Using proper body language in an interview can help you get the job

body languageExperts say that potential employers will make up their mind about you during the first few seconds after meeting you. And it has a lot to do with body language.

The importance of body language cannot be underestimated. Most job seekers spend hours and hours thinking about and practicing what they’re going to say. But they should also spend some time considering how they’re going to use nonverbal communication to establish rapport with the hiring manager.

It starts with a handshake

It all starts with the initial handshake, which believe it or not, can make or break an interview. When you first meet the interviewer, they will probably offer you their hand.  Watch for their cue before you extend yours. Then squeeze their hand firmly – not too hard or too soft and avoid the limp or “dead fish” handshake, which will make a horrible impression.

Be sure to make eye contact and smile. Even if you might be nervous, let them know that you are happy to be there and excited about the job you are interviewing for.

Eye contact

Making eye contact is an important part of how you communicate. Looking in someone’s eyes helps establish rapport and shows that you are interested. Look them confidently in the eye, but don’t stare. That may make them feel uncomfortable

Be sure to make eye contact with the interviewer when they’re speaking and as much as possible when you’re speaking as well. If you are being interviewed by a panel of people, use what is sometimes referred to as the lighthouse technique. Look from one person to the next pausing briefly at each. But if a particular interviewer asks you a question, make sure to maintain steady eye contact with that person.

Practice using eye contact on a daily basis with friends and family. That way it will seem natural and you will become used to doing it. A good rule of thumb is each time you offer eye contact, make it long enough to notice the color of the other person’s eyes, or a little longer.

Good posture

Don’t’ slouch. Sit up straight in your chair and plant your feet firmly on the floor. This will show that you are confident and ready to tackle the questions that will be thrown your way.

Don’t cross your legs or your arms. Although the reason is open to interpretation, crossed arms are considered negative by most people. They are thought to be a sign of insecurity or a means of putting a barrier between yourself and others.

Put your arms by your side but feel free to gesture. “Talking” with your hands can add emphasis to what you say, but use gestures sparingly.

You will also want to nod your head while the interviewer is speaking to show that you are listening and engaged, and agree with what they’re saying (if you do).

Remember to smile

Like eye contact, a smile can establish rapport with the person or people interviewing you. Make sure you smile and smile sincerely. A smile shows that you are confident, at ease with yourself and will be a pleasant person to work with. It also offers connection and a sense of empathy which can demonstrate that you possess important soft skills, setting you apart from other job candidates.

It ends with a handshake

When the interview is over, the hiring manager will probably want to shake your hand again to conclude the process. Make sure to thank them for taking the time to interview you and put on your best smile.

In the days before an interview, practice your body language techniques to make sure that you’ll feel comfortable and it comes off as natural.

Try a power pose

Right before the interview you can also try a little trick that will improve the way you present yourself. It’s called a power pose – the hands-on-the-hips wonder woman pose or what an athlete does when he raises both hands above his head to celebrate victory after crossing the finish line. Researchers have found that assuming a power pose for two minutes before going into an interview gives people the confidence they need to make a favorable impression. It should also put you in the mindset to use your best body language.

Using the proper body language is an important skill and should help you make a good impression and get the job.



MOD Pizza finds strength as second chance employer

MOD Pizza

Kory Harp, MOD Pizza’s program manager – impact hires

Although named by Nation’s Restaurant News as the fastest growing U.S. restaurant chain in terms of sales for two years in a row, MOD Pizza sees the growth of its employees as more important than financial success.

And it prides itself on being a second chance employer. But second chance at MOD means more than creating opportunities only for formerly incarcerated employees. Although there are plenty of those. In fact, they make up about 21 percent of the company’s workforce.

“MOD gives a second chance to everybody,” says Kory Harp, program manager – impact hires. “We give a second chance to the mom who hasn’t worked in 10 or 15 years and the kid who wants to go to college, but this is his first job. We give everyone a chance no matter who they are.”

And giving those who want it a chance has created a company that’s about more than just pizza. Not to say that MOD’s “made on demand” pizza doesn’t have a following in places where it has opened outlets.

A platform for doing good

The way the company officially defines itself on the “Who We Are” section of its website: “At its heart MOD is a platform for doing good. The idea? If we take care of our employees, they’ll take care of you, and our business will take care of itself. We call it Spreading MODness, and after opening stores across the U.S., we think it’s working.”

Something must be working, or else it wouldn’t have made it to the top of the fastest growing restaurant list. The Seattle-headquartered company had a 44.7% increase in systemwide sales growth in 2018. It grew from 31 locations in 2014 to 476 outlets in 29 states – as well as the United Kingdom and Canada – today.

Part of the company’s success may no doubt be due to the fact that it is a second chance employer, a concept that more and more consumers are beginning to support. And it all began with Harp.

