Emphasizing strengths can help ex-offenders find employment

Ex-offenders are capable of a wide variety of jobs. You just have to give them the confidence to be able to find them.

As job developers, when you deal with ex-offenders it’s important to assess them using a strength-based process rather than beginning with the many barriers they face. Or so says Larry Robbin, a nationally known expert in the area of workforce development, who offered this and many other pieces of advice to a crowd of more than 125 people from six San Francisco Bay Area counties at a July 11 workshop sponsored by the San Francisco Office of Economic and Workforce Development.

“You need to engage this population very quickly and deeply,” Robbin says. “The opening conversations with people are usually a lot about their problems. You should start with their strengths and then get to those other issues.”

To get them to think in a positive manner, ask them:

  • What do people compliment you about? When you find out what others appreciate about your ex-offender client, you can get an idea of what their strengths are and what makes them appealing to others.
  • What jobs would you be good at? This question lets them make their own self assessment and will show you what they feel they would be comfortable doing.
  • What are you doing when you lose track of time? Asking this question is a way to find out what they’re passionate about.
  • What can you teach someone else to do? This will tell you the skills they know really well.
  • What did you want to be when you were a little kid? Some people never give up on their childhood dreams.

Once you ask these and any other similar questions you come up with, you’re ready to take the knowledge you’ve gained and apply it to building up your ex-offender client’s self esteem.

Use the information the person gives you to paint a picture of them working. Do everything you can to help them see themselves in a job and a career.

Tell success stories of how people who were in reentry were able to find work. Use examples of other clients you’ve worked with, and if possible get those who found employment to call your current client and talk to them and tell them stories of how they did it.

At the same time you are encouraging the ex-offender to imagine that they are working, you also need to deal with the many barriers they face. This will take patience and time, so prioritize the barriers. Decide what has to be worked on first to get the person closer to employment. Don’t try to do too much with too many barriers all at the same time. Attack them one by one, and when you’ve successfully dealt with one of the barriers, move on to the next. You can keep a list for your own reference, but introduce them gradually to your client. Otherwise they might feel overwhelmed and give up.

It won’t be an easy process for you or your client, but using this strength-based assessment process, if done properly, is sure to provide positive results.


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