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The Ex-Offender Job Search

Career Advice from

by Michelle K. Massie
Monster Contributing Writer

Today's competitive job market presents a challenge for anyone seeking to move up. But a criminal record can make finding even entry-level positions nearly impossible.

Just ask Carlton Williams. Now 30, Williams spent nearly a decade behind bars on a drug conviction. For the past nine months following parole, he has worked as a grinder in a steel mill.

"It's definitely hard," Williams says. "I've been turned down for jobs I knew I was qualified for, but they overlook me for the person who doesn't have a record. Somebody helped me get the job I have now. But the person who got me hired had to go through a lot of doubt and questions about me…. It's that record that keeps people looking past you."

Rising Inmate Populations Mean More Ex-Offenders Seeking Jobs

Skyrocketing inmate populations mean millions of inmates released from jail or prison over the past five years are facing this scenario. Federal Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) data show that in 2004, more than 7 million adults were under some form of correctional supervision, including prison or jail, parole and probation. Approximately 2.1 million were incarcerated, leaving 5 million in society—and looking for work.

Ex-offender population demographics are also a factor. In 2004, there were 3,218 African American male prison inmates per 100,000 African American males in the United States, compared to 1,220 Hispanic male inmates per 100,000 Hispanic males and 463 white male inmates per 100,000 white males, according to BJS data. In other words, African American males are incarcerated at a rate nearly seven times that of white males.

Job Search Hurdles

Some experts find ways to accentuate the positive for ex-offender job seekers.

"I think ex-offenders make some of the best employees, because [parolees] have sanctions, and if they violate those rules, it could mean trouble," says Carena M. Pope, director of Career & Workforce Development Center—East in Pittsburgh. "It's like having a monitor over the employee to ensure they go to work each day."

But Pope, whose organization has a program specifically for former inmates, admits that while ex-offenders make excellent workers, they face many obstacles when trying to reenter the workforce besides criminal records, such as:

  • Lack of education, including high school diplomas or GEDs
  • Lack of work experience
  • Poor computer and interpersonal skills
  • Low self-esteem
  • Drug and alcohol problems
  • No driver's license or access to transportation.

"It's important to help them reduce the barriers first by looking at what issues they have," Pope says. "We look at the entire picture before we place a person in a job."

Job Search Tips for Ex-Offenders

Pope offers this advice to ex-offenders searching for employment:

  • Be honest about your situation on your application and in your interview.
  • Give good references and verify them.
  • Don't say you worked somewhere you didn't. Your resume and work history will be heavily scrutinized.
  • Be honest with yourself, and evaluate your skills objectively.
  • Consider additional education and training.
  • Don't be afraid to ask for a chance.
  • Be aware that in some cases, a particular job may be off-limits. For example, if you were convicted of stealing money, you may not be eligible to work for a bank.
  • Brush up on interview techniques, resume preparation and writing effective cover and thank-you letters.
  • Learn how to network for referrals, information and advice.
  • Register with temporary employment agencies.
  • Seek out an organization that offers job placement programs for ex-offenders.
  • During your interview, wear proper clothing, don't be nervous, offer a firm handshake, and maintain eye contact.
  • Adopt a positive attitude.

"To be honest, there are people who do not want to hire ex-offenders," Pope says. "You will run into roadblocks. That can't discourage job seekers. You just have to keep trying. Employers need to know that employment cuts down the rate of recidivism."

Williams's advice to those in a similar situation? "Take all the help you can get, take it one day at a time, and don't give up. Because you don't want to end up back in a bad situation."

Copyright 2006 - Monster Worldwide, Inc. All Rights Reserved. You may not copy, reproduce or distribute this article without the prior written permission of Monster Worldwide. This article first appeared on Monster, the leading online global network for careers. To see other career-related articles visit

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I am a convicted felon who has never been incarcerated. It doesn't matter. My conviction was for having an unregistered handgun in my car during a car accident. The prosecution asked for no jail time, but refused to lower the charge to a misdemeanor. I have a BBA in Accounting, ten years work experience in my field and about eight years of call center customer service experience. I cannot get hired at Wal-Mart, let alone any of the companies I've worked for in the past (Panasonic Automotive system of America, Denso International, ATT, Minacs, MAGNA, BUDCO, DTE Energy, Benteler Automotive North America, Severstal North America, etc.). It’s in dignifying. My last year of work prior to the felony; I made $50k even though I only worked 8 months of the year. This year I've made $5K. I have tried to secure employment at some of my previous employers; none will touch me with a ten-foot pole. Fortunately, I can get my felony expunged in two years, but the past three have been the most difficult of my life, I’ve lost everything from my home to my car and I had to completely rethink the way I manage my financial resources or lack there of.

