Find Your Dream Job, Episode 338:
How to Find Work if You Have Criminal Convictions, with Ty Reed
Airdate: March 9, 2022
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One out of three American adults have a criminal record.
And if you’re one of them, that can make it difficult to get your next job.
Ty Reed is here to talk about how to find work if you have criminal convictions.
He’s the founder of Recovery Career Services. It’s a nonprofit that helps anyone who wants to return to employment and put the past behind them.
Ty joins us from Seattle, Washington.
Well, let’s get started, Ty. How does having a criminal conviction affect your job search?
Pretty significantly. As you can imagine, many employers are hesitant to provide employment opportunities for folks that have a “background,” as we kind of call it in the industry, and it really limits the opportunities that individuals are able to have for themselves as they try to put their lives back together after incarceration or some sort of involvement with the criminal justice system.
What kind of expectations should you have as a job seeker if you do have criminal convictions?
I think there are two expectations that you should have. Number one- that you deserve work, and you will find work. But number two- that it may be a little more difficult than it is for folks that don’t have criminal convictions. Simply because the available pool of employers who are open to having hiring practices that are inclusive of folks that have past criminal justice involvement is a little bit more limited than the general pool of employers that may be hiring folks out there in the marketplace.
Do you find, Ty, that hiring managers distinguish between different kinds of criminal convictions?
Typically, there’s a hierarchy, and I would say that hiring managers are no different than the rest of folks in society. People typically view felonies, no matter the kinds of felonies, being significantly more serious than misdemeanors, and for the hiring managers that do actually work for employers that provide opportunities for folks, they typically have some sort of hierarchy as well.
Now there are a couple of specific examples of companies that are doing it really successfully, and when I say, “it,” they’re hiring folks that have past criminal justice involvement really successfully, and for those small minority of employers, they typically don’t make a distinction between what types of infractions you may have.
But certainly, for the general employer population, usually, there is some distinction made.
And the employers who do hire people with criminal convictions, what motivates them to do that?
Typically, the motivation is simply wanting to find the best candidate for the job, and when I speak to groups of employers who may be don’t have as much familiarity with second-chance employment and hiring out of these populations, that’s the thing that I stress.
You’re not actually making allowances or making up special hiring policies for folks that happen to have past criminal justice involvement. All you’re doing is making a commitment to hiring the best candidate for the job, regardless of their past criminal background, and once employers do that, they help to build more effective workforces and present fair opportunities for individuals who deserve them quite frankly.
And in the employers that you work with, what kind of experiences have they had hiring people with criminal convictions? Has it been a positive one?
They’ve had exactly the same experience as hiring people with criminal convictions as they’ve had hiring people that don’t. Because any employee that a business brings into their workforce is a risk, flat-out. And I’m certainly not saying there is not a risk involved with hiring folks that have past criminal justice involvement, but the risk, in my mind, isn’t really any greater than hiring folks that don’t have past criminal justice involvement.
As a matter of fact, a lot of studies bear out that employees that you hire that have that past criminal history actually stay at the company longer, and also, they present their work in the same fashion or even higher quality than employees who don’t have past criminal justice involvement.
Well, let’s talk about what to do if you have a criminal conviction and you’re looking for work. What’s the best way, Ty, to tell a hiring manager about your record?
The first thing that I would advise is to first try to figure out before you go to the interview whether or not you even need to disclose, and if it turns out that you do indeed need to disclose because the company runs a criminal background check, I always advise folks to one hundred percent tell the truth.
But be selective in what you tell and how you tell it, and what I mean by that is, instead of giving a hiring manager or an HR person the complete rundown of the last ten years of your life, when you may have been engaged in some less than legal activity, give it from a high-level view and kind of give them the finer points of kind of what happened, and an example of that would be, I was involved with a crowd of people I shouldn’t have been involved in. I did a series of things I shouldn’t have done. But I’ve now turned that around and am moving my life in a different direction. And then, if they ask for specific information after they run it through background check, you can provide them more detail about individual criminal transgressions.
But in that interview, you just want to give them a very high-level view of what happened. But you, again, you always want to tell the truth and take credit for telling the truth, because if the hiring manager runs a criminal background check, and there are things there that you did not disclose, it’s simply gonna look like you’re trying to hide things, and that doesn’t look good for you.
How can you find out when you look at a job opening if that employer will run a criminal background check?
There’s usually a couple of pretty easy ways. The internet is an amazing place, and often former employees or current employees will have posted reviews of a company, assuming it is a large enough company, and you can often find out whether there will be a criminal background check that way.
