As a job seeker with a criminal record, you are not alone

iStock_000002144669_SmallThe high rate of incarceration among American men may give some degree of consolation to ex-offender job seekers. In fact, you can use this fact to reassure potential employers that your situation is not really all that unusual.

According to a study by criminal justice and criminology professors from four universities published this month in the journal Crime & Delinquency, by age 18, about 26 percent of Hispanic males, 30 percent of black males and 22 percent of white males have been arrested for something other than a minor traffic violation. By age 23, the figure rises to 44 percent of Hispanic males, 49 percent of black males and 38 percent of white males.

Females have a much lower arrest rate. By age 18, 12 percent of Hispanic, black and white females have been arrested at least once. By age 23, the statistics increase to 16 percent for Hispanic females, 18 percent for black females and 20 percent for white females.

The study did not rely on arrest records. Rather it used self-reported arrest history data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1997, conducted by the U.S. Dept. of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics. The project began to interview a representative sample of 9,000 youth in 1997 on a variety of subjects that included education, employment, relationships and lifestyle issues and followed the group with annual interviews through 2008.

Well, some of you might ask, “How can I use this information, since I was first arrested when I was older than 23?” Many people are surprised to learn that one in four adult Americans – about 65 million people – has an arrest or conviction that will show up in a routine criminal background check. That translates to a tremendous number of potential job seekers and employees.

The arrest records of those in the survey and the percentage of the population as a whole with a criminal record prove that indeed, you are not alone. And you can use this information to show potential employers that there are many others like you and that they should give you a chance to prove yourself at a job.

And they won’t be doing anything all that abnormal or unusual. A Harris International survey of 2,298 U.S. hiring mangers and human resource professionals conducted on behalf of CareerBuilder in 2012 found that 51 percent of those surveyed reported that their organizations have at one time hired someone with a criminal record.

The best way to bring up the subject may be during your turnaround talk, a technique created by Larry Robbin, a nationally known expert in the area of workforce development. The turnaround talk is a chance for you to tell your story to the person interviewing you and turn their attitude around to seeing you as the capable and unique person you are.

You might want to start out by saying something like, “Before we start (or before we go any further), I have something I’d like to talk to you about. I, like many other men (or women) my age, have been arrested. In fact, by the age of 23 ….. (site statistics above). Or say,You might be surprised to learn that one out of four American adults has a criminal record.”

After this introduction, continue to briefly talk about the crime you committed and what you learned from the experience and to assure them that it won’t happen again. You also will want to stress how you’ve turned your life around since you committed whatever crime you were arrested for.

Be sure to talk about any classes you took or activities you participated in while incarcerated, jobs you held either inside prison or after you were released, volunteer work you might have done and whatever 12-step programs you might have participated in if you have a substance-abuse problem. Each of these can be good indications to the hiring manager of your rehabilitation and eagerness for a fresh start.

To further press your turnaround case you should also prepare a turnaround packet.  This should include such items as certificates from training courses you completed, letters of reference, photos of volunteer activities you have participated in, hobbies you might have like gardening or car restoration, and several reference letters.

The turnaround packet, together with the turnaround talk, will go a long way to convince any potential employer that you’re serious about starting a new life and are a good candidate for whatever job you’re applying for.


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