“I came in about 2010 (two years after the company was founded),” he says.” I had just been released from prison. I told them I hadn’t worked for a while, but the hiring manager said she kind of liked me.

Hiring formerly incarcerated employees for a decade

“The thing about MOD that puts us apart is everybody now wants to hire somebody that has a background. It’s the cool thing to do these days, but MOD has been doing that for 10 years. It was started by me.”

He worked really hard for the first six months. “The boss told me to hire more people like me who had the same kind of background. And every single one of us has been a manager at some point,” Harp says.

After Harp had been on the job for about three years, MOD Pizza began to put a big focus on hiring people in reentry. “So that took off to what you see now,” he says. “In the state we’re in (Washington),  66 percent of the residents of some of our districts have records. In the company as a whole it’s 18 percent to 21 percent.”

Although he had originally planned to work only a few months at MOD Pizza, Harp has been there more than a decade. He’s opened 91 MOD stores and trained employees across the nation.

Mentorship program to help employees deal with problems

Currently he’s in the process of creating a mentorship program that will launch in the coming months. The purpose of the program is to help people deal with the problems they’re facing in their lives, whether they’re reentering society from prison, are in recovery or whatever situation they’re facing.

“We’ll go in and help people combat their outside life. For me I didn’t know how to do anything on a day-to-day basis. I could come to work and be great, but I had a lot of trouble with handling ordinary life things. I can’t say what we’re going to be doing yet, but we have a big partner that’s going to help us do it,” he says.

In the meantime, “we are going to continue to build stores and keep the culture. Our main goal is to keep the teams happy and give back to the teams and the communities where they are located.”

Vera Institute of Justice and Root & Rebound issue coronavirus advice to prisons, parole officers and others

coronavirusThe coronavirus pandemic could explode within the walls of prisons and jails. And it could spread even further among those on parole. Although some states and facilities are taking action in these areas, it may be too little too late.

But there are still many things that officials can do. And they may want to follow the lead of two nonprofit organizations – Vera Institute of Justice in Brooklyn, NY, and Root & Rebound in Oakland, Calif. – which have put together excellent practical advice for them to follow in dealing with the prevention or spread of the coronavirus.

Vera Institute of Justice offers advice

Vera Institute of Justice has created a series of guidance reports for use by everyone from prison and immigration detention facility employees to parole and police officers. Each one provides nearly everything that can be done – within reason – to help prevent or contain the spread of the coronavirus.

Prisons, jails and immigration detention and youth facilities 

Among actions for prisons, jails and immigration detention and youth facilities, Vera Institute of Justice recommends that they:

  • Release as many people as possible, especially inmates with a high risk of infection – those who are older, pregnant or have compromised immune systems. And those states that don’t allow discretionary releases should change their policies.
  • Screen everyone entering the facility.
  • Provide free hand-sanitizer and antibacterial soap, and wash clothing, sheets and towels more often.
  • Use videoconferencing and email for staff briefings.
  • Continue classes, jobs and recreational activities, but reduce group size.
  • Create comfortable housing to separate those with symptoms of the virus and the actual disease, rather than put them in solitary confinement cells, which should not be used.
  • Develop a staffing plan to handle employee shortages, and ensure that essential tasks will continue to be performed.
Parole and probation officers

Among recommendations for parole and probation officers:

  • Don’t re-incarcerate those on parole for technical violations, such as missing a parole meeting or not passing a drug test.
  • Terminate probation as soon as possible.
  • Substitute in-person reporting with phone calls or videoconferencing.
  • Suspend all supervision fees to account for lost wages.
  • Create an individual emergency medical plan for those under supervision to prepare for the possibility that they may become infected.
  • Train staff on how to respond if someone under their supervision has coronavirus symptoms or the disease itself.
Prosecutors, defenders and courts

Among recommendations for prosecutors, defenders and the courts:

  • Don’t prosecute minor offenses, including drug possession and theft.
  • Convert as many charges as possible to non-arrest charges.
  • Reschedule court appearances for at least six months in the future.
  • Create a website to resolve cases online instead of through in-court appearances.
  • Judges should determine those on their detained dockets who can be released and make sure they are released.
Root & Rebound recommends changes in parole and probation practices

Meanwhile, last week Root & Rebound sent a call-to-action letter to California Governor Gavin Newsom, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Secretary Ralph Diaz and Division of Adult Parole Operations Director Jeffrey Green, as well government officials, all California county probation offices and county boards of supervisors.

The letter urges recipients to “modify parole and probation conditions, policies and practices during this public health crisis in order to protect public health and reduce unnecessary contact between people, which will save lives by slowing the transmission of COVID-19.”

