Cold calling your way to a job

cold callingWhile it’s certainly not the easiest thing to do, cold calling can be the most effective way to find a job.

Forget sending out countless resumes through job boards. They mostly go into a black hole, never to be seen – by anyone but you – again. But pick up the phone. It can be your most important job search tool.

Since some job experts say that as many as 80% of all job openings are unadvertised, this may in fact be the only way to find the majority of jobs. And there’ll be less competition.

While you’ll want to avoid human resources departments whose job it is to weed applicants out, using the phone to call hiring managers can bring results.

But remember it’s a numbers game. It may take many “no’s” till you get to a “yes,” so keep on calling. Focus on your activity and momentum building and not whether you hear a “no” or “yes.”

Put together a calling list

The first thing you have to do is put together a list of maybe 100 businesses to call where you would be interested in working.

Two possible resources for this are your local phone book – paper or online version – and Business Finder, an online tool created by the American Job Center. This free database offers the name of the business, its address and phone number and key contact people with their titles. The Business Finder also includes each company’s business description, industry code, number of employees, website and even the distance of the business from your location. It offers a variety of ways to search for businesses.

American Job Center also has other resources you may want to consider for finding prospective employers.

Determine who to call

Always find out who you should call in each business. That hiring manager is typically the manager of the department in which you’d like to work. If it’s a small company (say under 25 employees), you might want to get in touch with the company manager, owner or president.

Do your homework. If you don’t already have it, look at the company’s website to see if you can find the name of the person you should talk to. If not, call the main number and ask the receptionist by pressing “O.”

What to say

Say to the person who answers, “I am trying to find out the name of the person who is the manager of (department). How do you spell their last name? What is their official title?” If they are not sure, ask if they have a company directory handy and can look it up. And make sure you ask, “By the way, what’s that person’s email address?”

Then you can later call back and either ask for that person or find them through the electronic directory and talk to them directly. Prepare a script, so you will have confidence, but don’t read from it. You can use your 15-second elevator pitch, a short sales pitch about yourself and what you bring to the job. (There are many examples online, and here’s a site with a variety.) You can also use information from your JIST card to prepare what you’re going to say.

Be enthusiastic, sincere in your interest, and remember to smile. They can’t see you but can sense and feel your smile, and believe it or not, a smile can make you more relaxed and confident.

Consider calling after business hours

If you’re too nervous to call them during office hours, call after hours and leave a message on their voice mail. Use your 15-second elevator pitch emphasizing your strengths.

It might be something like:

“Hi, my name is _______ and my phone number is ________. I love doing________ and am really good at it. I’m confident that I have the experience that could help your company succeed. I think I can offer you (give your three top assets).”

“Again, my number is_____ (say it and then repeat it) I’d like to get together to talk more about how I would be a good fit at (company name). I would appreciate it if you could give me some information about working at your company. As soon as I get off the phone. I’m going to follow up with an email and hope to hear from you soon.”

Send an email with your JIST card attached, and if you don’t hear back in a couple of days, call again.

If you don’t hear back within a week, call one more time, and say something like:

“This is ______. My phone number is ____ (if voice-mail). I’ve left a couple of voice mail messages and know how things can slip through the cracks. I don’t mean to be a pest but I hope you’re the type who appreciates persistence. I just wanted to let you know that I think I can contribute to your company and would love to talk to you about it. I’d appreciate hearing back from you, but if I don’t I promise not to call you another time. Again, this is ______ and my number is _____. I look forward to hearing from you soon.”

Although you may not hear back from all of the hiring managers you contact, those who do call back will help you get one step closer to the job you’re looking for. Remember it’s a numbers game. And never give up. Every “no’ brings you closer to a “yes.”


Jails to Jobs is searching for ideas for this blog. If you know of a company that is hiring ex-offenders, or if you have unique job search tips that could assist ex-offenders in finding employment or are aware of organizations or agencies doing exceptional things that benefit ex-offenders in their job search efforts, we'd love to hear from you.