The other thing that you can do is if you know anyone who happens to work at that company, you know, perhaps you can post on Facebook that you’re just wondering about some of the hiring practices.
If you can’t figure out before the job interview whether or not there’s going to be a criminal background check, at the end of the first interview, there’s always a really great opportunity to figure that out, and it’s just with one or two simple questions.
You can ask what the rest of the hiring process looks like at that point, and usually, that’s when an employer will reveal what the rest of the process looks like, and they’ll tell you, typically, if there is a criminal background check that that’s gonna be a part of moving on to the next step.
I would imagine if there was some ambiguity and you’re an applicant, and you have a criminal conviction in your background, you might hesitate to say something because you don’t want to jeopardize your chances to get an offer.
How do you coach the people you work with, Ty, on when to disclose if it’s not clear a check is forthcoming?
I advise them to assume that it is going to be forthcoming. But after you ask that question, after that first interview, if they don’t say there’s going to be a criminal background check, don’t reveal anything about your criminal background because it’s not required.
However, if they do say that there will be a criminal background check, that is the time to disclose that they’re likely to find items in your background that, you know, that will qualify for items that are on a background check.
So, it’s strategic. There’s some timing involved to it. But it’s not that complicated. It’s a pretty easy thing for folks to do, and, again, telling the truth upfront before they run that background check gives folks the opportunity to take credit for being honest and maybe score some easy points in the eyes of the employer.
What about the application process? Do you recommend disclosing, say, in application materials that you have criminal convictions in your background? Or do you coach people to wait until you’re selected for an interview?
Always wait until you’re selected for an interview, and one of the great things, nationally, that’s been happening is that many states have gone to a ban the box guideline or law in some cases in their states. And what this means is, in the old days, I’ll call them, meaning, you know, ten or twenty years ago, most job applications had a section that said, “If you’ve been convicted of a crime, check this box,” and what checking that box often meant for individuals that actually have criminal convictions is that they weren’t gonna get a call back from that hiring manager. It would just go straight into the garbage can.
But with many states banning that practice and saying that employers can’t ask about criminal background checks until after the interview process has begun, it’s really eliminated the need to disclose upfront whether or not you actually have a criminal background.
Now, it’s certainly provided some additional opportunity for folks to interview and actually get a chance to get in front of an employer, and perhaps make a good impression, and be seriously considered for the position.
However, what it hasn’t done yet is, it hasn’t changed the hearts and minds in the perceptions that folks have of people that have past criminal justice involvement. It’s a very common thing that my clients will tell me, “Everything was going great. They loved me in the interview, they said that I was the best candidate, and then they pulled the background check, and that’s where everything stopped.”
So, the next battle is for the hearts and minds of hiring managers and HR people to let them know that if they simply dedicate themselves to hiring the best candidate, as opposed to disqualifying people based upon past criminal justice involvement, their workforce is going to be stronger and they’re gonna provide more fair opportunities for individuals.
Well, let’s talk about that. If you’re a candidate with criminal convictions in your background and you want to make that case to a hiring manager, what, in your experience, have you found to be the most persuasive way to do that? And what points are least persuasive?
The things that are most persuasive always are any points that you can make that demonstrate that you are living your life in a different way than you were living it before, and I’ll give a very brief example. If you have criminal convictions for drug possession, and the employer asks you about how your life’s been going since that happened. You know, what were the events surrounding that?
If you can point out things like entering a twelve-step program, working with a sponsor, doing volunteer work, and then couple that with any types of letters of recommendations or referrals that people are comfortable giving you, that demonstrates to the employer that you’re living your life in a different way than you were living it before, and that you’re someone that they can take seriously, and especially having those letters of recommendation- whether they’re from previous employers, a member of your clergy, a respected member of the community, can go a long way towards employers feeling more comfortable giving someone an opportunity.
The thing that employers most want to do is lower their risk in hiring, and to the degree that you can get some third party to vouch for you and say that you are a good person who is now doing the right things in their life, then the greater the likelihood the employers gonna give you an opportunity.
And when we come back, I want to hear your thoughts, Ty, about the points that are least persuasive to a hiring manager when you’re trying to make that case for yourself if you have criminal convictions in your background.
So, stay with us. When we come back, Ty Reed will continue to share his advice on how to find work if you have criminal convictions.
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Now, let’s get back to the show.
We’re back in the Mac’s List studio. I’m talking with Ty Reed.
He’s the founder of Recovery Career Services. It’s a nonprofit that helps anyone who wants to return to employment and put the past behind them.