Root & Rebound recommends that parole and probation:

  • Suspend all in-person meetings, except in the case of an emergency. Telephone or videoconferencing should be used instead.
  • Suspend all required classes or groups. Instead offer these on a voluntary or virtual basis.
  • Suspend drug testing and other in-person requirements.
  • Permit people under supervision to leave transitional housing and live with family members, thus reducing crowding and ensuring space for those with nowhere else to go.
  • Create an emergency infrastructure that covers housing, financial assistance and community resources.
  • Help people being released from prison and those under supervision find safe and healthy housing.
  • Provide medical planning pre-release, and help ensure access to healthcare and prescription medications.
  • Provide early termination of probation and immediate discharge from parole for those who meet specific requirements.
  • Cease enforcement of technical violations, and release those already imprisoned for technical violations or inability to pay bail.
  • Not issue violations to people who don’t charge their GPS/ankle monitors, since those who are homeless often use libraries and public spaces to recharge them, and those places are now closed.

Note: We are impressed by the lead that these organizations have taken and would love to hear about actions initiated by other nonprofits. If you are aware of any, please contact us.


Antonio Reza helps pave way for formerly incarcerated who want to become lawyers

Antonio Reza

Antonio Reza

Thanks to the efforts of Santa Clara University School of Law student Antonio Reza and others like him, a growing number of people leaving prison may be headed to law school.

Many people study law while incarcerated. They may want to learn how to challenge wrongful convictions. Or attempt to correct errors in their sentencing. Or pick up knowledge that will help them gain employment upon release. Up to this point, however, not so many have gone on to practice law. But that is changing.

Take Antonio Reza for example. He grew up in what he calls a “rough neighborhood” and lost his first friend to gang violence at the age of 12. When he graduated from high school he knew seven people who had died within a year. And none were older than 21.

His mother kicked him out of the house the day after he finished high school, and he was incarcerated at the age of 19, convicted of the felony one count of second degree armed robbery and received a strike.

“When I got out there were a lot of barriers, and a lot of doors were closed to me. Everybody counted me out. ‘You’re just a felon. You’ll go back,’ they said,” Reza says. “I just wanted to prove everybody wrong.”

Substituted success for re-incarceration

“In doing so, I did the exact opposite of going back to prison.’

And what was the exact opposite? He enrolled in Ohlone College, a community college in Fremont, Calif., played basketball, was a part of student government, got inducted into the honor society and graduated with a 4.0 grade average.

But when he attempted to transfer to a four-year college, he faced the kind of challenges that are only encountered by those with a criminal record.

“When I was applying to transfer, that little box was everywhere. For job applications, for housing, for FAFSA,” Reza says. “All I was trying to do was to get an education, and I had this barrier trying to exclude me again.

“I was so mad all this time. Literally everywhere I turned, that box was there, and every time another door was closed on another opportunity that was not for me.”

But Reza persisted, was accepted to the University of San Francisco with a full scholarship and graduated as valedictorian. “I did everything I could, because I knew I had a second opportunity and didn’t want to waste any chances,” he says.

During his years at USF, he volunteered at a halfway house and started to be an advocate for formerly incarcerated people.

Standing up for the formerly incarcerated

“I knew I had to take a stand. There’s a negative stigma around people with a record, so I wanted to break that,” he says. “I wanted to do that by showing that, ‘yeah,  just because I was a felon, don’t keep me out.’ I started becoming an advocate because people would say, I never knew you were a felon. But what’s a felon?

“I knew that by standing up, I would be making it easier for the next felon. There are phenomenal people who came before me who were formerly incarcerated. These people were trailblazing. They allowed me to get opportunities that I wouldn’t have had. They pushed the envelope, and I’m pushing the envelope just a bit further.”

Through his work at the halfway house and his studies at USF, he became determined to be an agent of change.

“I noticed a lot of changes I felt needed to be made in the legal system, and I couldn’t do  them standing on the outside. I had to be on the inside. I believe that those closest to the problem are closest to the solution.”

So, he applied to 21 law schools. And even then, he noticed the discrimination. He was accepted by quite a few but waitlisted by others that he said, based on his grades and scores, he would have been accepted to and heavily recruited – if it weren’t for his record.

Of the law schools he was accepted to, Santa Clara stood out.

“It is truly a special environment. I can bring who I really am to campus. Just to be normal,” Reza says. “The environment really made a difference. The admission staff really made an effort to recruit me. And they gave me a full ride,” he says.

Creating bar associations for previously incarcerated attorneys

Now in his first year of law school, he is planning to specialize in criminal justice reform. And in the meantime, along with his studies, he’s busy developing two organizations dedicated to giving a voice to formerly incarcerated people who are now lawyers and law students.

