What Career Options Do Ex-Cons Have?


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Written by: Guest | Best Company Editorial Team

Last Updated: June 15th, 2020

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Guest Post by Melanie Musson

After getting out of prison, it usually takes time to adjust to normal life again. It can be hard to get everything in order and find a job. You’ll also have to think about your transportation, and if you plan to drive, you’ll have to get car insurance. You might even need to look into high-risk car insurance options.
While there are a lot of things to worry about, take a deep breath because the world is looking brighter for ex-cons. For some employers, there will always be a stigma attached when they hear you are a felon, but the good news is that many companies have chosen to diversify and build inclusive departments where ex-cons are welcome.
Some industries are especially open, and they are great places to start your job search.
Below are some tips for finding a job. Some companies are more inclusive than others, and some geographical areas are more friendly to ex-cons looking for employment. But no matter where you live, hold on to hope: persistence will pay off eventually.

Apply for every job for which you qualify 

No matter who you are, even if you have no criminal history, if you’re looking for a job, you need to apply to as many places as possible. It’s a competitive world. While more and more companies are hiring ex-cons, a criminal record is still a bad mark on your resume, so it’s even more important that you apply everywhere you can.

It can get discouraging to apply and not hear back, but you’ll increase your chances of getting an interview the more applications you fill out. 

Look for an apprenticeship or a job in service or labor 

Some jobs are closed doors to former felons, and these include most government jobs and most childcare and eldercare jobs.

But many trade jobs are a good place to look into. Finding an apprenticeship or working towards a career certification as an HVAC technician, a welder, or a carpenter could be a great fit. If you land an apprenticeship, you’ll get all the training you need. Then when you’ve finished, you’ll be set up to earn a good living.

If, while in prison, you learned a trade or skill, you’ve given yourself a head start. Look for jobs in your area of expertise, but as we’ll look at next, if you’re offered a job outside of your desired area, you should still consider taking it.

Becoming a freelance worker is another option. There are many freelance jobs that you could make for yourself in writing, transcription, design, marketing, or even sales.

Be open to taking any job opportunity 

It might not be your ideal job. But if you take it and do the best you can, your opportunities will only increase. When you have a job, you can continue to look for other jobs that are more suited to your desires. At least you’ll be bringing in an income while you’re looking.

Additionally, showing that you can commit to a job and work hard shows potential employers that you have a good work ethic. Holding down a job gives your application a boost. 

The Diocese of Juliet has published an extensive list of employers who hire former felons. Since some companies automatically exclude individuals with criminal records, it’s nice to be able to rely on this list of companies where you'll have a better chance of getting hired.

The Work Opportunity Tax Credit encourages companies to hire ex-cons

If you're an employer reading this, be aware that the Work Opportunity Tax Credit gives an incentive to companies who hire from specified groups with barriers to employment. Ex-cons are one such group. This is a federal program, and it offers a 25 percent tax credit for the company that hires a program participant who works at least 120 hours in a year, and a 40 percent tax credit for employees working over 400 hours a year.

California offers an ex-offender tax credit for companies that hire participants in the program. Employers get a 50 percent tax credit for employee participants. The credit drops by 10 percent each year after the first year. But by then, a good five-year employee will have proven their worth without the company needing an incentive.

Other states with specialized programs are Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, and Texas.

Just because the state in which you live offers a program doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed to get hired, but it definitely helps.

In addition to the federal program and state programs, many cities offer incentives for hiring people who are traditionally hard to place. Philadelphia, for example, has developed a Fair Chance Hiring Initiative that further incentivizes hiring former felons. 

Former inmates need employers willing to give them a chance

And more often than not, former inmates will exceed the employer's expectations. In a report commissioned by the Society of Human Resources Management, a full 82 percent of executives said that their ex-con employees performed as well as or better than their employees without a criminal background.

When a former offender makes the decision to stay out of prison and live by the law, they’re often more thankful and committed to a job when given the opportunity. They can be among the best workers an employer has, if given the chance. 

Don't give up

If you have a criminal history, landing a job can take some time. But don’t give up. Write out your goals and take the necessary steps to meet those goals.

Look for programs in your area that can help match you with an employer, and be willing to try whatever is offered to you. Proving yourself in a job will help you advance where you’re working and will look good on your resume.

Asking mentors and pre-release programs in your area for advice on where to start looking for jobs is a great first step toward finding employment. In addition, the Cooperative of Felon-Friendly Employers (CoFFE) is another independent program that focuses on matching former inmates with employers. If you feel like you’re always ending up in dead ends, it may be just the resource to help you find an open door.

Melanie Musson is a writer for MyCarInsurance123.com. As a fourth-generation insurance expert, she takes personal pride in helping people find insurance that gives them the protection they need for a price they can afford.

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