How to hire an ex-convict

How to hire an ex-convict


I got in trouble with the law and I spent six years in jail.  I wasn’t sure a good company would hire an ex-convict but when I got out I got a good job. I’ve had a few of them, but I kept the main job for four years. I recently moved back to my home state. I’ve always been honest about my past so I used the same approach, but since I have been here I have been shot down because of this.

I have had plenty of interviews that went well until the subject of the drug charge came up. I have been proud of the fact that I have turned that part of my life around. I have some college, but no degree, just a certificate that I received while I was incarcerated. I sure could use some real advice. Please help if you can. Thanks.

Nick’s Reply

hire an ex-convictYou need only one good employer to give you a chance. Sorry if this sounds corny, but that company is a shining light you must search out. You’ve already chosen (wisely) to not hide your past. There’s a shining light out there.

As long as you are clean and have been out of trouble all this time, here’s what I suggest. First, you need references and recommendations. Talk to people you’ve worked with who will vouch for you, especially those who’ve known you as an ex-convict. Let them know that over the next year they may get several calls from employers who need to know you’re a good worker and a good risk.

Hire an ex-convict who is now a valued worker

Decide in advance how you want to phrase your request. Brief is best.

How to Say It
“I just need you to tell them the truth about me as a worker, so they will know me as more than an ex-convict. It will mean more to me than I can say.”

Let them know the problem you are encountering and ask for their advice. Provide these references before you go to an interview so the employer will know that people you have worked for respect you.

You’re wise to be up front

Second, I think you’re doing the right thing about your conviction. Let the employer know up front about your background.

How to Say It
“I made a big mistake a long time ago. For six years I’ve been building my reputation and now I’m very proud of it. Here are my references.”

Third, complete your college degree, even if it takes a few years. Do it part-time if you have to. Apply for grants and scholarships, but avoid loans. Community colleges are perfect for this approach. This will further enhance your reputation, your credibility, and your confidence — in addition to educating you.

Invest in yourself

I believe that before you ask someone to take a chance on an ex-convict, it can help to show you are investing in yourself. Even if a degree is not required for jobs you want, the mere fact that you are working on a degree will impress some employers. It’s more proof that you are living for the future. In a few years you will look back. Will you chastise yourself because during that time you could have earned a degree, but didn’t? Get started now.

Don’t ask for a job. Give a commitment

If you sense there’s going to be a problem, understand that human nature is what it is. People will worry about taking a risk. So make it easy for them. Take the first step and give them something they will probably never ask you for. I can’t guarantee this will work, but it’s my best advice:

How to Say It
“If you have any concerns, I’d like to help you put them aside. If you hire me and you have any problem with my performance or you’re just not happy, I welcome you to fire me, no questions asked. No hard feelings. I won’t complain. But you won’t fire me, because foremost in my mind is one thing: I want you to be very glad you hired me. That’s the commitment I’ll make to you. Keep me a week, two weeks, a month. For as long as you’re happy. Ask my references: they’ll tell you how committed I am to my work.”

Some might tell you not to take this kind of chance. But I believe in removing obstacles to help people make good choices. It’s up to you to help an employer remove the obstacles to hiring you so they can experience what a great worker you are. But this is your choice: You must do what you think is best for you.

My highest compliments to you for turning your life around. Do not let employers who reject you get you down. You will encounter many. The only ones that count are the ones that say yes — and they are always worth pursuing. I wish you the best.

The Library of Congress publishes an excellent guide to re-employment for ex-convicts. I recommend it.

Here on Ask The Headhunter, you will find some realistic encouragement from other readers in the comments section of Grand theft HR. I especially recommend the suggestions posted by “S Kendall.”

Employers: Hire with purpose

I’d like to close with a suggestion to employers. You may say your goal is to hire with purpose. You want to hire people who “think out of the box.” You want to hire people who can demonstrate an ability to change and grow. Yet your HR department likely hires people who closely fit your “qualifications list” and who sit on the fat hump of the performance curve.

Take a good look at older workers; people with handicaps who can do the job; reformed ex-convicts; former substance abusers who have been clean for years. These are people living with a new purpose. What better examples of people who can change, who overcome adversity, and who can demonstrate the ability to perform?

I’m not suggesting you take a foolish risk. You can make a sound deal to protect yourself and your new hire. Hire with purpose. Think out of the box yourself. Hiring someone who has overcome a personal problem may net you a good worker who has the confidence to help you overcome problems your company faces.

Did you ever work with or hire an ex-convict? What was your experience? What advice would you give this person?

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Go around HR to get the job

Go around HR to get the job


For 30+ years I’ve been going around HR when looking for a job and I will continue to do so. I want to talk directly to the hiring manager, or no dice. I am just curious how things get done on your end, because I think many people attempt this but fail. They bypass HR because of all the red tape and lack of feedback or communication, but then the hiring manager will re-direct them back to HR. In your experience, do you find that hiring managers are beholden to HR, despite your best efforts to short-circuit the process?

