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    Find a Job if You Have a Criminal Background


    I’ve been in prison for four years and have six months to go before I’m released. I’m already starting to worry about finding a job when I get out. How can I get back to work when even people with clean records and a great résumé are having trouble finding employment? – Wes from Nashville, TN


    You’re not alone in your situation. More than 650,000 people are released from prison every year, many of whom are attempting to turn their lives around and get back into the workforce.  While people with criminal backgrounds can face a harder-than-average time finding a job, there are several things you can do to give yourself an advantage.

    • Get Started Now You don’t have to wait until you’re released from prison to begin preparing for your next job. Take advantage of vocational rehabilitation, education or work programs available in your facility. If you have an opportunity to work on your GED, that’s a step in the right direction. Not only will you gain skills that increase your chance of finding a job, you’ll also show future employers your commitment to bettering yourself. Plus, the connections you make could earn you the referral or recommendation that convinces an employer needs to give you a chance.
    • Understand Your Rights Familiarize yourself with your state’s laws about what employers can and cannot ask on a job application or in an interview. Some states, for example, prohibit employers from asking questions about arrests not leading to conviction. Others only allow employers to inquire about criminal convictions which occurred during a certain timeframe (e.g. the past 10 years). Select your state from the drop-down on this site and scroll to the employment section to find out about specific laws in your state.
    • Make a Good First Impression If you have the opportunity to attend a job fair or interview with an employer, be as professional in your appearance as possible, including wearing conservative clean clothing, and a fresh haircut and shave. Goodwill and other thrift stores offer very affordable shopping locations for job search and work clothing.
    • Be Honest about Your Background If an employer asks you a question that you are legally required to answer, be straightforward and use the details listed on your criminal record to answer the question. Avoid giving lengthy explanations, which may sound like excuses to an employer. Take responsibility for what happened and then use the opportunity to explain what you learned and showcase the positive changes you’ve made since that time.
    • Focus on Your Positive Attributes Don’t let your criminal background become the focus of the conversation – be sure to talk about the positive qualities and skills that you can bring to the organization. Employers want to hire the best person for the job, and if you can prove your abilities, they may be willing to overlook your criminal record.
    • Network Yourself to Your Next Job You’ve no doubt heard that networking is important when looking for a job, and it can be crucial to finding employment with a criminal background. If you make a good first impression with an employer you meet face-to-face, he or she may be willing to give you a chance they otherwise wouldn’t have if they only saw your application or résumé.

    Most importantly, don’t feel like you have to tackle this all on your own. At Goodwill, we believe that everyone deserves a second chance. Many local agencies offer services to men, women and youth who have served time and are trying to get their lives back on track.

    Visit our page for people with criminal backgrounds to read more about our services and hear the success stories of people we’ve served, then speak to an employment specialist for help getting started:

    contact the Goodwill in your community

    Brad Turner-Little
    GII Director of Mission Strategy
    Read More Posts By This Author

    Your comment will be held for moderation until approved. For questions about Goodwill programs and services, please use our locator and contact your nearest Goodwill headquarters.

    • Vicki Henry
      January 11th, 2012 at 8:49 pm

      We are making a list of companies who will hire a registrant. That term refers to a sexual offender. There are over 763,000 men, women and children (as young as 8 in some states) on the registries. The offenses that can land a person on the registry ranges from urinating in public, streaking, mooning, sexting, viewing suggestive or abusive images of someone up to age 18 (not knowing the true age of a person is not defensible), false accusations, to gain custody in a divorce, an angry ex-girlfriend, or even a spiteful student, Romeo & Juliet consensual sexual relationships, prostitution, solicitation, incest, molestation and rape. If you take that 763,000 and multiply it by 3 or 4 family members you will quickly see there are well over 2,000,000 wives, children, mothers, aunts, girlfriends, grandmothers and other loved ones suffering the collateral damage caused by the punitive Congressional requirements of a public registry. The collateral damage comes about in the form of harassment, beatings, ridicule, having signs placed in their yard, being asked to leave their church, children asked to leave organizations that help them develop into happy, productive and confident citizens, the wives sometimes lose their jobs because they are married to a registrant, neighbors sometimes place flyers on the doors of those living in a wide radius of the family. So, my question becomes how is a family supposed to survive, stay together, support a loved one and help them return as a productive member of society? Which is what they want instead of having to rely on assistance.

