In the April 9, 2019 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter a felony stands between a reader and a job.



Nearly every position I have found that I am qualified for in logistics is off limits to anyone with a felony within the past seven years. I’m past the five-year mark. I tried starting my own business but it doesn’t pay the rent yet. It’s desperation time. I have no problem washing dishes or doing any kind of “menial” labor. Work is work and pay is pay. But even those jobs are hard to come by these days, except for those who lie, and I’d rather not do that. Any ideas on how I could find a job of any kind quickly?

Nick’s Reply

What I’m going to suggest probably won’t get you a job quickly, and it definitely won’t be easy. But it’s the only way I know to help you.

Employers worry. You need to get them over that, because they probably don’t want to risk hiring an ex-felon on their own judgment alone. But they might take the word of someone they can trust if you can deliver it.

Reference vs. Felony

A good reference might beat a felony. But don’t take chances. This means you have to use references who will speak up for you. No matter what job you apply for, ask one or two people you have worked with, who can speak up positively about you, to call the hiring manager directly and recommend you. Not when they are called, but in advance.

This kind of preemptive reference is very powerful. It won’t work every time, but a recommendation like this can help you overcome problems from your past, because it’s a referral as well as a reference. An employer who won’t take your word might listen to someone who has had good experiences with you.

It’s up to you

It’s up to you to be ready with such references. They don’t have to be former employers. They might be satisfied customers from your nascent business, or respected members of your community. You’ve had a good five years of making new contacts since your conviction. Now take the time to make a list of people who might help you, then rank order them. Ask the best ones if they’d be willing to help you get over this hump — and assure them you will repay their trust by being a trusted employee to anyone that hires you.

If a potential reference isn’t sure how to help you, ask them to read this account of someone who did it: Referrals: How to gift someone a job (and why).

Make a commitment – you have to say it

This is a very assertive approach. Consider whether it’s right for you. But I’d do more than note the felony on your forms. I’d bring it up with the manager when you meet. Be frank and matter-of-fact, but don’t dwell on it.

In my PDF book, How Can I Change Careers?, I offer many “How to Say It” tips about how to make an effective commitment to a manager who has doubts about whether you’re worth hiring. I’ve re-worked one of those ideas for you. Modify it to suit your situation.

How to Say It

“I made a big mistake over five years ago. I was convicted of a felony and I did my time. I don’t expect you to hire me unless you’re confident I’ll do a good job for you.

[Look the manager in the eyes as you say this next part.] So I’ll offer you four things. First, references from respected people who have worked with me since then. Second, my commitment to total honesty. Third, I’d like to show you how I would do this job [efficiently, profitably, masterfully — whatever is called for]. If I can’t show you, then you shouldn’t hire me. Finally, if in a month’s time you’re not pleased with anything about my performance, I’ll leave. No hard feelings. No questions asked. But I make you that offer because I know I can deliver on it. That’s my commitment to you.”

That speaks volumes. Just be ready to back it up, whether the job is dish washing or logistics. When an employer takes a chance on you, it’s up to you to confirm the trust they put in you. Don’t screw up.

More advice

Please don’t be discouraged. There are good people in the world who will want to give you a chance if you help them do it. To read several wise tips on this topic, check this story about someone who worked in human resources, then committed a felony and couldn’t land a job. Quite a few earnest members of this community offer encouragement: Readers’ Forum: Grand theft HR. I especially recommend the suggestions posted by “S Kendall.”

I wish you the best.

Would you hire a someone with a felony on their record? What could they do to inspire you to take a chance? How could you minimize your risk? How do you advise this reader?

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  1. Thought: volunteer. I know you’re broke (because you said so) but by your own statement you don’t
    have much work yet, so volunteer somewhere and build a record of honesty and reliability, which you
    can then show to potential employers. Food bank?

  2. I taught felons in jail for a year-plus. Some were clearly only interested in the “good time” credit they got for attending classes. Others were dead-set serious about turning their lives around. For that latter group, I would be willing – as their teacher – to sign my name on recommendations.

    If the questioner took classes inside, see if you can reach out to the instructors – but only if there was a good relationship (obviously).

  3. It is illegal in the State of VT to include on a job application a question about a felony, since 1 July 2017. This allows job seekers the freedom to work. Unfortunately, background checks still show felonies, which some businesses continue to use for discrimination against job seekers.

    • @Dr Steven: Where the law protects job applicants, they should take advantage of that protection. But as you note, employers have ways around the law. That’s why I suggest it may be smart to disclose the matter up front and deal with it candidly. But every job seeker has to use their own best judgment about this.