Reza is an executive board member and the first student president of the National Justice Impact Bar Association, a new bar association for formerly incarcerated lawyers. As a member, he participated in the Rebellious Lawyering Conference 2020, which is the largest student-run public interest law conference in the U.S. and took place in mid-February at Yale Law School.

He’s also one of the founding members of the California System Involved Bar Association, which attracted 100 attendees to its first annual conference March 7 at UCLA.

“Most attendees (at the California event) were undergraduate students who are thinking about attending law school. A lot of them were justice involved, or their family members were or their kids,” Reza said. There were three panels. One was law school admissions staff explaining how they handle formerly incarcerated applicants. The panel that Reza was on consisted of formerly incarcerated law students and practicing attorneys. The third panel was people in charge of moral character for the State Bar of California.

Advice for those who want to become a lawyer

“It’s possible. It’s going to be hard, but it’s possible. I was told that due to my record I was never going to be able to practice law, but that’s a lie. As soon as you pass the bar, you can practice any kind of law you want. You can even be a tax lawyer, public defender, district attorney or any other type or lawyer you want. You are not limited because you are formerly incarcerated. That doesn’t mean you won’t be discriminated against. You’re going to have to bring your A game, if you’re going to be able to make it,” Reza says.

“The formerly incarcerated community is a really strong and close community. I’d like to encourage whoever is reading this to feel free to contact me. Everyone is willing to help each other out. We’ve all been through it, and we understand what it’s like, so we really try to help each other.

To learn more about Antonio Reza in his own words, check out the TEDx talk he gave at Ohlone College in November. And if you’d like to get in touch with him, please contact us.

Code Tenderloin founder Del Seymour helps ex-offenders learn job skills and discover how to reclaim their dignity

Code Tenderloin

Del Seymour founded Code Tenderloin to help people gain some of the opportunities that tech companies were bringing to the area.

Reclaiming your dignity after being incarcerated can be a difficult task. But it doesn’t have to be.

Often people are hampered by a self-defeating attitude. But you can turn that attitude around and break the mental chains that are holding you back.

Just ask Del Seymour. A former drug dealer who lived in a dumpster in San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood for 18 years, Seymour turned his life around and now helps those who are in reentry, who live on the streets and who face other challenges. He focuses on the Tenderloin, an area adjacent to the city’s mid-Market, where tech companies like Twitter, Square and Uber have set up shop.

Questioning why the people in the Tenderloin weren’t getting a share of the opportunities that tech companies have brought to the city, Seymour founded Code Tenderloin five years ago. During the time it has been in existence, the organization has trained more than 2,000 people, at least 35% of whom were formerly incarcerated.

Code Tenderloin conducts both job training and programming classes

It offers Job Readiness and Code Ramp programs. Job Readiness is the first step, a program in which participants – and anyone can be a participant they just have to walk in the door – learn the basics. These include how to set goals and create a resume, as well as how to make a good impression and succeed in the workplace.

Code Ramp teaches beginning JavaScript programming, with advanced classes for those who wish to go further. The classes take place at Uber headquarters, LinkedIn headquarters and PianoFight, an independent arts venue. They are taught by volunteer instructors who are employed in the tech industry. Other volunteers serve as teaching assistants, who work with the instructors. Still others act as tutors who help students one-on-one. Some of these students are studying on their own and need help.

“We have volunteers from major tech companies to small start-ups and many boot camp graduates from the Bay Area,” says Donna Hilliard, the organization’s executive director.

“Some people volunteer because they come from an untraditional background and want to support others to help them break into tech. Other people have heard about the work we do from other volunteers and want to make an impact.”

Although Code Tenderloin is about helping people get jobs, at its heart it is much more than that. Seymour says the most important subject to deal with is dignity – or lack thereof.

Code Tenderloin helps people regain their dignity

“The main thing we do at Code Tenderloin is we give you your dignity what you already got,” he says. “I tell people I can’t really give you your dignity. You already have it. It’s just a matter of claiming it and not guilt tripping yourself every day you get up. It’s done it’s over. It’s not a life sentence. Don’t make it a life sentence.”

Meanwhile, there’s plenty of help out there for those who take the initiative to reclaim their dignity. And there’s one way to help ensure that you won’t lose hope when making your way back into society.

“Reach out for support. Stay around people who are positive,” Seymour says.

It’s essential, however, that you look for help as soon as you can after getting out of jail or prison, according to Seymour.

“Time is of the essence. The longer you don’t get hooked up and connected with organizations that can help you, the more chance that you will not be successful,” he says. Quit guilt tripping about what happened years ago.

“There’re reasons why there’s a referee in a boxing ring. When a boxer gets beaten down, the referee has to stand there and help them get back up,” he says. “You can’t get up when people are beating on you. And sometimes the person beating on you is yourself.”