      Vicki Henry
      Women Against Registry.com

      • anthonytwagner@yahoo.com
        December 6th, 2013 at 11:42 am

        I am an offender that resulted from a consenual act. While what I did was not appropriate I do not think this should define me. Employers would rather hire a thief than a better qualified offender.

    • David Adams
      August 23rd, 2012 at 6:36 am

      The height of hypocrisy. Goodwill touts their service of helping people with criminal records to find jobs…but if you have a conviction of any type in your background and you apply AT Goodwill, you will be shown the door. We just cleaned out our garage and have a ton of stuff to donate, but it won’t be taken there…I assure you. “Goodwill. Do as we say, not as we do”.

    • adam smith
      February 11th, 2013 at 9:37 pm

      It’s a very frustrating situation to have to deal with. My best recommendations are: 1) Restaurants, and please do NOT tell on the application (better to work and be found out then never get hired). Most restaurants don’t check. I’ve been working in that industry for 15 years and never once got found out. 2) Go to college and get some student loans (guaranteed approval) and start some sort of business of your own. I had a restaurant for 3 years. It didn’t work out, but not because of my past. I’m planning on doing something retail next like a mall kiosk (Figure around $5,000 to start that with supplies). If my next venture makes it I’ll be sure to let the probation department know I’m looking for good workers who need a second chance. I know one great probation officer that would probably send the right candidates. People need a chance to work and have an honest job.

    • Jonathan A
      May 27th, 2014 at 6:39 am

      People wonder why people keep going back to prison and jail after they were supposed to have “learned their lesson”. They learned alright, then they were FORCED by society to resort to more criminal activity to survive.

      We’re supposed to be a God fearing people in this country, but our unforgiveness towards others condemns us all. Very sad.

      • James
        June 11th, 2014 at 12:15 am

        I been out for three years and its all about motavation never had more “jobs” in my life I’ve been working in resturant industry would love to work for myself I know I can do it those that look down on you never give up anything is possible if anyone is hiring e-mail me at haneefusa757@gmail.com always looking for something better for me and my family.

    • Jessica Dugas
      August 29th, 2014 at 11:16 am

      Thank you so much for this website and opening up and letting me know what is available for me. I’m a convicted felon and never new how to get a job. The information that you gave was a blessing and I want to say thank you! I pray that with it I can build confidence and get a job. God bless and have a blessed day! JESSICA Dugas

    • lance Sunderland
      September 12th, 2014 at 3:58 pm

      I’ve been out of prison since May of this year.I have been hitting the job trail hard and when my background comes back the results are the same.I’m still unemployed and don’t know where to turn can’t anybody help me.I have spent most of my life in prison and I want it to be over.support my family and be part of the solution not the problem

    • Christiano.cabrera@yahoo.com
      October 19th, 2014 at 3:05 pm

      Okay I got the idea, but I follow all these steps but still don’t get the job and am not called back. I keep my answer short and sweet. I dress Very nicely. Show up 15 minutes before my interview is scheduled, and am very polite and respectful.

    • Kim
      November 2nd, 2014 at 7:59 pm

      I just applied to Independent Industries in Louisville, KY(a subsidiary of Goodwill). Saved by grace though faith! I have had more people than I’m willing to succumb to…tell me, that Goodwill WILL NOT hire me…but I don’t believe in just Good Will…I believe in GOD WILL! So let my LORD guide me!

      • joey
        January 23rd, 2015 at 1:07 pm

        Hey you’re right, god does work so more amazing than men, amen.

    • Shakia Lattimore
      April 15th, 2015 at 11:33 pm

      When I be honest no one wants to hire me, it’s a shame people just turn me away.

    • Jeremy
      April 30th, 2015 at 6:15 pm

      Another option is to look at a record expungement service like sealyourrecords.com . Most states have some kind of record seal/expunge/set-aside process. It can take some time and the process can be confusing, but it can help. Note that it doesn’t typically apply to sexual or violent crimes, or crimes involving children.

    • Elaine Swan
      August 16th, 2015 at 5:55 pm

      Looking forward to work for Goodwill they give second chance to people that need second chance.

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