  4. Certain felonies are more restrictive than others e.g. child molesters and rapists. Individuals with this type of crime find it extremely difficult to obtain meaningful employment plus the federal and state laws that prohibit former inmates from being around children. With this in mind, the obvious question for this person is what type of felony did he/she commit? Another example is embezzlement. No prospective employer will hire a former inmate who has committed this typed of crime in a position that requires involvement with funds. Don’t even attempt to apply for a position that is related to the felony committed.
    Check if the state in which you reside requires revelation of a felony on a job application. If not, then don’t volunteer this information. It’s noteworthy this person has started their own business but I strongly suggest they get counseling on how to properly run their business. It may be such that if their business can’t generate a profit, they should dissolve the business and concentrate on obtaining employment that pays the bills until such time they can go the private business ownership route.
    Finally have a neutral party do a personal evaluation to determine what your strengths, weaknesses, and emotional status are. Use this information as a springboard to either applying for jobs or possibly obtaining training in an area that you are good at, have the potential to perform at a high level, and increases your potential for a position that affords the opportunity to excel.

  5. A diversion, but important, re our experiences dealing with online apps. Seems a Swedish firm (TNG) will now use a robot instead of a real human for person to “person” interviews. Ohhhhhh good! The gauntlet has been expanded. (NPR story 4/8 – “Can Artificial Intelligence Make The Hiring Process More Fair? “

  6. Must people are unforgiving or either have been in your shoes before and where treated as such and now have obtained a position of power ,I’ve found even without a felony in the Bible belt that your name can be tarnished just for a speeding ticket ,our judge JP is a prime example of Injustice here but word of mouth can be a tarnishing protocol especially when mixed with jealousy or dislike .

  7. Dallas leaders are reconsidering ways to bring “recently released” back into the mainstream workplace. A Must Read with ideas for your communities, too:

  8. Somehow missed this post. Want to add that, as a temp-to-perm staffing company, we actively work with felons on a daily basis. Our 90-day temporary period has worked well for people in these situations to demonstrate their skills and dedication at companies that are willing to provide second chances – and we have a number of companies that are open, most paying nearly double the minimum wage in manufacturing positions.

    Agreed with DA Consultant above that it’s important to be realistic when applying for jobs, based on the type of felony.

    I wish this person the best in their job search!

    • Annette? I realize I am late in jumping on this post. My husband just got released January 30 and he has had a really really hard time finding work. He has a MS I’m biology and worked for a prestigious university, but is looking for warehouse, etc jobs.

      Can we “hire” you as a headhunter of sorts for yuu I t temp agency?


      • Hi Dawn – Nick kindly notified me about your question.

        We work with employers in the Milwaukee, WI area and they are mostly either general labor positions or skilled manufacturing jobs.

        Nick does have my email address; perhaps he wouldn’t mind making a direct connection? If you aren’t in our geographic area, perhaps we could still have a conversation about he could best present himself and/or find an agency that would be his advocate within your area.

        Would that work?

        • I am so sorry for the delay; just saw this!

          We are hoping to be in a more temperate climate due to my health (Virginia or south seems to work well). I really appreciate your response. Thank you so much!

          Dawn Wilson

          • Hi Dawn –

            My pleasure. I don’t know if this will be helpful, but here are a few things that come to mind as important.

            1) Know your rights and don’t expect too much. An employer can’t discriminate on a criminal record that doesn’t apply to the job. At the same time, if they are scared by a background check, they will find another reason to disqualify.

            With this knowledge, it’s important to consider jobs where his record would not be relevant. For example, if you have a recent theft conviction, don’t pursue a cash handling position.

            Also, Nick’s recommendations are extra important in a job interview. If they really see the value he can bring, it’s more likely they will work with him despite his record.

            2) Don’t disclose too much and never lie. We see the extremes all the time: Person A tells you every detail of how he got into a fist fight with a coworker and was subsequently fired. Yikes! Who would want to work with someone who gets into physical altercations? Then Person B says he was laid off due to lack of work and we find out he was fired because he was persistently late to work. No to both. There is a way to present the truth in a positive manner that can highlight learnings and personal growth without oversharing. Have your husband find his story and practice it until he can be sincere and comfortable telling it.

            Also, a question at the end of an interview can include asking about the hiring process and steps they follow, so you can be prepared. Depending on what they say, this might be the time to talk about his recent situation.

            3) Find friendly employers. Talk to local law enforcement, attorneys, and/or prisons – who is open to hiring despite criminal records? Maybe there’s a work release program and those employers would be worth pursuing? Referrals always matter and this is no exception.

            I wish both you and your husband all the best!