In his book “Clean Slate: 9 Secrets to Getting a Job, Even With a Felony,” Michael Lewiston, a convicted felon who served time in prison, gives some excellent advice in an easy-to-follow format that can be read and digested in an afternoon.
His “secrets” or tips include:
- Decide what you really want to do. Become a specialist in something and look for businesses that “don’t quite fit the mold” – he uses repossession companies as an example – or that tend to be more supportive of ex-offenders.
- It’s not really about you. It’s about them. Concentrate on what you can do to help the employer.
- Use LinkedIn and Facebook as tools to help you in your job search.
- Reach out to friends and family to ask for help, and ask them to forward your resume or JIST card to their contacts. Those contacts might send it to their contacts – and soon lots of people will have your resume.
- Develop professional interview techniques, again concentrating on what you can do for the company.
- Create a well thought out story – what we at Jails to Jobs call a turnaround talk – to explain your situation, but save it until you’re convinced they like you and may want to hire you.
- Do volunteer work while you’re looking for a job.
- Always remember that you are not your past.
Additional insight from author Michael Lewiston
Impressed with what he had to say, we interviewed the author of this book and received more useful tips and advice that we wanted to be sure to share:
What is your background, and why did you decide to write Clean Slate?
When I was looking for work and my record was holding me back from gaining employment, I realized that most people don’t understand what it really means to be a felon. My crime was financial, non-violent, non-drug related, and yet I was lumped in with people’s worst, TV-fueled imaginations of what a felon could be.
Because of that I was repeatedly told that it was too risky to hire me. Other people thought of themselves as good compared to felons or anyone who spent time in prison. They didn’t want to hear about rehabilitation or second chances because that would change the story they were telling themselves. They wanted retribution instead – they wanted vengeance.
Getting someone who wants vengeance to hire you is no small task. My first job getting out I worked with a man who understood the situation and had a different mindset. But if I wanted to get better employment, I would have to fight this public need for retribution in addition to looking better than the other applicants. I learned some useful secrets along the way and wanted to get that information out there where others can use it to better their lives.
Which of the nine secrets you mention in the book do you think are the most important?
The very first secret is not really a secret but it’s the most important. Decide what you want! If you don’t know where you are going, or are willing to settle for anything (which is necessary sometimes I understand), you aren’t going to get where you need to be. More focus and drive will lead to more success. Also, No. 7, “Do Something With Your Time,” humanizes someone with a record and helps make them more likable.
Have you come up with any more secrets since you wrote this book?
The best way to get ahead more quickly is to learn new skills, and there has never a better time to do that in the history of the world than right now. I would recommend learning how to code – for free I might add – online with websites like codecademy.com. The Internet is the future, and code runs the Internet. Learn a skill that will be valuable for years to come, and your employment will be easier to come by.
What do you think is the main obstacle (besides their record) that ex-offenders face when looking for a job?
Besides the spirit of retribution as opposed to a spirit of rehabilitation that many employers feel, I think a huge obstacle is an ex-offender’s attitude toward work and how people SHOULD treat them. An attitude of failure will make any job search grind to a halt. Also, not taking extra care of our appearance is a huge setback. People judge a book by its cover, and if you don’t look like what the employer thinks a felon looks like, then that’s just one less obstacle for you to overcome.