Uber CEO offers second chance to those with criminal records

Uber CEOIt’s not often that executives of well-known companies come out publicly in favor of giving those with criminal records a chance in the hiring process. But that’s what Travis Kalanick, co-founder and CEO of Uber, did earlier this month in an Op-ed piece in the San Francisco Chronicle.

According to him, the impetus was California’s Proposition 47, which was passed in November 2014 and reclassified some nonviolent crimes that had previously been felonies as misdemeanors. Uber aligned its hiring practices accordingly.

“As a result, 3,300 people have signed up to drive with Uber to earn a living and stand on their own two feet — in one state (California) alone,” he wrote. “Imagine how many more life-changing opportunities we could create if other states followed suit.”

Kalanick’s attitude toward criminal justice evolves

Running Uber has changed Kalanick’s ideas about criminal justice reform.

“I’d never really thought deeply about criminal justice reform before starting Uber. Now I realize reform is desperately needed. For example, the FBI records many companies use to do background checks don’t include up-to-date data on whether an arrest resulted in a charge or conviction. So if someone is arrested and subsequently acquitted, their “record” may not show that they’re innocent,” he went on to state in the S.F. Chronicle piece.

No matter how you may feel about Uber or working in the so-called “sharing economy,” signing up as an Uber driver may give people in reentry or those having trouble finding work a chance to earn a little extra money or even gain self employment. Those who can’t find full-time work may choose to drive for Uber part time as a second gig – especially during the busy hours when they’re likely to make more money by picking up more riders or the late hours when rates are increased.

Uber driver pay scales

According to press reports – and drivers themselves – the pay for being an Uber driver is far less than Uber claims. In a May 27, 2014 blog posting in the Uber online newsroom, the company claims that the potential income for its UberX drivers is as much as $90,766 per year in New York City and $74,191 in San Francisco.

One Uber driver and blogger at the site I Drive With Uber says he makes between $20 and $25 per hour (in Los Angeles), and the average Uber Driver makes $19 per hour natioinwide. He also says that the average Uber driver in the U.S. can make about $40,000 after expenses and taxes but doesn’t mention whether car wear and tear is included in expenses.

Gary Campbell, a former aerospace engineer who used to drive for Uber and Lyft part time while working at Boeing, left his full-time job to be a blogger known as The Rideshare Guy.

He publishes a free Uber Driver Training Guide on his site for those who might be considering driving for Uber but want to know more about what that experience might be like. The guide covers all the basics, from pay scales and sign-up bonuses to driver and car requirements.

Those with criminal records who decide they might like to be Uber drivers may be happy to know that the company has banned the box on its application form.

And CEO Kalanick has created an opportunity for those with ambitions and willing to work hard to get back on their feet.

“Crime is wrong,” he says. “But once a person has served their time, we need to give them a second chance. Consigning millions of Americans to a life of unemployment — with all the costs that entails — may be the easier option. It’s certainly not the best one for our country.”


Jails to Jobs is searching for ideas for this blog. If you know of a company that is hiring ex-offenders, or if you have unique job search tips that could assist ex-offenders in finding employment or are aware of organizations or agencies doing exceptional things that benefit ex-offenders in their job search efforts, we'd love to hear from you.

Why you might want to consider working for a small business

work for a small businessWith all the challenges facing those in reentry, it’s important to create a job search plan that is realistic, focused and tailored to the type of work you are good at. And you may want to include small businesses in the mix. Or concentrate on them exclusively.

And there’s an excellent reason for this. It’s one that might surprise you. According to the Small Business Administration, small businesses provide 55 percent of all jobs and 66 percent of all net new jobs that have been created since the 1970s.

And it’s not just the number of jobs created. The number of small business themselves have increased 49 percent since 1982. Think about these numbers for a while. And then think about the advantages small business might be able to provide.

