As a follow-up to my last entry about how to overcome a DUI conviction during your job search, I wanted to outline some tips for another fairly common (and difficult) question that career counselors receive: How can I overcome a felony to succeed in my career?
Like a DUI, felony convictions can impact your job search in a variety of ways. Often, it depends on the industry or company in which you are trying to work, or on the type of crime you committed. As I mentioned with the DUI example, it is always good to start this process by speaking with a lawyer (which I am not) to make sure you have exhausted all of your legal options. Beyond that, here are some general tips that can help you succeed in your efforts to overcome this hurdle:
Reach Out for Help
Legal professionals can be a good place to start, but you should also be aware that there are any number of community agencies that help people in their efforts to overcome criminal records. State agencies, community-based initiatives, and non-profit organizations (such as Goodwill) can all serve as resources for you in this process. The legal system may even refer you to some help as you are transitioning back into society. Take whatever support you can get – do not further punish yourself by trying to overcome these challenges on your own if there is a feasible path of less resistance.
There are also some great books out there that can walk you through the job search – one that I frequently recommend is “What Color is Your Parachute?” by Richard Bolles.
I once attended a workshop by Elisabeth Sanders-Park, who is an expert in this area, during which she emphasized the fact that NETWORKING can be a great strategy for candidates trying to overcome barriers to employment. There is such a thing as the “hidden job market,” meaning that many openings never make it to the point where they are posted on a job board or company website. Instead, the positions are filled by candidates that the employer already knows – some experts say this number is as high as 50-80%.
Regardless, you should think about creative ways that you can begin to get back on your feet. Networking is one great option, but you might also consider things like freelance work, working for small or family-owned businesses, or starting at a low-wage position and trying to work your way up. Any way that you can begin to rebuild credibility (through relationships or enhancing your resume) will only serve to open more doors for you down the road.
By the way, Elisabeth Sanders-Park also has written a great book on this topic, called “No One is Unemployable.”
Make Yourself an (Otherwise) Attractive Candidate
While a felony conviction may be taking you out of the running for some positions, you may be making a mistake if you are assuming that is the only reason you are not getting hired. Things like poor grammar on your resume, inappropriate dress, or lackluster interview skills can all get you dropped from consideration long before the issue of your felony has even been considered.
Try to evaluate your job search skills as honestly as possible and decide whether there are any areas you could improve. Get some second opinions about this area as well. If there is any possible way to enhance your polish, professionalism, or experience, you should seriously think about focusing on that objective. If you can convince the employer that you have the skills and the drive to succeed in the position, that may be enough to overcome any marks on your background check.
Never, EVER lie on an application. If you are not caught during the hiring process, you may very well be found out later – and you could be fired on the spot. It is best to be honest if you are asked about your criminal background. If a clean record is important to the employer, they will likely conduct a background check on you anyway.
That being said, be strategic about when you bring this topic up. Wait until you have built some rapport with the employer and you think they might seriously be considering you for the position. Leading off with this subject during a career fair or interview would be a little bit like leading off that way during a first date – “I have a felony, is that going to be a problem?” You are likely going to make things awkward and not get a phone call back!
Research Your Options and Adjust Your Goals
You need to research how your criminal charges could affect your candidacy. For example, a charge of embezzling or fraud would likely hurt your chances of landing a finance-related position. Any type of violent criminal offense may hurt your chances of working in customer service, since employers might be concerned about your ability to control your temper. Think about how your charge might appear to the type of employers you are targeting – you may need to take steps to address their objections or you may need to alter your job search plans altogether.
A felony charge may not be a career-ender, but it could force you to seriously alter your career plans. Be flexible – take the feedback you get from employers into consideration. If there is not another way for you to get your foot in the door, such as networking, then you might want to start considering other industries you could target.
One more piece of advice: think about which industries are the most in-demand. Technical skills are a great example. Perhaps you could pursue training in a technical area, such as information technology or software programming, in order to give yourself more options. If you choose to take this route, research the industry first to make sure you can actually land a job in that field with a criminal background.
Finally, it is important to be persistent and be positive. As a candidate with a criminal background, you will hear the word “no” from employers. Some of them will judge you harshly based on your record. You must anticipate rejection without letting it destroy your willpower. Being positive, owning your mistakes, and working hard to make yourself excel in other areas of the job search is of the utmost importance. If you do your research and put in the effort, you will ultimately give yourself the best chance of succeeding in your career.