If you’re having trouble finding a job because of your record, check out Honest Jobs, a job search site that connects job seekers with felonies to second chance employers.
Honest Jobs is a company that understands exactly where you’re coming from. They’ve been there too. It was founded by Harley Blakeman, who dropped out of school, became homeless and had to depend on friends for a place to sleep every night. He was arrested for drug dealing in 2010 at age 18. During a stint in prison, Harley got sober, began to seriously read books for the first time and earned his GED. Upon release, he attended The Ohio State University and earned a bachelor of business administration, graduating with honors.
But when he went to look for a job, time after time his felony got in the way. Although he finally found employment, Harley knew there were thousands of others out there who couldn’t. So he decided to help them by creating Honest Jobs.
How it all began
“Originally there were three of us in a tiny little office,” says Melissa Dickerson, who serves as the company’s operations manager and who, like most of the current 12 employees, has a felony record. And her story is equally compelling.
“I stumbled across Harley’s TEDx talk at the lowest time in my life. I was less than three months sober, homeless, facing pending felony charges for meth possession and desperately searching for a job so I could rebuild my life (and myself)” she says.
“His story inspired me, so I Googled him to learn more. I found out that he had just launched a website to help people with criminal records find jobs. I immediately created a job seeker profile and saw that he was hiring at Honest Jobs. The instant wave of hope and relief I felt when I read that job description was almost overwhelming. I had given up finding a job in my former field because I didn’t think any technology company would give me a chance. But I submitted my resume along with the sappiest cover letter ever written, and Harley replied almost immediately. I went in for an interview the next day, and he hired me on the spot.”
Algorithm sets Honest Jobs apart
Beginning with just those three employees, the company grew, mainly by using technology to expand its reach. One third of its current employees are software developers.
“We have an algorithm that makes us different from any other job board. The job seeker will sign up for an account and self-describe their criminal record. That drives the algorithm.” It reads the descriptions of jobs in the area and attempts to identify any conflict between the job description and the job seeker’s record. It lets them know which jobs they have the best chance at getting.
“If I have a DUI in my record, I won’t get any jobs which require driving, for example, because that would conflict with my record,” Dickerson says.
The service is entire free for job seekers and the government agencies or nonprofit organizations they may be working with.
Anyone in an organization that works with people who have criminal records can take advantage of a special feature known as the supervision and support account. This free feature allows them to invite their clients to the website, where they can monitor their job search activity and see the job results that they have the best chance of getting. Many parole officers also use this feature.
Employers pay for the service
While free for job seekers and the organizations they work with, most employers must pay. The company offers a basic account in which an employer can post one job at a time for free. The Premium option is $50 per job per month, with a $250 minimum. It allows for unlimited active job posts and placement at the top of search results.
Honest Jobs also does direct placement, serving as a recruiter for any company that wants to hire them. As part of its Direct Placement + Retention program, it sources and pre-screens candidates and follows up after they’re employed. In essence, Honest Jobs creates and operates a second chance hiring program for those companies that want that level of service.
“We now have 11 direct placement employers who have multiple jobs all over the country.,” says Dickerson. “They have generally tried to do it (second chance hiring) themselves and realized that there is just too much involved. So they come to us to manage their fair chance hiring program for them.”
As part of its Direct Placement + Retention program, Honest Jobs supports the employees for 90 days after hiring. “We have a whole network of resources that we can refer them to, such as housing, transportation, just about any kind of social service they might need,” she adds.
Thus far, Honest Jobs has worked with almost 450 employers, including major companies like Koch Industries and Amazon, and many smaller local and regional businesses. It lists jobs in 180 counties across the U.S. and is constantly expanding.
‘If we happen to onboard an employer in a place where we don’t have a lot of job seekers, we build a partnership with the community in that area and start to advertise and do outreach to get job seekers aware of our service,” says Dickerson.
She and her colleagues are also certified by the SHRM’s Getting Talent Back to Work training and certification program, which gives them the skills to create a network of second chance employers.
Plans for the future
Honest Jobs is preparing for a major expansion.
“We’re in the process of raising a Series A round of investment funding. And we’re looking to increase our staff by another 30 people within the next year, because we’ve had so much demand,” Dickerson says. “We’d like to open locations in other targeted areas like Phoenix, Chicago, Florida and Texas. We’re also looking at ways to connect with job seekers while they’re still incarcerated.”