Federal Bureau of Prisons reentry handbook provides excellent info for those leaving prison

Reentry handbook

Leaving prison and confused about how to go about getting your new life on track? Yes, reentry can be an involved process, but the Federal Bureau of Prisons has an excellent resource to help you make it through.

The agency’s 40-page  Reentering Your Community: A Handbook is downloadable for free from the internet. It is full of information about what to do even before you leave prison so that you will be well prepared to get back to life on the outside and be able to look for a job.

Three checklists give step-by-step actions that will smooth the way

Checklist #1 Things to do before your release. These include information on how to get:

  • ID documents, including your birth certificate and social security card.
  • Proof of your GED, if you have one.
  • Your medical records.

Checklist #2 Things to do immediately after your return. These include:

  • Creating an email address.
  • Finding a way to access the Internet.
  • Obtaining a photo ID.
  • Signing up for health insurance.

Checklist #3 Things to do to rebuild. These include:

  • Taking control of your finances.
  • Finding programs and organizations that can help you.
  • Considering whether to go back to school or enter a training program.
  • Starting to look for a job.
  • Rebuilding relationships with friends and family.

The handbook then goes into greater detail on many of the items listed on the checklists with instructions on things like how to open a bank account and understand a credit report; and managing child support payments and student debt, for those people who have them.

One section of the handbook focuses on major assistance programs like Goodwill Industries and the Salvation Army, as well as government income, food, housing and transportation assistance programs. Each program includes a description of what it offers, and links and phone numbers to find out more information and enroll in the programs.

Info on how to take care of health issues

Another important thing that those in reentry need to take care of is their health, and the handbook includes extensive information on how to do that, whether physical or mental health or a need for drug treatment. There’s information on how to find a public health center, a link to a Veterans Administration medical center directory and mental health and suicide prevention helplines.

You can find out how to build your skills through education and launch a job search. It gives advice on resumes and how to prepare for a job interview, as well as recommending the online and physical resources of Career OneStop (now known as American Job Center).

The handbook outlines various legal issues those leaving prison might encounter and organizations they can turn to for assistance. The final section offers tips about how to rebuild relationships with people you know and love, since they will be instrumental in helping you in your journey to reentry.

Kevin Poppen offers excellent job search advice from prison

Kevin PoppenAlthough we are regularly contacted by people in prison, it’s rare to receive a letter that offers the kind of advice we received from Kevin Poppen, who is currently incarcerated at Growlersburg Conservation Camp #33 in Georgetown, Calif. And what we learned from him can go a long way towards helping those who are incarcerated prepare for their lives on the outside.

We heard from Poppen after sending him a copy of our book, Jails to Jobs: Seven Steps to Becoming Employed. He wrote to thank us for the book and encourage us to include what he refers to as a “reentry journal” in our next edition. And it’s such a good idea that we certainly will but don’t want to wait until then to share it with our readers. We decided to interview him by mail to see what other ideas he has.

Create a reentry journal

The idea to create a reentry journal came to Kevin Poppen when he was in solitary confinement. (He’s been incarcerated for 17 years.) Here’s the story, in his words:

“About four years ago, while sitting in administrative segregation (solitary confinement), I would daydream for hours and hours on end about what I was going to do when I got out of prison. For five months straight, I sat in a concrete box 24 hours a day, was allowed to leave the cell only once every three days for a five-minute shower. I spent five months staring at a wall creating budgets (all with arbitrary numbers, as I had no way of researching anything), playing out whole scenarios in my head about what I would do, where I would go, what I needed to accomplish and what might get in my way.”

One day Poppen grabbed a notebook and started randomly writing down his thoughts into what he describes as a “dream journal.” It even included a floor plan of what his future house would look like. At one point his sister sent him a box from Amazon that included a nice leather-bond notebook. About the same time, Poppen began to read Jails to Jobs: Seven Steps to Becoming Employed and three other job search books that we recommend. And he started to record useful information in his journal.

How his journal is organized

Poppen has several pages in the front of his “Re-entry Journal” for brainstorming. This section includes random thoughts, ideas, addresses and whatever. The rest of the journal is broken down into sections – housing, employment, nonprofit and social service info, and a detailed to-do list for once he begins his new life.

Where does he get his information? “Although some of the info came from the four books, but a lot of contact information and ideas I have in my journal came from years of slowly collecting. One inmate on the yard may have an inmate resource list of available services, another may have lived at a particular transitional housing location, another may have the address of a nonprofit that sends books to inmates.

“One good book I remember helping quite a bit at the time was published by Root & Rebound. (The organization’s Roadmap to Reentry provides legal information to those leaving prison.) Another way I’ve compiled info over the years is through inmate legal newsletters and magazines, such as Prison Legal News, California Lifer News, and newsletters from the Initiate Justice and the Anti-Recidivism Coalition.