Benefits of employment at a small business

At a small business you will:

  • Learn a lot about your job and how a business operates very quickly.
  • If you take initiative, you’ll be able to get experience in a variety of areas.
  • You will probably take on more responsibility than you would at a larger company.
  • After you’ve offered value to the employer and learned the business, it may be something you could replicate in the future and become an entrepreneur yourself.

A small business can also offer entry possibilities that big corporations might not. First of all, there may not be the dreaded “box” on the application. Depending on the size, small businesses may not have human resources departments. The owner may do the hiring.

And since the owner is also running a business, they might not have time to wade through a pile of resumes. Be proactive and pick up the phone and call them – or drop by in person. Even better, try to find someone you know who might know them. LinkedIn is good for this. Having a referral is always the best way to approach someone when looking for a job.

Since most small business owners are entrepreneurs and often have to sell themselves and their businesses, they will appreciate your initiative.

Do your homework

Before contacting a small business owner or manager, however, do your homework. Pick out a handful of companies you really want to work for. Local chambers of commerce are excellent resource for this, since most of them have online directories listing the companies of their members.

Once you’ve chosen a handful of companies, learn everything you can about them either from the company website or their Facebook page and by studying up on businesses that might be their competition.

Come up with some ideas about how you could help improve the product they create, the service they provide or the way their business operates. Then, when you meet with the owner, you can share your ideas.

And knowing a lot about the business will help you in the interview. Although human resources personnel are trained to do interviews, many small business owners are neither very good at interviewing nor enjoy doing it. Your knowledge will help them feel at ease and can ensure a steady flow of conversation.

In addition to your elevator pitch, your well thought out list of ways you can help the company and your knowledge of the business, bring along a handful of questions to ask.

Be sure to ask for the job

And at the end of the interview, don’t forget to ask for the job, if you really want it. Say something like:

“I appreciate your time and enjoyed talking to you, I think I can contribute to your company, and I’d really like to work for you.”

If you don’t happen to be hired, follow up telling them that you were disappointed you didn’t get the job but would be interested in other opportunities if any open up. Also ask them to contact you if anyone they know might be looking for someone with your skills, talent and interest.


Jails to Jobs is searching for ideas for this blog. If you know of a company that is hiring ex-offenders, or if you have unique job search tips that could assist ex-offenders in finding employment or are aware of organizations or agencies doing exceptional things that benefit ex-offenders in their job search efforts, we'd love to hear from you.

Indiana inmate creates job search PowerPoint presentation

job search PowerPoint presentationAn inmate at a women’s prison in Madison, Ind., created a PowerPoint presentation of our book, Jails to Jobs: Seven Steps to Becoming Employed. And we’re happy to share her Jails to Jobs PPT with readers who might want to do something similar for the job search workshops they present.

The idea came about at the suggestion of Mary Shipman, a business technology instructor at the prison, who teaches prisoners how to use Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint. She discovered our book on Amazon.

“I recently presented your book to an offender as material for a practice PowerPoint project,” Shipman says. “I gave her the book on Friday and by Monday she had read it and came back to class excited to start working on her project.  She says that this book is the most relevant and up-to-date information she has been given from a single source.”

She created the presentation and shared it with her class. The PowerPoint was such a hit that she has presented it to several other programs at the facility.

She has found her passion

“She’s really found her passion. She goes and gives these presentations and empowers women. It’s an amazing thing to see. I’ve never seen anything like it,” says Shipman.

“As an instructor, I am proud of what she has accomplished, and I feel that your book has played a role in her future success after release.”

The inmate has been incarcerated for a little more than three years and will be going home in December, just before Christmas. Her crime: prescription fraud.

Although she was included in a documentary movie, she has never done any public speaking before, according to Shipman. And the woman is really making an impact.

“It’s interesting to watch because you can see the other women nodding their heads. I’ve tried to give this presentation but it’s not quite the same as someone who’s gone through it,” she says.