Ty joins us from Seattle, Washington.
Now, Ty, before the break, we were talking about what you should do if you’re a candidate and you’re trying to make the case to a hiring manager that you are the best person for the job. And what arguments might be least persuasive when discussing your criminal convictions?
Well, the least persuasive thing would be to frame your need for employment as just a requirement of the court. Often, I work with clients who maybe have some sort of probation or parole conditions that indicate that, you know, require that they actually have employment for a certain number of hours per week, and any argument that is framed around that and not around the fact that you want to move your life in a different direction, and gainful employment is a piece of the new journey that you’re on, really just kind of fall flat.
Employers are just like everybody else. Everybody loves a comeback story, and to the degree that they can help and be a part of that comeback story for someone who’s trying to do the right thing, they’re certainly willing to do that. But if it’s not framed correctly, then frankly, they’re just not really gonna be that motivated to step in and help somebody who’s trying to change their life.
Well, you have a model that you use with the people that you coach. It’s called the ABC Employment Path, and I’d like to walk through that through each of the three letters. The A in ABC stands for any. Get any job you can.
Why is it important to do that, Ty, to get any job at the start?
Well, it’s important for a couple of reasons. Number one, work gives people purpose, and on the days when, especially for somebody who’s really trying to rebuild their lives, after not just criminal justice involvement, but maybe addiction or maybe homelessness, having a sense of purpose to keep going on the days when it’s not so fun to keep going is really, really important.
The other reason why, you know, having the attitude that you’re just gonna take any job at the beginning is important is because that first job is really just a stepping stone to the better jobs to come, and this is often part of the process of me coaching folks, is letting them know that that first job is not the forever job. It might not even be a job that you like.
But luckily, it’s not gonna be something you’re gonna do forever because the purpose of that position is for you to get used to working again and to prove to yourself and to someone else that you can be accountable, and responsible, and deliver quality work, and most importantly, that first job, that any job is gonna be the first place where you’re gonna have a chance to perform so well that you can get a recommendation letter to go on to your next job, and that is the greatest reason of all to take one of these any jobs.
Do you find in the people you work with, who might’ve been working in a profession, that it’s difficult for them to go back to that profession after a criminal conviction, and as a result, they have to start with an any job?
It often depends on the profession, and it depends on how long the person was out of the job market. Certainly for any professions that are in healthcare, where you may have unsupervised access to vulnerable folks, or in professions like financial services, where you may have unsupervised access to people’s financial information, depending on the criminal conviction that you have.
Yes, folks definitely need to kind of go through an almost probationary period, even if it isn’t a formal probationary period, in order to get themselves back to the place where they can get back to their chosen profession.
But I still maintain that it’s really important, even for folks that may have been coming from some pretty high professions, to kind of take the time and get grounded in what their new life is like. If you have been incarcerated and now you’re out of the system, and you’re back trying to rebuild your life, there’s probably some work habits that you need to pick up, and there’s probably some other parts of your life that will directly impact the quality of work that you’re able to deliver, that maybe need to be straightened out. Maybe you need to get your housing situation straightened out. Maybe there’s some family situation. Maybe there’s some mental health issues that need to be addressed to prepare you for what may eventually be a much more stressful work environment.
So, these any jobs- kind of the beginning jobs that folks would pick up in high school, are kind of good examples of what you could think of as a first job back. These jobs provide a real opportunity for people to lay infrastructure in their lives and set themselves up for success.
Where do you recommend someone look for an any job at this stage of the process?
The recommendation I typically have is, you know, there’s some very traditional kind of, you know, first starter jobs that people can do. So, you know, grocery store, retail, construction, you know, labor work, janitorial work. Which is the first thing that I did when I was making my comeback from being in the criminal justice system. You know, those things. Jobs that are very easy to get, and also pretty low stress, because again, early on, you’re really getting set and getting grounded in this journey, this comeback journey that you’re writing for yourself. And so, you want to set yourself up for success.
I also recommend, especially if you are concerned about whether or not there will be a background check because of, you know, the types of criminal convictions that you have, trying the smallest companies that you can find, you know, typically companies that are under, you know, twenty or thirty employees, and there’s a couple of reasons for that.
Number one, in many of those companies, the person that you interview with is the person that might actually have hiring power, and that person, if they like you, if in their gut they get a good feeling about you, you’re probably gonna get a shot. The other thing is in those smaller companies, they are much less likely to actually have formal structures in place where they’re gonna run a background check.