Deciding what info to include

Poppen narrowed his topics down to the three things necessary for survival – food, shelter and clothing. And what one needs to obtain these things – employment.

Examples of what he included in the different categories:

  • Food – physical and website addresses for nonprofit organizations, government agencies, churches and food banks.
  • Shelter – contact info for transitional housing/sober living residences, Dept. of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) info for Section 8 housing options, etc.
  • Employment – Turnaround packet instructions, job search websites, temp agency addresses, and info on how to conduct advance Google searches and use LinkedIn and zoominfo. Also resume ideas, interview questions, a strengths/weaknesses assessment and other useful tidbits picked up from the books he read.
Further preparation

In addition to compiling the information in his Reentry Journal, Poppen is creating a to-do list. That way he can hit the ground running when he gets out.

Here’s a list of the things Poppen plans to do immediately upon release:

  1. Check in at the parole office.
  2. Visit the DMV to obtain an identification card and make an appointment for a driving test.
  3. Visit government agencies to see if he qualifies for assistance (food stamps/general assistance).
  4. Check in with residence (sober living home or transitional living residence).
  5. Go shopping for work clothing.
  6. Start job search.
Change your mindset

While a reentry journal and to-do list will form a roadmap for reentry action, those leaving prison will also need to examine their attitudes, according to Poppen.

“Their heads need to be in the right place. Whatever behaviors or ways of thinking that got them incarcerated in the first place must be ironed out. Do this first,” he wrote.

“Some serious introspection needs to be exercised. I have yet to meet someone in prison whose real problem was the crime they committed. The problem is the underlying factors that caused the behavior in the first place. All the rest is a waste of time if someone isn’t prepared mentally and emotionally. The first step to prepare for reentry is to figure out the real reason one was incarcerated. And then seek help.”

Once that is taken care of, those preparing to leave prison need to assess what their needs are. “Then I would network, network, network. Learn how to write professional letters, and go on a letter writing campaign. Write every nonprofit that deals with inmates. Ask for referrals, and write some more,” Poppen wrote.

At the same time, they should write everything down in a journal and prepare a turnaround packet. “If they don’t have enough content for a turnaround packet, dedicate some time each day (while still incarcerated) to work on the things they need to do to fill out their checklist,” he wrote.

Poppen recommends keeping a day planner to record the dates when people write letters and the dates any responses are received. Write a short synopsis of the content of the letter and its response. That way people can remember what they’ve done and tracked their own progress.

Final advice

And there’s one very important final thing to do, Poppen writes. “Anxiety should be addressed. It’s common for inmates to experience anxiety when thinking about and trying to plan for the future. This seems especially so the longer they have been incarcerated and the closer they get to their release date.

“It’s important they know that this is normal. They need to just put one foot in front of the other, and it will all work out. Being prepared is the best defense. It builds confidence and adds something to the equation.”

How to find temp work and further your job prospects

temp workIf you’re in reentry and need a job, consider applying to work as a temporary worker, or temp as they’re more commonly known.

And the best way to do that is to apply to one or more temporary agencies. These agencies place workers in hundreds of companies, both large and small, and in positions that include everything from factory and warehouse work to secretarial and nursing assistants. Whether you’re interested in being on an assembly line; doing data entry, bookkeeping or customer service; working on a construction site; or doing computer programming, look online for an employment agency that caters to your skillset.

Working temp jobs will not just give you a paycheck. It will also help you practice your skills – or learn new ones – expand your network of contacts and possibly lead to a regular employee position.

Although you will be working for a specific company, your true employer is the temp agency. That’s the one who pays your salary and, in the case of some agencies, offers you benefits that include health insurance and a 401(k) plan.

Both large and small agencies provide opportunities

While there are huge multinational temp agencies like Manpower, Kelly Services and Adecco, local smaller agencies are also good places to work. Some agencies are general and have lots of types of assignments. Others specialize in a specific industry, maybe health care, IT, construction or manufacturing. Ask around to see if any of your friends have worked for a temp agency. If they haven’t, search online to learn more about companies in your area.

Before you apply to work at a temp agency, however, check its website to see if it offers the types of jobs you’re interested in. Then call them to get an appointment for an interview.

During that appointment, you’ll fill out an application. You may also take some skills tests. Whether these will be typing, general knowledge, math or something else will depend on the type of position you’re interested in applying for. Although they usually conduct background and sometimes drug checks, many temp agencies are second chance employers. Therefore, you can be honest with what you tell them.

Find out about the type of jobs they have available and emphasize the skills you have that would allow you to succeed in those positions. Also mention the types of projects you’ve worked on and the machinery and technology you’re familiar with.

