Ask the Work Buzz! Addressing Your Felony in the Interview

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ODD-US-JAILKris from IL asks: My brother was recently convicted of a felony and did some jail time on a he said/she said domestic case in which he accepted a bad bargain-just to get out of prison asap. What can you recommend the route for him to go to try to get a job in today’s sad job market with a felony on his record??? His background is in sales, and he is an EXCELLENT salesman. He just made a bad relationship choice in the past and now it is carrying over in any career aspect. He is also willing to do training for something else with the little funds he has, but what would be the appropriate field for someone with that on his record???

Kris, while there is no “appropriate field” for someone with a felony on his record — though that would surely make finding a job easier for some people — there are some things your brother can do.

First of all, your brother should know that he is not alone — there are millions of workers and job seekers out there with a felony, silly or otherwise, on their permanent records.

It’s important that your brother is honest about his situation and doesn’t try to lie about his past. Though it may be tempting to fudge the truth, there are ways to explain actions in which one has been peripherally involved or caught up. Your brother should position his case so that he is the responsible party, rather than the one to blame.

If asked to elaborate on his felony charge, your brother should be upfront with what happened. Be honest, and tell the employer that it was a long time ago (if it was), that he made a mistake and he has done his punishment.

The key is to share what he learned from the situation in order to prove that it won’t happen again, or affect his job performance. Often times, it’s easier to explain one bad decision than several.

In addition, with a background in sales, your brother is in luck:  Sales skills are one of the most transferable skills out there. Think about it: In order to be a good salesman, you must be personable, persuasive, creative and patient. You must know how to market your products and build a good customer relationship. Tell your brother to look in fields like marketing or customer service; he should expand his job search beyond his area of expertise and into arenas that call for other skills he has.

Finally, here are five tips for job seekers with a felony on his or her record:

  1. Consult legal council about the possibility of getting your record expunged, sealed or the conviction reduced. These actions may not be available for every case, but it is worth looking into.
  2. Contact local human services organizations in your area to see if they offer programs and support for ex-felons. Many of such organizations can help you re-enter the work force more easily.
  3. Take whatever job you can to start rebuilding your experience and credibility — now is not the time to be picky. Even if it’s a job for which you are overqualified, use it as an opportunity to showcase good job performance and to rebuild your experience and others’ trust in you.
  4. Look to personal contacts and friends to help you get a job.  Someone who knows you will not be as wary to take a chance on you.
  5. Don’t harbor false hope. It’s hard enough finding a job these days and a felony doesn’t help. You will be rejected, but be confident in yourself and your skills and don’t give up.

Keep your questions coming!


One Comment
  1. One more note, often times, when an employer/supervisor accepts employees with felony convictions and then the employee tries to transfer to another department or to a higher paying position with another supervisor down the road, suddenly the felony is once again at issue months or years down the road. In order to prevent trouble following after employed, make sure there is some sort of notation by the employer in the file acknowledging that the employee disclosed the felony. If not, the employer can always say they did not see it on the application and it’s their policy not to hire convicted felons, causing automatic termination.

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