So, it is twofold. Number one, you know, they’re less likely to run a background check, and number two, you are put in the best position to make a positive impression on the person who may actually hire you because you’re likely to interview with them in the initial parts of the process.
The B in your ABC model stands for better, and that means getting a better job than the one you first take. What does a better job look like at this stage?
A better job looks like a position that offers you more responsibility, typically more pay or benefits, and is really kind of the first step on the road, at least in my mind, to the career that you actually want to have.
So that any job, that A portion of the employment path is just to get you working, and to get you collecting an honest paycheck. The B portion is meant to start you heading in the direction of the career that you ultimately want, and so, what it requires for folks to do is to give some thought to where they want to be in three years or five years.
So, for example, if you decide that in, you know, three or five years you want to be a computer programmer. So, maybe that first any job that you take is, you know, working construction and labor just to get a paycheck in your pocket. But maybe that better job, that next position that you’re now able to get because you have gained some work experience and maybe gotten a recommendation from that any job. Maybe you’re doing phone support for a technology company.
So, you’re not exactly working in the place where you want to work. You’re not exactly doing what you want to do. But you’re now in the industry and now in contact with the types of people that you’re likely to be working with in that ultimate career path.
So, the better job is almost kind of a transitionary position on the way to the work that you’re gonna ultimately be doing for your life, and when I say transitionary, it could be for six months, it could be for three to five years. But it is the step on the road that allows you to really bring up your skills to the point where you can move on to your career position.
The C in your ABC model stands for career, and after you’ve taken that any job, and that’s led to the better job, now you’re ready to get a career position. Why will employers at this point consider you for a career position?
The biggest reason is employers like people with track records, and once you’ve gone through the any job and now the better position, you have an actual track record that you can point to, you know, post being incarcerated or post being in active addiction, or post being homeless. Now, you have a history that you can point to of quality work delivered, and again hopefully, folks that will make recommendations for you and who have seen you live.
So, in the employer’s mind, it’s much less risky to now provide an opportunity for someone who has that track record behind them. But that only comes with doing the leg work and laying the groundwork early on to build up to that.
Can you expect to go back to your old career if you were a professional before your criminal conviction? Or does that depend on the occupation?
It depends on the occupation. As an example, my vocation before I, you know, became involved in the criminal justice system was, I was in the mortgage business for a long time, and when I started to turn my life around, unfortunately, the convictions that I had did not allow me to do that. Now, I have, now, six years later, I’m now in a position where if I wanted to go back to my chosen profession, I certainly could do that. But early on, that simply wasn’t an option, and that will be the case for many folks. Again, depending upon what occupation it is and what their criminal convictions are.
And what changed during that six years? Is it because you created that track record, you got the references ready to vouch for you? Is that the difference between now and six years ago, that you could find a position as a mortgage broker if you wanted to?
Typically for many folks, and to be specific, there were a couple of things that happened. Number one, yes, I took a couple of any jobs. I then worked a better job and then moved myself into a career position.
But also time. Time is a really important factor when folks with criminal convictions are looking for work. The difference between looking for work when you had a criminal conviction a year ago is significantly different than five or six years ago because, in many states, you’re actually able to get some of your convictions vacated or completely removed from your record in that period of time, and again, as you mentioned, there is gonna be a significant amount of work history that’s been built up and good recommendations to lean back on.
Well, it’s been a great conversation, Ty. Now, tell us, what’s next for you?
My nonprofit, Recovery Career Services, is moving all of our services to tuition-free. I was already doing tuition-free services for individuals who are beginning to rebuild their lives after addiction, homelessness, and past criminal justice involvement, but we’re now gonna provide services tuition-free for a group that’s very rarely talked about, and those are working professionals who are still in their careers.
But those careers have somehow been impacted by substance use in some way. And so, helping those folks solve employment problems and save their employment, and give them the option of whether to leave their company on their own versus being escorted out by security with their belongings in a box.
Well, I know people can learn more about you and your organization’s services by visiting your website, recoveryandwork.org and that you also invite people to connect with you on LinkedIn, and if they do, I hope they’ll mention that they heard you on our show.
Now, Ty, given all the great advice you’ve shared today, what’s the one thing you want a listener to remember about how to find work if you have criminal convictions?
I’d love for them to remember that it’s a process, and at the beginning of the process, while it may seem daunting, time goes by very, very quickly. Commit to the process. Walk that path. Do the best that you can always, and I’m sure that things will turn around for you in time.
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Next week, our guest will be Mona Johnson. She’s a career coach at Merit America.
It’s a nonprofit that provides a path to skilled careers in technology for adults without bachelor’s degrees.
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