CHAPTER 1: PUTTING THE BARS BEHIND YOU FOR GOOD!
Ex-offenders must do very well in the job interview to get a job offer. They have to go that extra mile to ace the interview with preparation, preparation, and preparation!
If you are reading this book, it's a pretty sure bet that either you or someone you care about is soon getting out of prison or already has been released from prison. Perhaps this has happened recently or maybe it has been a while.
In any case, you or that person are joining the free world where few things are actually free, a reality you'll immediately face when securing your documentation and looking for housing, food, transportation, and a job.
Unfortunately, for many ex-offenders, this whole re-entry process is a struggle for survival against some not-so-good odds of succeeding on the outside. But the odds get much better if you can land a good job, which first and foremost requires excellent job interview skills.
Re-Entry and Jobs
There are a lot of things a person has to deal with as he or she re-enters society and makes the necessary adjustments to living in a community outside the prison walls. Some feelings are positive, such as it's good to put the bars behind and be back on the outside.
But while freedom can be euphoric, it also brings new responsibilities to the ex-offender. How will I be re-integrated with my family? Or if the family ties are weak or non-existent, the anxieties are more related to basic survival. Where will I live? How will I feed myself?
At the heart of survival questions about food and shelter is the question, “How am I going to support myself?” For most people, the answer relates to employment: “I need to find a job.”
The job interview, the most important hurdle to landing a job, is the focus of this book, which will introduce you face-to-face with reluctant employers.
Having a job is a critical element determining how well an ex-offender is integrated back into the community. Having a job is one of the best predictors of whether an ex-offender stays out of trouble or whether he commits another crime and re-enters the prison system.
Having a job provides both a means of monetary support for the essentials of life and positive feelings of self-worth. Having a really good job means the possibility of also having a long-term career.
Carrying Negative Baggage
But being an ex-offender with a criminal record brings a lot of negative baggage. By law, ex-offenders are prohibited from employment in certain jobs, and many employers are hesitant to hire an ex-offender for any job. But before you let this reality of "life after incarceration" make you feel the situation is hopeless, consider these statistics about offenders in the United States:
- Over 600,000 ex-offenders are released into communities each year
- Over 2.2 million people are currently incarcerated
- Over 5 million people are on parole or probation
- Over 30 million people have been convicted of a crime
There are a lot of ex-offenders out there, and ex-offenders are hired for jobs every day. So why can't you be one of them? It will take some extra effort on your part.
You will need to be better prepared than the person who doesn't have a criminal record to overcome objections (sometimes voiced, but often not mentioned) about your criminal past.
But with some hard work in preparation for interviews (as well as other aspects of the job search) you ought to be able to join the thousands of ex-offenders who are gainfully employed.
Key Job Search Mistake Ex-Offenders Make
Let's address up front one of the more important mistakes ex-offenders make - they look for ex-offender jobs or employers who hire ex-offenders. By limiting their focus in this manner, they often end up with a self-fulfilling prophecy - finding low paying, dead end jobs no one else wants.
Instead, they should be looking for employers who want to hire individuals with their skills and then clearly communicate their skills and other important qualities to those employers by way of resumes, applications, and interviews.
Ask the Right Questions, Focus on What's Important
Believe it or not, we often hear from ex-offenders who ask us this somewhat puzzling question:
Do you have a list of employers who hire ex-offenders?
A few ex-offenders even think someone must publish a state-by-state directory of “Employers Who Hire Ex-Offenders”! It's a question that tells us volumes about why these inquisitive ex-offenders are going to have trouble finding and keeping a job.
Simply put, they don't understand employers and the job market, nor do they have a clue about what they need to do in order to find a good job. If they did, they would ask a very different type of question, such as
Who's most interested in my skills?
This question assumes the individual knows what it is he or she does well and enjoys doing - the very foundation of conducting an effective job search with employers who are in the business of hiring talented individuals rather than finding a place of employment for ex-offenders.
Remember, employers are not social experiments on trying out ex-offenders in their workplace. They need people who can do specific jobs. In other words, they hire specific skills sets - not people with difficult backgrounds.
If you are only prepared to talk about your criminal background, no one will want to hire you. Indeed, you've got to get smart and talk about what's really important - what you are prepared to do for the employer in terms of your workplace skills and behavior.
Do you come to work on time? Are you a hard worker who stays focused on doing a good job? Are you accurate? Do you get along with everyone? Can you communicate well with customers and fellow workers?
That's the type of skills employers want to hire rather than adopt an ex-offender in need of a job. So what do you have to offer employers for their paycheck?
Yes, You're Risky Business
Ex-offenders are risky business for many employers who prefer hiring people with clean records. Even though you have done your time, you can't really hide your past for long.
In many respects, you received two sentences when you were convicted - one you already served in prison or jail and the other that you'll serve for the rest of your life as an ex-con with a record. You may, for example, face legal restrictions on the types of jobs you can hold, and you may be prohibited from traveling abroad.
Many ex-offenders find their life sentence to be a major barrier to success in the free world. Since their records can be easily and inexpensively accessed by employers, they have nowhere to hide in the so-called free world that is not particularly ex-offender-friendly.
Always keep in mind that employers are not social workers who are in the business of giving people a second, third, or fourth chance. So don't beg. Put yourself in their shoes and focus on what's really important to them.
After all, they have a bottom line that needs to be maintained and expanded by employing individuals who have the motivation and talent to get things done. They want to hire talented individuals - not risky ex-offenders who don't know what they want to do.
Consider the Employer's Needs
Put yourself in the shoes of an employer who may consider interviewing and hiring an ex-offender. He or she is likely to ask the following questions:
- Why should I hire you?
- Will your background pose problems for others you work with?
- Are you a trustworthy, responsible, and predictable person?
- Do you do what you say and say what you do?
- Have you made the necessary changes to become a productive employee?
Above all, employers want to hire individuals who are a good “fit” for the organization - those who have the right attitudes and behaviors to become productive employees. They do this by trying to understand your pattern of behavior during job interviews.
Focus on the Job Interview
This book is all about better preparing you for the critical job interview. In fact, it may well become the most important book you read as part of your re-entry preparation.
Few people are hired for jobs without going through an interview. An interview is one of the most important steps an applicant goes through in the process of getting a job. It can also be the most nerve-racking because you are meeting the interviewer face to face.
It's hard to hide your nervousness - your uncertainty. Everything you say and do is making an impression, either good or bad, on the employer. In fact, even the absence of what you do not say may be noticed, and that too may work to your advantage or disadvantage. So it is important that you get the interview right! Spend enough time preparing for the interview, with the help of this book, so that you put your best foot forward and make the very best impression you possibly can. Much of your future depends on it.
# # # #
SOURCE: Caryl and Ron Krannich, The Ex-Offender's Job Interview Guide. Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.