Nick’s Reply

go around hrIt’s a good thing to encounter a spineless hiring manager who allows HR to run roughshod over the best candidates. Those are the easy ones. You know not to pursue a job with managers like that. Move on.

I’m hardly the only headhunter who will go around HR and make it his business to deal directly with the hiring authority. If HR gets in the way too much, I’ll move on to another client. I’d still “do business” with that company, but instead of placing people there, I’ll recruit people out. (My policy is to never recruit from any company that’s my client. It’s unethical and it’s bad business.)

Who controls candidate selection and hiring?

I’ve found that when a hiring manager allows HR to control recruiting and hiring, I’m going to wind up wasting my time — and so will my candidates. A new hire does not report to HR. They report to the hiring authority or manager. If that manager is too weak to assert control over a critical function like candidate selection and hiring, they’re not worth working for, or the company itself is unworthy because it lets HR run the show. HR’s job is to process the “paperwork,” not to decide who is qualified for a job, or who gets hired.

In companies where HR makes decisions about candidates and jobs, you will need to go around HR simply because HR is not qualified to judge you — unless perhaps you’re applying for a job in HR.

Many, many hiring managers insist on personally controlling candidate selection and hiring. These managers will insulate the candidate (and the headhunter, if one is involved) from HR. They go to bat to get the hires they want simply because they can move more quickly than HR in companies competing for the same candidates. That’s a manager you should want to work for.

Go around HR

I know hiring managers who go around HR and hand-walk job offers to the CFO to get the offer signed and the hire done expeditiously. HR finds out later. It’s the smart manager who understands filling a job quickly and accurately is the fastest way to business success. And it’s your best bet to get hired. Don’t get bogged down with HR while your competition is talking directly with the manager.

If a hiring manager doesn’t control candidate selection and hiring, what do they control as a manager? If you encounter a weak hiring manager, consider moving on because you’re not being hired by the authority who owns the job. You’re being processed by clerks who understand little, if anything, about the job — or about you.

One last thing. You didn’t ask, but here’s How to get to the hiring manager if you haven’t already.

Do you find that HR keeps you away from the hiring manager? How do you deal with that? If you’re a hiring manager, do you defer to HR on candidate selection and hiring, or do you take the lead?

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How to screen all those headhunters

How to screen all those headhunters


How can we screen headhunters? I know you’ve spoken at length about the difference between a real headhunter and those that are just casting a huge net and hoping to find someone to apply. Do you have any advice about what to look for, or what types of questions I can ask these headhunters off the bat to know whether they’re worth my time or not?

Nick’s Reply

screen headhuntersYou already know the odds that a job solicitation is a real opportunity are tiny, and that it’s far more likely you’re dealing with someone who will waste your time — again! Most job solicitations are about as helpful as an e-mail pitching a tinnitus cure.

If the solicitation e-mail or text reads like boilerplate, delete it. If the caller is a fast-talking salesperson, hang up. It’s that simple.

“Uh, Nick, how does that help me?” you’re wondering. “I don’t want to miss out on any good opportunities.”

If you’re going to work with a headhunter, first you must qualify them — and that means you’ve got to test them before you can believe anything they say, and before you put yourself in their hands.

How to screen headhunters

If the caller sounds like an earnest business person politely asking for your help with an assignment to fill a job, you should keep talking — because there really are a few good headhunters out there. If you pay attention, you’ll find the best headhunters demonstrate high standards of conduct and reveal the same qualities they look for in candidates.

  • They are easy to work with because they are straightforward. They speak clearly and directly. They are not secretive or cagey.
  • They don’t waste time playing games or putting on airs. They make you feel special, rather than imply they are.
  • If they start with an e-mail or text, they quickly follow up with a call or Zoom.
  • They are not in a hurry. They take time to talk. They pay attention. They answer your questions.
  • They are knowledgeable about their business, their client, the job they’re trying to fill and about you.
  • Good headhunters don’t call on anyone blindly. They already know quite a bit about your background — not just what they found on LinkedIn — or they wouldn’t contact you.
  • A good headhunter reveals integrity by being honest and trustworthy. They will do what they say — including returning your e-mails and calls.
  • A good headhunter is conscientious. You’ll see this in the questions they ask. Rather than ask for your resume, the headhunter will learn about you by talking with you extensively.
  • They will exhibit a sincere interest in your work and abilities, and in your interests and goals.
  • They will give useful advice if you ask for it.
  • Finally, a good headhunter is effective. If you’re a possible candidate for their client, you’ll get an interview in short order. If you’re not a fit, they’ll say so. They won’t lead you on.

Does that sound like any headhunter who has solicited you? I’m sure you’re shaking your head: What headhunter is going to do any of what’s in that list?

Right-O. Just a very few will. That’s why it’s so important to test or screen headhunters for those rare qualities immediately and every time. Most will fail, and that’s why you should test them all.

Try this test

When you’re done communicating (hopefully, talking) with a headhunter who contacted you, ask yourself, Could this headhunter write an adequate resume about me based strictly on our phone call?