In addition to the presentation, Shipmen uses our book in her course. Two things that she feels are particularly useful to the students is the idea of using a JIST card, which she didn’t know about before, and going to a free or low-cost tattoo removal program to get unwanted tattoos taken off.

Improving pre-release job search education

Although Shipman feels that prisons are getting better at preparing inmates for reentry, the best thing they can do is give specific advice and information.

“The most important thing is giving them specific places to go,” she says. “Tell them, ‘When you get out, this is where you need to go and this is what they can do for you.’ This takes away the personal accountability, but it will help them.

“They’ve had people telling them what to do for the past five years (Or however long they’ve been in prison), so if we tell them what’s their first step it would help tremendously.”


Jails to Jobs is searching for ideas for this blog. If you know of a company that is hiring ex-offenders, or if you have unique job search tips that could assist ex-offenders in finding employment or are aware of organizations or agencies doing exceptional things that benefit ex-offenders in their job search efforts, we'd love to hear from you.

No. 1 way employers find new employees to hire

new employeesWhat’s the No. 1 way employers find new employees? It’s not what you might think.

Forget the online job boards. Forget employment agencies or headhunters. The No. 1 way employers find new employees is through a referral from a colleague.

At least that’s according to recruiting think tank CareerXroads’ Source of Hire 2015, an annual report that tracks how major companies hire employees and one that career coach and author Marty Nemko mentioned in a recent Psychology Today blog article.

Companies find about 20% of new employees through referrals

The organization found that referrals were the top source for hiring, with companies filling about 20% of their openings through employee referrals.

This is in contrast to the 13% of hires that came from social media and job boards.

In addition, the report stated that “a job seeker who is referred is conservatively three to four times more likely to be hired – some studies have found that a job seeker who is referred is 14 times more likely to be hired – than someone who applies for a position without a referral.”

Keep in mind that CareerXroads sends its survey out to 250 of the nation’s largest companies, so what applies to their hiring managers may not always be applicable to smaller companies. But it still will give you an idea of how many companies are finding their employees.

The survey also found a 3% increase in temp-to-hire, which follows a trend among companies to transition part-time and contingent workers into full-timers. This is also something to keep in mind, because temporary employment can provide a good foot in the door for those looking for a job.

So knowing the situation, what can you, as a job seeker, do?

The most important thing is to get on the radar of hiring managers, whether in big companies or small.

And one of the best ways to do this comes from workforce development expert Larry Robbin. He calls what is usually referred to as a network a circle of contacts and suggests looking at this circle of contacts like a target.

Here’s how it works

Take out a big piece of paper and put your name in the center. That’s the bull’s eye. Put the names of the people who you are closest to – these would be your family and best friends – in the first ring. Then put other friends and relatives outside your immediate family in the next ring. Keep filling in the outer rings with more and more people you know but may not know very well. When you run out of people, your circle of contacts will be complete.

What’s interesting about this whole circle of contacts idea is research has found that people tend to find jobs more through acquaintances than from close friends. The chances are pretty good that you’ll get your next job through someone you don’t know very well or see very often.

The reason is that the people you know well will have many of the same contacts that you do, but those you don’t know will have an entirely different set of contacts – and one of those may be the key to your next job.

What we’ve found is that people are usually happy to help others in their job search. We’ve all been there before and know what a tough road it is. So don’t be shy. Put together a circle of contacts and get in touch with as many of them as you can.

Who knows. Your next job might come from another customer of the stores you go to, who just happened to mention when they were in shopping that they were looking for someone who does the type of work you do. Or maybe the spiritual leader at your place of worship heard that a member was going out on maternity leave and needed someone to take her place for six months. Or a friend of a friend’s company is expanding and looking for more employees.

The only thing you have to do is get the word out. Although what happens from there involves a bit of luck, by reaching out you can be assured that luck is more likely to come your way.


