Looking for work if you have a criminal record can be a Herculean task. One that requires more than a little out-of-the-box thinking. And perseverance that compels you to never give up no matter what it takes.
A woman in Florida named Caroline Trude-Rede is a perfect example of this. She left a comment on our Facebook page, and we knew from what she wrote that her story needed to be told.
Her message: Never take “no” for an answer. If you think you’re the right person for a job, make sure they know it. And don’t let them turn you down just because you have a record.
Here’s her story. The reason for her felony conviction and incarceration is a bit complicated, but it has to do with the fact that she received Veteran’s Administration benefits based on her father’s military service. The payments, which she thought were like a pension that would continue to be given to her, were actually supposed to stop at her mother’s death in 2003. The result was a felony charge of grand theft and a six-month sentence in federal prison – FMC Carswell in Fort Worth, Texas – that began in January 2018. Up until that time she had never been arrested for anything.
But like most others with felony convictions, surviving prison wasn’t her only challenge. After release, she needed to find a job, not only to pay the bills but because her probation required that she work 32 hours per week.
Two-hundred applications, 10 interviews and no job
So Trude-Rede applied for about 200 jobs during the 3-1/2 months between the time of her release and until she became employed. She applied for a variety of types of work, including taking orders at Panera Bread, answering phones in call centers and stocking items at places like Target and Sam’s Club.
“I was willing to take anything to get employed. I have two college degrees and I was applying for jobs at entry level just to try and get a foot in the door,” she says.
Although Trude-Rede had about 10 interviews, no one would hire her, not even Universal Studios, where she had previously worked for five years in a professional position in the creative department.
And then she interviewed for a graphic designer position at an architectural firm. The interview – which was conducted by her direct boss, the president of the firm and a potential coworker – went well, and she knew that she was the perfect candidate for the job. In fact, she thought she would get it.
Trude-Rede brought up her felony conviction in the interview, but the president of the company had already left, after saying, “I see all I need to see. She is perfectly capable of doing the job.”
The human resources department then emailed her a form to complete for a background check. But 10 days after the original interview, she received an email stating that they had gone a different way.
She refused to take “no” for an answer
When she saw that the position was reposted online a few days later, however, she decided to take action. She refused to take “no” for an answer.
Trude-Rede sent an email stating why she’s the person they should hire. In the email, she included a link to an article on her blog explaining her incarceration, said that she’d never had any interaction with law enforcement before that point and mentioned all the things she had accomplished in prison.
In addition she explained the Federal Bonding Program that protects businesses from financial or property loss that might incur from hiring workers in “at risk” groups and mentioned that his company could also qualify for tax breaks and/or credits if they hire her.
And it worked. She sent the email on Friday, and on Monday she had a response and invitation to interview with the firm’s CEO/owner.
“He started off (the interview) by thanking me for my email and said that he was impressed by my tenacity. The fact that I wanted the job so much and was so determined was extremely impressive to him,” Trude-Rede said. “He also appreciated my honesty and candor. He said he wasn’t quite sure that everything went down exactly how I explained the story, but my frankness about everything was refreshing.”
The next day she received an offer letter and is now very happily employed. “I absolutely love the company. Not just because they took a chance on me, but I truly fit in there. I am not treated any differently by anyone who knows my story and was given a Christmas bonus after only being there three weeks,” she says.
The moral of this story
“Job seekers with a felony on their record should never give up on themselves or their dreams,” Trude-Rede says. “If they want to go back to school because they would like to do something they need a degree for and are worried about employment afterwards with the felony, I say go for it.”
“You define who you are, not what you did in the past. Be humble. Be brave. Know that it is going to be hard, but we all start somewhere. Take chances. A few minutes of courage could change your life. A five-minute email changed mine.”
From the editor: In preparation for interviewing, we suggest that you check out our interview tips, including how to create a turnaround talk and turnaround packet. Preparation and having a plan can make a big difference between getting a job offer or not. Good luck!