I am in recovery with 2 and a half years clean. I am trying to keep my head held high but am having a hard time doing so because I feel like I cant get ahead due to not finding jobs because of my criminal history. The only times I have ever committed crime was when I was using to get money to get high. When i'm clean, i'm not committing crime because I have no reason to. I have an 11 year daughter that I need to support and cannot do so right now because of my past. I am praying for a chance at any job. I am a hard worker and put my all into everything that I do.
They say someone will give you a chance. Is that after or before you spend every dime looking for employment. And don't you dare owe child support. This is the only country that will convict you of being poor. As if it's bad enough, your situation, other people want to lock you up because you can't find employment. I have traveled abroad and when you serve your time, that's it. Your debt is repaid. I am a full time student in the culinary field. I plan to go into catering because of my background. Five years my ass. They go back 10 years in alot of places. Certain felonies can't be expunged. The people that come up with these bright ideas need to walk in my shoes. I was homeless. I started doing side jobs painting and drywall. When I first got probation. Things dried up and I was locked up again for failure to secure employment. You would think employers would be eager to hire ex offenders. Give a desperate man enough time alone after a year or two goes by and he is in a shelter. What you think he is going to do. SURVIVE! Also all felons need to network. Sorry for the ones that can't even speak to a known felon or they'll get a violation. See how bad it is. You can give a bunch of stupid crooked bankers 700,000,000,000 to bail there sorry tails out. Where is our bailout. I know this must knock the wind out of people who are trying. I can only say Jesus is the way. The system is meant for you to fail. Prison is not just locking people up. It's a business. Some of you have been to court and watched the public defender tell his client one thing and something totally different happens. Hint. I will pray for all of us in this struggle. That ex parole officer that made a comment, didn't say career. Job. As in dead end. That's how I broke 2 disk. Working at a place that treated you like a slave. 75 pounds boxes in a semi. Nice job huh. It's been 3 years ago and I still have pain.
I was released from prison May 1999. Made my first mistake marrying a man for a place to live and food to eat.That relationship turned into a fist fight on a daily basis,I then turned around and found another man to 'take care' of me.HEre it is 2011 and he wants out because I can't find employment.Now I am facing homelessness come March 2012 if I can't get a job to support myself. I did my time for the state of tx but the state won't be fair in the job and housing markets.Where can I turn for placement of any kind.
who can you write or e-mail to try and get an expungement
I am a 21 year old male that was convicted for 3 counts of robbery i was in the streets hard well not forreal i was cought up for an simple case of wrong place wrong time and i cant find a job the farthest i ever get is the interview smh
It is sad to read everyone's comments. I was released from Prison in January, 2011. I am still under parole, have two months left. I was convicted under domestic violence, I violated a restraining order placed by ex-wife. All of this due to her wanting to keep all our assets after our divorce. I had tried to settle multiple times, but she wanted everything, assets over a million dollars, plus a business that netted 6 figures. For three years I tried to settle with her to no avail. I was a Paramedic for over 28 years, posses a degree in Para-Medicine. To make it short I went to our main home, where she resided with an unknown male friend of hers of 35 years of age, she being 50 years old. I got involved in an argument with her, she pulled out a gun, shot me in the abdomen, I barely survived. I found out I was under arrest for violation of restraining order (misdemeanor) and aggravated burglary. I was convicted to three years, now I am a felon. I have lost my Paramedic License, lost all my homes, lost all my clothes, my car and everything I owned. I have applied to jobs, starting with minimum wage to no avail. It never fails all job applications contain the statement, "Have you ever been arrested?" or "Do you have any convictions?". With these statements come the FINAL words, All information will be checked and verified, background checks and or drug test to be administered. You have to be honest, but no-one gives you a space to state your circumstances. It is obvious, this society does not want to give a "second chance." We are now criminals (I have never even had a parking ticket in my life before) and are caught in a catch 22. I am not a criminal, but are treated as such by society. The criminals don't like me, since I never went to CRIMINAL SCHOOL. Becoming an advocate of these situations is a must, but it will not give a place to work or sleep. The government can ruin you, but will not help you afterwards. Apparently the state government wants us to be another number for their welfare coffers. I receive $200.00 a month on food stamps and that is all the help I qualify for. Lost my health insurance. Thank God I served my country, as now I use the VA system. The VA has given me a pair of shoes, two shirts, two pairs of pants, a jacket for the winter and a belt. I have no underwear, go figure. I am in Louisiana and advise anyone convicted of a felony, to look around other states for work. Not all states are equal, this one is a money-hungry-crooked-politician rich state. Get out while you can. I will leave as soon as my parole is over.........Good luck to all. Thanks,
My father killed three people and was convicted of intoxicated manslaughter! He can't get a job and he's annoying the hell out of me! I'm in college, and all he does is walk around the house moving things around and playing loud music! The only reason I found this is so I can get him a job and get him the hell out of the house so I can concentrate on my homework! Peace!
I was convicted and served my time over 15 years ago. At the time I was convicted, I was an LVN. I take full responsibility for the poor choices I made. Because believe me, my debt to society for a crime in which the only person that was hurt and permanently affected was myself. Upon my release, fortunately I had a parole officer who backed me as well as encouraged my positive attitude. She even went as far as to write a letter of recommendation in that President Bush may grant me a pardon in order to get my record expunged. It was the only way that I would ever be able to acquire my nursing license. I'll put it this way Mr. Bush never recieved a vote from this texan! Since my release I sought a new career- now because of the recession I have been on unemployment like so many others. However, when facing the reality that I would have to seek additional assistance I applied for medical aid through the state medicaid office. At which time I was promptly as well as rudely informed that I was NOT qualified to recieve ANY assistance whether it be medical, financial, housing etc.,etc. When will people quit making the statement "An individual has paid their debt to society?" Unfortunately that debt keeps being paid along with the rent and the car payment.
One of the problems I have faced is employment agencies who make "Have you ever been convicted or plead guilty to a crime", the last question following an online application process which sometimes takes over two hours to complete. I plead "no contest" because doing some community service was what I believed would be less damaging to my life (and my family). Rarely are we given the opportunity to explain what are often mitigating circumstances. Employment agencies (like in some states) should leave the explanation and decision up to the employer and not blindly eliminate candidates who are well qualified despite the fact that not everyone has worn a halo their entire life.
My name is Tim and I have multiple felony convictions on my record. Every day I run into many road blocks that discourage me from pursuing my job search. I feel I'm better qualified than many other applicants, but my criminal record holds me back. Sometimes I feel like I'm wasting my time, but I never give up.Persistence is the key. I have faith that my consistency will pay off. I know there is a job waiting for me. Don't ever let the road blocks stop you from fulfilling your dreams.