Jails to Jobs is searching for ideas for this blog. If you know of a company that is hiring ex-offenders, or if you have unique job search tips that could assist ex-offenders in finding employment or are aware of organizations or agencies doing exceptional things that benefit ex-offenders in their job search efforts, we'd love to hear from you.

The U.S. Postal Service is hiring and offers excellent opportunities

U.S. Postal ServiceThe U.S. Postal Service is continuously hiring new employees and provides excellent opportunities for those who qualify.

Like most federal agencies, the USPS offers solid benefits and a chance to advance, as well as a variety of jobs. And the pay is pretty good as well. In 2015, the median salary for postal service workers was $56,790 per year, or $27.30 per hour.

Although the postal service’s employment application still contains the dreaded “box,” it does selectively hire those with criminal records.

According to the Application for Employment section of its official handbook, “The Postal Service recognizes that many persons with criminal records have demonstrated successful rehabilitation and are capable of performing the duties of postal jobs. These applicants are entitled to compete for jobs on individual merits.”

Yvonne Ramos, human resources specialist at the San Francisco office of the USPS, concurs.

“Fortunately, the USPS hires them (those with criminal records) with little restrictions. They cannot be hired if they are on probation or parole. When they are over their probation or parole, they are welcome to apply,” she says.

USPS offers a variety of job types

And it’s not just letter carriers and post office clerks that the postal service employs. Although these make up the majority of the agency’s workers, according to the book Post Office Jobs by Dennis V. Damp, it also hires building, equipment and vehicle maintenance workers, IT specialists and others.

Those interested in a U.S. Postal Service job can apply online by creating an account and filling out all the information required, including an employment history.

This may be a bit tricky for some who have been incarcerated, because the form won’t be accepted if it has any gaps in time. The workaround for many of those who have served time is to include the jobs they did while in prison and listing the state that they were in as their employer. For example “food service, State of California” for someone who worked in the kitchen of a California state prison.

Those applying for letter carrier jobs that require Test 473 must then fill out an online assessment. Applicants who successfully complete the online assessment are invited to complete a proctored assessment at an approved location. This usually has to be done within a one-week period of time, so it’s important to pay attention to your email messages.

For those who advance to the point of taking the test, there are plenty of ways to prepare, including watching YouTube videos.

Some USPS offices are offering one-hour free workshops providing information on how to take the test. There’s also a detailed explanation of the process on the USPS website.

For those unable to attend one of these workshops, the United States Postal Service website offers examples of sample questions that give a better idea of what the test entails.

USPS test’s four sections

The test is divided into four sections:

  • Part A Address checking comparing two lists of address to see which ones are incorrect.
  • Part B Forms completion concerns determining the information needed to fill out certain forms.
  • Part C Coding and Memory consists of assigning codes based on a coding guide and then assigning codes from memory.
  • Part D Personal Characteristics and Experience Inventory consists of personal questions that evaluate your personality characteristics, work style and experience. There are no right or wrong answers, but they must be answered honestly. This is the most extensive part of the test, with 296 items to be completed in 90 minutes.

After completing both assessments, applicants who the USPS is interested in will be called for an interview. Those who are not chosen can continue to apply for jobs. The test results are valid for six years.

In the meantime, you may want to consider reaching out to the different letter carriers in your community for their insights on the test and other possible suggestions they may have for preparation. In addition, they may know of other job openings. The post office can offer a good career and is worth considering and making it part of your job search plan.


Jails to Jobs is searching for ideas for this blog. If you know of a company that is hiring ex-offenders, or if you have unique job search tips that could assist ex-offenders in finding employment or are aware of organizations or agencies doing exceptional things that benefit ex-offenders in their job search efforts, we'd love to hear from you.

Together We Bake cooks up recipe for reentry success

Together We Bake

Together We Bake participants create chocolate chip cookies to sell at Whole Foods, a farmers market and other places.

Alexandria, Va., nonprofit Together We Bake takes women who need a second chance and turns them into job ready candidates.