The schedule for the jobs they offer might be every day 9 to 5, a few days a week or possibly shift work. You need to tell your recruiter what hours and days you’re available and willing to work. Sometimes people are hired for a special project and sometimes to take the place of someone who is out on temporary leave or was laid off.

Depending on what’s available, some people apply at a temp agency one day and begin an assignment the next. If work isn’t immediately available, you might want to apply to more than one agency to expand your chances of finding work. Also, check in with  the recruiter at your agency every week or so to let them know that you’re still interested in a potential assignment with them.

How to be a good temp

Once you get the assignment, here are things you should do:

  • Although it’s a temporary job, treat the work with the respect and dedication you would a full-time position.
  • Dress appropriately. You can ask your recruiter or just look around the first day to see what other people are wearing.
  • Learn the company’s culture and rules. That will help you fit in and make a positive impression.
  • Ask as many questions as it takes to understand the nature of the work you’re doing and the expectations they have for you. Doing this doesn’t make you look like a pest. It shows you’re proactive.
  • If someone gives you a training session, be sure to take notes to help reinforce and remember what you learned.
  • Be flexible and open minded. Sometimes, a company might not have things totally ready. You may be switched from one desk or location to another during the first few days, for example.
  • If you finish the work you’ve been assigned for the day, ask if there’s anything else you can help out with.
  • Use the job as a learning experience and a chance to pick up new skills. In fact, many temp agencies offer access to online training. Manpower Group recently launched a program to offer GEDs to its qualified employees who don’t already have one.
  • Expand your network. Get to know the people you’re working with. If you aren’t offered permanent employment, they may have friends who are interested in hiring someone like you either now or in the future.
  • Ask your boss and the people you work with for feedback. That way you’ll know how to do things better next time around.
  • Stay in touch with your recruiter at the temp agency. And if they’re interested let them know about your experience working with their client.
What happens next

And after the first successful assignment, the temp agency may send you out on another. Or the company may be so happy with your performance that they decide to hire you for a regular employee position.

If you decide to look for a permanent job, be sure to list your temp work on your resume and highlight the experience you had there. Also ask your supervisor if they would be willing to act as a reference.

The experience you gained from your temp job and the contacts you made while working there might launch you on the path to being a regular employee. At the very least, it will give you experience, maybe some new skills, and a better understanding of what it takes to get and perform a type of job you may be interested in.

How to make an elevator pitch memorable

elevator pitch It isn’t often that we find a unique job search idea that we haven’t heard of before. After all, we’ve been writing blog articles on the subject for nearly eight years now and did a lot of research and gained extensive knowledge through writing our book, Jails to Jobs: Seven Steps to Becoming Employed.

But recently we came across an article by Priscilla Tan on The Muse website that made us stop and think more creatively about the so-called elevator pitch.

Elevator pitch answers “tell me about yourself” question

Everyone who is searching for a job needs an elevator pitch, a 15- to 30 second speech that job seekers use to sell themselves and to answer the “tell me about yourself” question that almost always pops up in interviews. Its name comes from the fact that you should be able to give it during the time an elevator makes its way between a few floors.

The point of an elevator pitch is to draw attention to yourself and start a conversation. They can be – and usually are — pretty standard and dull. But they don’t have to be. They can go beyond the “I’m  (fill in the blank) who enjoys (fill in the blank) and has accomplished (fill in the blank), or the “what.”

Highlight the “why”

According to Tan, these speeches can speak to the “why” – or why you do the type of work you do. And we feel that they can also tell a story.

Stories can be used to demonstrate where someone finds meaning in their life. Offering the “why” embedded in a story can be a great way to convince someone you are a good fit for a job.

For example, a carpenter might say, “Ever since I was a child I liked to build things. When I was in high school I built a tree house that was the social center for my circle of friends. Since then I have worked on house construction and cabinets and have a special interest in building things from recycled wood, adding touches like stained glass windows from old homes that have been demolished. I love to be a part of creating something beautiful that people can use or live in.”

Another example for someone who works with computers: “I started to use a computer at age 3 and programmed my first video games in elementary school. I taught myself more advanced programming online and now design websites for restaurants and hotels, which I love to do because it brings out my creative side.”

The goal of an elevator pitch is to get hiring managers – and potential hiring managers who you might meet at a party or event – to remember you. It can also be a conversation starter.

Tips for presenting the best elevator pitch

But writing an elevator pitch is just the first step. To make sure that it is as good as it can be, you should:

  • Write it down and practice it every day until it becomes part of you.
  • Record it to see how you sound.
  • Do it in front of your family and/or friends.
  • Speak slowly and clearly.
  • Deliver it in a natural way that doesn’t sound memorized (even though it is).
  • Use conventional English – no slang.

