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A Special Note to Ex-Offenders

Thursday, January 4, 2007 2:51 PM

Ex-offenders searching for work face plenty of challenges. What is the biggest one?

Being banned from receiving food stamps or other financial assistance? No.

Being banned from taking some jobs (e.g., security, medicine, childcare, education)? No.

Being unfairly discriminated against by many narrow-minded employers? No.

Recovering from substance abuse? No. See "A Special Note to People in Recovery" for more.

Finding stable housing? No.

Getting access to transportation? No.

Getting access to health care? No.

Improving basic skills? No. (Free courses are available. Go to any public library and ask for information about Adult Basic Education (ABE), General Educational Development (GED), or English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL).)

Finding interview/work clothes? No. (Free interview/work clothes are available. Go to any public library and ask for information about Bottomless Closet, Career Closet, Career Gear, Dress for Success, Working Wardrobes, and other like-minded organizations.)

Re-unification with loved ones? No.

The belief that no employer will hire you because you are an ex-offender? Yes.

Believing that no employer will hire you because you are an ex-offender is your single biggest barrier to finding legal paid work. If you believe no employer will hire you because you are an ex-offender, you might as well stop reading; none of the following information will be of any use to you until you choose to change this belief.

Choosing to change negative beliefs is important. Drama inside your head can make it hard to believe in yourself. If you often have negative thoughts, argue, feel stressed, sad, or angry, there are ways to make it better. Ask your probation/parole officer to refer you to a clinical social worker or other mental health professional trained in rational emotive behavior therapy or cognitive behavioral therapy to help people think in ways that help them feel and do better. How you think about the job search (or anything else, for that matter) deeply affects results.

Once you believe -- or act as if you believe until you really do believe -- that an employer will hire you, it is time to create a resume that will honestly get your phone to ring.

Don't make stuff up. There are many reasons to not make stuff up on your resume or on a job application. If you lie and an employer finds out, you will very likely be immediately dismissed and maybe even criminally prosecuted for "willful misrepresentation." How can an employer find out? The information may slip out. Anyone who knows or recognizes you may (1) unintentionally communicate something that reveals your offense to your employer, (2) intentionally reveal, or (3) threaten to reveal. You do not need a secret and a potential crisis hanging over your head every day.

Therefore, do not write false starting dates or ending dates to mask the time during which you were incarcerated. Instead, write real starting and ending dates (month and year) and focus on including on your resume all the transferable skills you have to offer.

Prior to or while serving your sentence, did you get any vocational training? Did you work? Are you skilled in woodworking, carpentry, plumbing, painting, cleaning, electrical, metal work, food prep or cooking, landscaping, office equipment (phone, fax, copier, or computer), bookkeeping? Did you take any classes? Can you speak, read, or write a language other than English? Have you done volunteer work? In what ways did you participate in prerelease programs? Honestly list your accomplishments on your resume and on job applications.

As you transition to the job market:

Act as if you believe -- until you really do believe -- an employer will hire you.

Create -- alone or with help -- an honest resume. Do not be persuaded otherwise.

Get a disposition slip for each offense from the court of conviction so you are ready for an employer's request.

Rap sheets often contain damaging mistakes. Request a copy of yours from the appropriate state agency, review it, and then submit original disposition slips to correct the record.

Ask people who can attest to how your behaviors have changed for the better to serve as references. If you're playing by the rules, then your parole officer can serve as an excellent reference.

Think about, write, and rehearse in front of a mirror at least 100 times your three-part, sixty-second explanation of (1) your errors in judgment, (2) the lessons you┬┐ve learned from these errors, and (3) your total commitment to a new path.

Ask your local librarian for information on and forms for the Work Opportunity Tax Credit, and bring the forms to interviews. Give the forms to employers and explain that in addition to getting a good worker, if they hire you they can also get money (up to $2,400 at the time of this writing) from the government.

Contact your state division of parole or, if you still have one, ask your parole officer to help you obtain certificates of rehabilitation (e.g., relief from disabilities, good conduct) that remove some restrictions on employment.

Ask your local librarian (or call 1-877-872-5627) for information on and forms for the Federal Bonding Program. Bring this information and the forms to interviews, too. Use your judgment. If you think it will help, give the forms to employers and explain that this program helps protect employers (at no cost to them) against loss of money or property due to employer dishonesty.

Avoid spending time with anyone who is engaged in illegal behaviors.

Reach out to other ex-offenders who have successfully returned to legal paid work.

Material excerpted from The Elements of Resume Style (AMACOM Books, 2005) by Scott Bennett. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

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