Its recipe: combine lessons in making chocolate chip cookies, granola and other goodies with experience doing inventory and making deliveries. Add a bit of confidence building and employment counseling. And provide ServSafe training, so participants graduate with a nationally recognized certification.

The program began in 2012 after former social worker Stephanie Wright and her running buddy, Tricia Sabatani, who previously worked with seniors and had a home-baked cookie business, discussed a variety of ventures and settled on Together We Bake.

Why they do what they do

“We wanted to help other people and started looking at our community, asking what was missing, what services were not being provided by the government or other organizations,” says Wright. “We quickly realized that job training was one of them.”

Over the past four years, the mostly previously incarcerated women have experienced an employment rate of 60% and even more impressive recidivism rate of just 6%.

Participants range in age from 22 to mid-60s, but the average age is about 40.

Together We Bake offers three classes each year, with 10 to 12 women in each class. The program takes place on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. There are no strict requirements to participate.

“There’s no type of educational requirement, and a criminal background doesn’t matter,” says Wright. “We’re looking for them to make a commitment to the program and be wiling to do some hard work and some self work. They also must be willing to change their path and stay on a positive path.”

The way Together We Bake works

At the beginning of the day the women share something that’s empowering to them in a sort of confidence building exercise before the work begins. Participants work on teams. The business team does inventory, makes deliveries or whatever else is required at any particular time. When they deliver to Whole Foods, one of Together We Bake’s biggest accounts, the women get to stock the shelves and talk to the grocery manager.

The rest of the participants are in the kitchen on the baking team, the cleaning team and the prep team. After about two or three hours of work, the women participate in groups emphasizing empowerment, life skills, communications, goal setting and anger management.

The empowerment group is based on the Houses of Healing and Beyond Trauma curriculums.

“These are great resources that cover the subjects that we needed,” Wright says. “We’ve made it our own and picked the things that work for us. The woman who runs the empowerment groups is one of our graduates and has built some things into the program that she thinks are important from her own experiences being incarcerated.”

Together We Bake participants also take the National Restaurant Association Foundation’s ServSafe Food Safety Training Program, so they can be certified to do food service work.

Outside professionals conduct a two-session financial literacy group, in which the women learn budgeting and banking. They also pull their credit scores and practice making phone calls to creditors to explain their situation in order to boost their confidence so they will be able to rebuild their credit.

In addition, participants work with volunteers in the community selling the products they make at the local farmers market.

High completion rate 

The program’s completion rate is 83 percent, and when people drop out it’s for serious reasons, according to Wright.

“One of the participants got pregnant and was really sick. Another’s son got arrested, and she needed to stay home and take care of his child. We only terminated one person from the program because of issues and it was an attitude issue,” she says.

In addition to the training and education, Together We Bake participants are matched with local job counselor volunteers, who work one on one with the women to help them develop a resume, learn interviewing skills and practice completing online applications.

“It gives them extra support and helps them when they feel rejected because things don’t go their way,” Wright says.


Jails to Jobs is searching for ideas for this blog. If you know of a company that is hiring ex-offenders, or if you have unique job search tips that could assist ex-offenders in finding employment or are aware of organizations or agencies doing exceptional things that benefit ex-offenders in their job search efforts, we'd love to hear from you.

National Gang Center Newsletter focuses on gang tattoos

National Gang CenterThe summer issue of the National Gang Center Newsletter provides a basic education on gang tattoos – their importance to members, their meaning and symbolism, and where they can be found on a member’s body.

And it also mentions the Jails to Jobs’ free and low-cost tattoo removal program directory on our website for those former gang members who want their tattoos taken off.

Funded by the U.S. Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) and the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA), the National Gang Center provides gang-related information and resources to state, local and tribal jurisdictions.

Gang tattoo tutorial

Although tattoos have been around for thousands of years and have been symbols of everything from religion to punishment, few provide the significance or stigma of gang tattoos, according to the article.