Make sure you use your elevator pitch when you meet a new person at a party, event or in your neighborhood. You can never practice too much.

And who knows? One of these people might know someone who knows someone who just might be interested in hiring a person with your skills.

Eric Gentry helps community college programs provide pathway to reentry

Eric Gentry

The first priority of many people leaving prison is to get a job. But going to college may provide a better way to reenter society. Just ask Eric Gentry.

Gentry runs two unique community college programs geared to those in reentry. He’s convinced that education is the key to helping turn lives around. It certainly was for him.

Growing up in Vallejo, Calif., in a gang-involved family, Gentry had cousins, uncles and parents with felony convictions. Many were in prison. Gentry dropped out of high school. And, at 18, he and his brother were involved in a murder case, resulting in a six-year sentence for manslaughter. After being released in 2010 and home for only two months, Gentry was convicted of assault with a deadly weapon and got two years.

A love of reading led to college

Never much of a student, Gentry read his first book in the county jail – and discovered that he loved reading. He devoured everything from Harry Potter to Noam Chomsky. A girlfriend he reconnected with while home for two months had enrolled at Cal State East Bay and often talked to him about college.

“I learned that I liked to read as an escape mechanism,” Gentry says. “She was saying ‘you like to read books? That’s a lot of what college is.’”

In spite of her encouragement, he took a job at a warehouse in downtown San Francisco after release. “I was there for three months and was in some of the same behaviors I had on the inside. I had an altercation with the manager and got fired,” he says.

It was following that brief job experience that Gentry decided to enroll in community college. He then went on to Cal State East Bay, graduating summa cum laude. After graduation he got a job as a case worker with an Oakland nonprofit, but at the beginning of this year was recruited to do work that will help those in reentry find their way back into society through education.

Community college programs for those in reentry

Solano Community College in Vallejo, Calif., where Gentry went to school, asked him to cofound a new initiative known as S.O.A.R., Students Overcoming Adversity and Recidivism. And this summer, he found out about another program, R.I.S.E., Restorative Integrative Self-Education, at Chabot College in Hayward, Calif, and is now working with that one as well.

Although they have slight differences, both programs are quite similar. In essence, they promote higher education to formerly incarcerated individuals.

Here’s how they work. “Someone shows up straight home from Santa Rita (Alameda County Jail in Dublin, Calif.), and I’m telling them that I’m the first step,” says Gentry. “I’ll sit them down on the computer and open applications for college and the promise grant (the California College Promise Grant that allows enrollment fees to be waived). I’ll also help them fill out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) form.

In addition to helping them get into college and procure financial aid, Gentry assists students in finding jobs. That way they will be able to cover some or all of their living expenses as well. He also helps those at Chabot get bus passes. The programs provide snacks in the S.O.A.R. and R.I.S.E. offices, so they become places to hang out, where students can meet others participating in the programs.

S.O.A.R. currently has 22 student participants. R.I.S.E. has 50, with nine more starting in the spring.

Why go to college

Why should people coming out of prison go to college?

“I feel like that a lot of us coming home carry chips on our shoulder. We’re aggressive. We come from an environment where you’ve got to defend yourself. And you carry that out to the community,” Gentry says. “I came out and got a job right away, but I wasn’t ready to transition from a Level 4 prison to a job. You try to throw somebody into a work environment where you have to cooperate. And it doesn’t work. You need a transitional period, and college provides that.”

College offers a fresh start and a chance for those in reentry to get away from their prison background.

“The jobs that are offered to us are a lot of low-level jobs. And the workers are former prisoners,” he says. “At college nobody asked me where I’m from. Or where I went to prison. College allowed me to leave that life behind.”

For Gentry, the knowledge he gained from what he learned became powerful. “It was like nothing else I’ve ever experienced before. It was invigorating to go to college and to get a degree.”

And now he can offer that opportunity to others through the programs he works in.

There are few programs like S.O.A.R. and R.I.S.E. that Gentry knows about, but he’d like to see more of them.

For those colleges that might be interested in starting a similar program, Gentry has advice:

“Colleges need a lot of campus support. They need people willing to do the work, he says. “Everybody doesn’t have to like you or the work you do or the people you represent. Just don’t let them stand in your way.”

“Every campus has equity programs. If you say you’re for equity, this program is the most equity program you can have on campus. And if you’re going to start a program, have a space where people can come and be with other students who are facing similar challenges.”

For programs in other areas

Corrections to College California’s website includes a directory of other programs in the state and people to contact for more information.

To locate other programs, check directly with your local community colleges, state colleges and universities. You can also search the internet for community college or college programs for those in reentry, followed by your state. You may also want to contact the American Association of Community Colleges and the American Association of State Colleges and Universities.