I sometimes write a candidate’s resume just like that, after a phone call, and I provide it as a summary to my client. It’s a good test of my own grasp of a candidate’s credentials and value.

If a recruiter’s call is so cursory that you don’t think they could write your resume from it, that reveals an unskilled headhunter or an inadequate recruiting call. A headhunter who merely requests your resume or just asks you to fill out an application is no better than a job posting on the Internet. They’re going to waste your time. You don’t need them.

When you meet a good headhunter, you’ll know it from the characteristics listed above, and you’ll recognize someone with whom you’ll want to cultivate a long-term relationship.

Let’s get real: screen headhunters

You are likely shaking your head and maybe laughing at what I’ve said. “Nick, Nick, Nick! Let’s get real! The good headhunters you’re talking about don’t exist!”

A few good headhunter do exist — but they’re quite rare. So, why do most people who get bombarded with job solicitations respond to virtually any headhunter solicitation and waste time? (Loads of people fall for out and out job scams.)

The answer is easy, and embarrassing:  It’s lazy, wishful thinking. People don’t want to do the hard work of finding the right job. They want Mommy — a headhunter — to serve it up to them. But they don’t bother to screen headhunters. So they comply with too many silly solicitations and complain when these turn out badly.

Let’s get real. There really are very few good headhunters out there. That’s no excuse to entertain the worst ones when you know better. Think of the hours you’ll save that you could better invest in actually finding the right job opportunity yourself!

(For more on this thorny topic, please check out How to Work With Headhunters… and how to make headhunters work for you.)

What percentage of headhunters (or recruiters) that contact you offer good, realistic job opportunities? How do the best ones behave? What behaviors tip you off to the worst?

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Just Hired: New boss, salary & job eliminated!

Just Hired: New boss, salary & job eliminated!


I got really good vibes from the manager that interviewed me. The offer was very good, and everything went so well that I turned down another offer to take this one. After a week of training, POOF! I learned there was a management upheaval, with my new boss and job eliminated. I may have to take a salary cut and get reassigned, or just leave and start my job search again. But what I want to ask you is, is it even possible to avoid something like this? Is there anything I could have done?

Nick’s Reply

job-eliminatedThis is a twist on the rescinded job offer. You’re still employed — with your boss and job eliminated, and your salary cut! While a company’s imminent restructuring may be highly confidential, there’s a way you might have gathered critical information that could have kept you out of trouble.

The key to this approach is understanding that people love to talk and to gripe. Help them do it. No company can totally hide upcoming management changes, especially from employees. If you have enough conversations with a company’s employees, I think you’ll find that more than one will hint at imminent changes and potential problems — if they don’t come right out and tell you what’s wrong.

Chart the players

A legitimate approach is to chart and meet the players. It’s prudent to know who you will be working with, how good they are at their work, and how they will affect your success. These are also the people who can tip you off to possible problems in the organization.

While you may not be able to actually pull off what I’m about to suggest, consider this an exercise to work through. I think as you try it, you’ll come up with one or two tactics that you can actually apply that will be helpful in the future. When you’re done, you should know enough about the organization to avoid getting blindsided by a management change that could hurt you.

Does it all add up?

Look for inconsistencies across all the conversations you have. Does information add up about the job and who the boss is?

  1. Before and during your interviews, draw an organization chart around the job you’re considering.
  2. Overlay a picture of what your workday and your work month would look like.
  3. Lay out the tasks you’ll be doing, and then draw lines to all the departments and specific people who will be working with you and whose work will impact your ability to do yours.
  4. Ask the manager to help you create this chart.

Then explain that you’ll need to meet some of these people — all of them, if possible. The meetings can be brief, but they’re critical.

Sound farfetched? If you were a professional sports player, you’d know who’s on the team you’re joining, and exactly what your role would be. That would affect your decision to join up. It’s the same here.

Look for the truth

If the employer balks, explain yourself simply: “I work hard and I’m a great producer. Some people will be significantly affected by my work, and they will affect my ability to do my work as well. It’s in all of our interests to make sure we can work together. So I’d like to meet everyone.”

You need multiple data points to get an accurate picture of this “opportunity.” The more people you meet in the organization, the better.

Managers are a special case in your little drawing. If you had met more managers in the company, I’m betting you would have learned the truth, that a change was afoot. (Such a thing is difficult to hide.) Once an interview gets serious, it’s reasonable to ask, “Will I be working for you personally for the next year? If I’m your direct report, will I report to anyone else on a dotted line? Do you foresee any changes in this job in the coming year?”

Of course, they might lie to you. All you can do is test them.

I’m sorry you were blindsided. Companies are of course free to eliminate jobs and change managers. That’s why you must control your interviews and learn all you can before they leave you holding the bag. You deserve to know in advance whether a job is about to be eliminated, your pay cut, or the boss removed.

Ever report to a new employer only to find the boss and job eliminated, and the pay not what you were told? How do you ensure you know what you’re actually getting? Should this reader just quit and try elsewhere?

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