however, things have become a tad easier for ex-felons who have made the decision to turn their lives around.
Ex-felons who have served their time and want to get back on track will find less of an obstacle to doing so.
It’s simple: You’ve acknowledged your mistake; you’ve served the time that the law deemed prudent, and now you need a job.
Practically speaking, you’re wondering if you can even get one.
The answer will surprise you.
You already know that a job won’t be handed to you on a silver platter. You’re going to have to pound the pavement and face rejection.
However, if you persevere and approach the job search in an enlightened manner, you’ll eventually get a job. Absolutely.
Before you head out there, you’ll need to know what to expect when your would-be employers ask about your background.
Details of the Law Pre-2013 – Sealed Records
If you were looking for work five or so years ago and you had two convictions—even if either or both were NOT criminal offenses—neither one of these two convictions could be sealed.
If sealed, your record is not actually expunged– which treats an offense as if it never existed. Instead your record is, for all intents and purposes, inaccessible to those doing a background check.
Likewise, if anyone (a lawyer, etc.) were to go to a courtroom and try to find such a record, she or he would not be able to do so.
So what’s the deal with the new law, and how does it help?
The Law Now – New Accessibility
Due to the new regulation, the door to employment has been opened a bit wider for the one-in-four Americans who have a criminal issue which limits their ability to seek employment.
Additionally, ex-felons can now have an easier time of finding financial assistance and housing—two arenas where background checks are commonly carried out.
In essence, the law states that more people can qualify to have their records sealed.
Note: Some offenses can’t be sealed; this depends on their severity, and whether you’d be deemed to be a danger to society.
Do keep in mind that, if you fall into bad habits again, law enforcement can and will tap those sealed records. The courts would be able to rely on this information when deciding whether to re-incarcerate you, and for how long.
Also – and this varies from state to state – even with sealed records, there are certain government agencies which would have access to such information.
If you ever needed one more incentive to keep your nose clean, this one’s it.
Guidelines to Keep In Mind –
Here’s how the new rule works: you can’t have more than two convictions. Don’t try to rationalize the type or size of conviction. There will be no excusing more than two.
“Ban the Box”
An additional law, nicknamed “Ban the Box”, is being picked up by certain states and is seen as a boon for ex-offenders who, if given a chance, have much to offer employers. In essence, the law would enforce (and restrict) initial disclosure of an applicant’s criminal background.
The “Box” referred to alludes to the section on an employment form which asks applicants to disclose whether they’ve ever been convicted of a crime.
Keep in mind that there are no rules which will forbid the eventual disclosure – unless your record has been sealed or expunged—but the “Ban the Box” order would allow you to make an impression before having to disclose the past.
Where are “Ban the Box” rules in effect?
Even ‘though the idea has been bandied about for years, it’s starting to get some play. Ten states have adopted it (with a few states prohibiting disclosure only for public employees).
More important, 60 cities have adopted their own version of the law. These cities include New York, New Orleans, Jacksonville, Austin, Detroit, Philadelphia, Seattle, Cleveland, Oakland, Indianapolis, Pittsburgh, Louisville, Tampa and Kansas City.
Here are a few helpful hints regarding employment searches:
1. Always remember to be grateful for your job once you get it. Show your employer that you appreciate his or her trusting you. Go overboard to display integrity. Overwhelm your boss with intelligent honesty. What do I mean by that? You don’t need to “go there” completely. No need to rehash details either about your own errors or anyone else’s. Focus on what you plan to do in the near and far future—and make sure that all your actions are strictly within the boundaries of what’s acceptable…and what’s legal.
2. Consider temp work. It’s often a stepping-stone to permanent employment.
3. Don’t let sour grapes be your attitude.
4. Grab an entry-level job if it’s offered.
5. Play up how much you made the best of a bad situation while serving time. Did you take classes? Go to school? Do library research? Read scholarly books you NEVER would have thought of reading otherwise? Did you join a group of religionists or a fellowship? Did you major in studies which made you see the light in more ways than one? Have you counseled? In other words, are you a much better person, in some ways, than you were before? Don’t underestimate how important it will be to expound on this when you’re selling yourself.
6. Remember that the hiring manager doesn’t know you from Adam. The onus is on you to convince the interviewer that you are every bit as capable of handling the job as someone who does not have a record…and every bit as trustworthy.
7. Tell your interviewer exactly HOW you’d be able to handle the job. Go into detail. Don’t lapse into street lingo. Be articulate.
Many ex-offenders have been able to take on the role of law-abiding and productive members of society. Don’t let your life pass you by; take the bull by the horns and set your goals as high as you’re allowed to.