It then goes to explain the meaning of various elements of gang tattoos. For example, Chicago’s Vice Lords sport 312, their local area code. And many Hispanic gangs use the number 13, in reference to M, the 13th letter of the alphabet, signifying the Mexican Mafia.

Whether on the face, hands, neck or other body part, where tattoos are located can be important to some gangs.

The article includes photos of the tattoos common among major gangs, including the Crips, the Bloods, the Surenos and MS-13.

It also describes types of tattoos that are used by both gang members and non-gang members alike. One of these, the spider web, can signify that the wearer has served time and is trapped in the criminal justice system web.

Three black dots may either symbolize the holy trinity or a hospital, cemetery or prison, the three destinations gang members are likely to end up.

How to find a free or low-cost tattoo removal program

The article concludes with a box explaining that gang tattoos can make it difficult to find a job, because employers are reluctant to hire those who have them. It also states that: “Although there has been a general proliferation of tattoo-removal services, locating gang-tattoo-removal programs is a continuing challenge for many communities.”

The box then highlights the fact that our tattoo removal program directory includes those that offer gang (and anti-social) tattoo removal and that the directory has more than 220 programs in 40 states.

If any readers know of any free or low-cost tattoo removal programs that aren’t included in our directory, please let us know, and we’ll add them.


Jails to Jobs is searching for ideas for this blog. If you know of a company that is hiring ex-offenders, or if you have unique job search tips that could assist ex-offenders in finding employment or are aware of organizations or agencies doing exceptional things that benefit ex-offenders in their job search efforts, we'd love to hear from you.

Hot Chicken Takeover improves lives of those in reentry

Hot Chicken Takeover

Some of Hot Chicken Takeover’s team members.

You might not realize it when you dig into a plate of spicy chicken wings at Columbus, Ohio’s Hot Chicken Takeover (HCT), but this restaurant serves a side of social justice along with its popular cuisine. It’s just one more proof that a business can be successful while at the same time helping those leaving prison get their lives back together.

After tasting Nashville’s famous hot chicken and realizing that there was nothing like it in Columbus, founder Joe DeLoss and his wife Lisa began serving their own version out of their car in a parking lot on weekends. It became a hit, and soon the two found space indoors on the second floor of the city’s North Market, where they were able to serve customers on a more regular basis.

DeLoss took his experience as the founder of a sandwich catering business – a subsidiary of Lutheran Social Services of Central Ohio that hired employees from homeless shelters – and applied it to his new restaurant.

Majority of staff members have been incarcerated

“Seventy percent of the staff is previously incarcerated,” says Cam Williams, the company’s director of operations. “Through media and referrals we attract people who may not have luck finding work elsewhere.”

Hot Chicken Takeover also receives referrals from organizations, including Kind Way, led by a former warden at three Ohio correctional institutions. She put together a group of business leaders who go into prisons and work with people while they’re still inside and provide a support system when they get out.

The staff of HCT operates the restaurant as well as a food truck that serves chicken at events and Columbus Crew professional soccer team games.

In addition to the food it serves and the community it creates through communal dining – the restaurant’s tables are all long and to be shared – HCT carries out a social mission to help formerly incarcerated individuals launch new lives upon release. As they say, “It’s about more than just chicken.”

“We provide financial, personal and professional growth opportunities,” says Williams. “We have a benefits coordinator who connects people with local resources, including Kemba Financial Credit Union, which helps them open a bank account for savings and has even been working with our staff who have been incarcerated for crimes including check fraud.”

Other employee benefits include a savings match program for people who are saving for things like transportation and education, with a 2-to-1 match of up to $700 per year. Employees are also offered an opportunity to meet twice a month with a financial coach to help them plan their financial future. Community partners help secure housing if they need it, because as a university town, it can be difficult to find affordable housing with good landlords in Columbus. And if necessary, there’s a licensed counselor to help with personal crises as they arise.

