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Finding a Job With a Criminal Record: How to Succeed

Having a criminal record can hinder the rest of your life. Even if you've done your time and made amends, a criminal record never truly goes away, and potential employers may see it as a red flag.

Finding a job after a felony or even finding a job with a misdemeanor on your record is tough but not impossible. 

While many employers refuse to hire former criminals, you can give yourself the best chance possible and find a fulfilling career.

If you're feeling hopeless on your job hunt, we're here to help. Don't give up yet. 

Keep reading to learn everything that you need to know about finding a job with a criminal record.

First: Is Your Past Behind You?

You'll have less success with your job hunt if your criminal history is recent. Employers want to know that their employees are responsible and reliable, and they don't know the circumstances of your arrest or incarceration. 

If you have a few years of distance, they might look past it. If they see that you just finished your time in prison, or if you're still in the thick of your repentance, they may be more concerned. 

You also need to make sure that you don't actively have a warrant out for your arrest. Employers know how to check if you have a warrant and many employers background check their employees. If you're not sure, do a quick search first.

If your past is well and truly behind you, you can move forward.

What Jobs Are You Looking For? 

Not all careers are primed for reformed criminals. Your options aren't as limited as you may think, though. 

Many jobs you can get with a criminal record are entry-level and customer-facing. They are also primed for growth, meaning that a job that you dislike may grow into something more (or give you the experience to move forward later). 

Small businesses in your area may be more inclined to hire someone with a criminal record, especially if they already know you as a productive member of your community. These are the people who can see firsthand that you're contributing to your town.

Working in the arts is an option if that's a passion of yours. You can either work freelance (though it's best to have a day job as well when you're first starting) or you can see if anyone is hiring.

Refine your skills enough and you may have huge opportunities ahead of you as a tattoo artist, a muralist, or a designer.

Whatever you choose, try not to feel limited by your background.

Spice Up That Resume

You probably have a few gaps in your resume from your time managing your criminal past. That's okay. Plenty of people have resume gaps for one reason or another.

Some people stopped working when their children were born and then reentered the workforce years later. Some people took time off for illness or their mental health. Some have gaps from taking care of aging or ill loved ones.

In short, a resume gap doesn't have to be a big deal. 

There's some dispute over whether or not you should reference your criminal record on your resume. We recommend against it, and encourage you to instead wait until your resume gap is brought up in the interview. As we said, an employer will generally background check you.

You should be honest with your employers just in case. If they don't bring it up, consider bringing it up yourself. You could even mention it briefly in your cover letter. 

resume is your space to put your best foot forward. Start with your strongest features and accomplishments. 

If you want back to school or did volunteer work after your release, make sure these things are front and center in your resume. 

Don't be afraid to gloat about your skills. Be honest but break down everything that you've learned and give yourself credit. 

Did you do some work while in prison? Did you craft things, help with cleaning, or do another task? Maybe you got to learn a skill from visiting teachers. These things can all be included. 

Have a Friend or a Professional Read Over Your Resume

This is one of those times where a professional resume service might be a worthwhile investment. If you have the money to spare, get professional help with your resume.

Those who work in these services know how to highlight your best attributes and hide the ones that aren't as ideal without actually lying

They may also ask you questions about your past so they can come up with new skills and experience that you may not have considered on your own. Make sure that they know what kinds of careers that you're aiming for so they can tailor your resume to that field. 

Choose References Carefully

When you have a criminal record, one of your primary goals when seeking employment is showing the employer that you're completely rehabilitated. A good reference is the key to this. 

If you're close with your probation officer and trust them to represent your character, this is an option. You can also use a priest or pastor that you visit as a reference as long as they feel comfortable. 

If you've done volunteer work throughout or after your incarceration, consider talking to the person who was in charge of it about being a reference (as long as you did good work, that is).

Otherwise, references are anyone who can show off your character or work ethic. Friends and family members aren't strong choices, but professors, former employers (post-incarceration, preferably, but you may not have that option) and group leaders are also valuable options. 

Do You Have a Criminal Record? No Problem

Having a criminal record doesn't have to mean that you'll be out of work forever, or even that the work that you find needs to be unfulfilling. You have the potential to achieve great things, you might just have to work a bit harder to get there. 

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