I was conviction of felony for theft due under a domestic volience situation, I was convicted as accomplice since they originally could not locate my abuser, Meanwhile they held me responsible for the crime, Now since 2005 i am unable to get a good paying job. Finally I got a opportunity to get a job and was offered a job then now need to do a background check, although I believe honesty is the best policy. So i went and wrote a statement that led up to my convictions, I hoping with gods help that anything is possible


The last job interview event I attended came subsequent to an exhaustive online process. During this process, I was asked if I had been convicted of a crime in the last 7 years - to which I responded NO. After testing and form-filling until I was mentally exhausted, I was invited to a mass interview.
During this interview, I was subjected to a series of questions. The third, and last, question was regarding whether I was EVER convicted of a crime. I was convicted of a misdemeanor which took place in 1984, fifty days past my 18th birthday. It did not involve drugs, alcohol, violence or sex. After responding to this question in the affirmative I was informed that I would not be interviewed further and that I could leave. The job pays $9.00 / hour. It was the first time ANYBODY came out and told me this, and I always assumed an antiquated misdemeanor was not considered that big a deal. I can't imagine a felony conviction resulting in anything better.
In the last 25 years I have NOT: killed my family, shot up my workplace or any school, stolen from anyone, molested anyone, assaulted anyone, driven under the influence of anything, earned more than $19k / year, or so much as paid a FINE not traffic related. However, I was self-employed for 6 years, worked in the same factory nearly 5 years, earned a Baccalaureate Degree, and worked for one employer after another soon to shut down and exit the country. I have continuously struggled financially while my innocent family has done the same.
I encourage education but NOT debt related to it. Without U.S. government guarantees for my student loans I would not have been granted those loans and thus, today owe $22k+. My income has shrunk, due to inflation, and my debt grown. I graduated in 2004 and have managed 3 payments toward those loans - I have a family and just can't afford it. I have been on some form of social assistance since 2001. I will lose that when my youngest turns 18 next month while my next job will invariably be panhandling.
My advice, all 3 cents' worth (due to inflation), is to advocate and educate regarding the relationship between unemployment / underemployment and recidivism, panhandling and homelessness. This because we live in a society which CLAIMS a desire for better from us while at the same time preventing it. I wish ALL who want a better life the best of luck, at the very least better than mine.


I have a felony drug convention and finding a good job has become difficult for me. I own a car and a valid drivers license and I am looking to move to Minneapolis Mn. for an opportunity to work. I am also enrolled at the University of Phoenix for a Bachelors in Business Management. Please help me find a nice job!