Although Hot Chicken Takeover provides its employees with an unusual level of services, Williams makes it clear that they’re running a business not a charity.

“We don’t see it as charitable,” he says. “The only thing we do that is charitable is give people a chance.”

Hot Chicken Takeover has high employee retention rate

And the effort pays off in dedicated employees. “We’re sitting at 60% retention. The industry standard is 100% to 150% turnover,” he says.

Although the company plans to operate another restaurant by the end of the year and is currently looking for a location, HCT has its sights set on something greater than selling chicken – hopefully starting a consulting business to help other companies do what it is doing.

“We’re not in this to be restauranteurs,” says Williams. “We’re passionate about expanding the human resources model that we have. We see it as a replicable system that other restaurants or warehouses could include in their business. We’re justifying what we do as being an economic solution not just doing something good. It’s a business that directly benefits from our social mission through retaining employees and not having to retrain them.”


Jails to Jobs is searching for ideas for this blog. If you know of a company that is hiring ex-offenders, or if you have unique job search tips that could assist ex-offenders in finding employment or are aware of organizations or agencies doing exceptional things that benefit ex-offenders in their job search efforts, we'd love to hear from you.

New federal pilot project restores Pell Grants for prisoners

Pell GrantsAlthough a college education is not for everyone, it can be a very beneficial use of the time that many people spend behind bars. To help inmates cover the cost of that education, the Obama Administration created the Second Chance Pell pilot program, with 67 participating colleges and universities announced late last month.

Pell Grants are given by the U.S. federal government to students with financial need and they do not need to be repaid. Before 1995 prisoners had access to these grants, but the passage of the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act brought an end to the practice. Over the years there have been efforts to restore them, and more than two decades later, Pell Grants for prisoners are back again.

The colleges and universities chosen to participate will partner with more than 100 federal and state penal institutions to enroll roughly 12,000 incarcerated students in educational and training programs. These institutions may provide federal Pell Grants to qualified students who are incarcerated and are likely to be released within five years of enrolling in coursework.

“Access to high quality education is vital to ensuring that justice-involved individuals have an opportunity to reclaim their lives and restore their futures,” said Attorney General Loretta Lynch.

“Through this partnership with the Department of Education and institutions of higher learning around the country, this program will help give deserving incarcerated individuals the skills to live lives of purpose and contribute to society upon their release.”

Most programs classroom-based

Most of the schools are public two-year and four-year institutions that will offer classroom-based instructions on-site at various corrections facilities. Others plan to offer online education or a combination of both classroom and online instruction. About 37 percent of the schools will offer prison-based education for the first time. Although it depends on the institution, schools could begin offering education and training programs as early as July 1.

The colleges and universities selected for the pilot project include Auburn University in Alabama, Bennington College in Vermont, California State University Los Angeles, Fond du Lac Tribal & Community College in Minnesota, Marymount Manhattan College in New York, Rutgers in New Jersey and Tulsa Community College in Oklahoma, among many others.

Research has proved that educating prisoners pays off. A 2013 study from the RAND Corp., funded by the Department of Justice, found that incarcerated individuals who participated in correctional education were 43 percent less likely to return to prison within three years than prisoners who did not participate in any correctional education programs. RAND also estimated that for every dollar invested in correctional education programs, four to five dollars are saved on three-year re-incarceration costs.

Recognizing the economic and social benefits of education for prisoners, the Pell Grant pilot project will build on the Obama Administration’s commitment to create a fairer and more effective criminal justice system, reduce recidivism, and combat the impact of mass incarceration on families and communities through educational opportunity.


Jails to Jobs is searching for ideas for this blog. If you know of a company that is hiring ex-offenders, or if you have unique job search tips that could assist ex-offenders in finding employment or are aware of organizations or agencies doing exceptional things that benefit ex-offenders in their job search efforts, we'd love to hear from you.