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How to Find a Job After Serving Time in Jail

by Ellie Williams, studioD

If you’ve served jail time, you’re probably eager to put it behind you and focus on re-establishing your career. You’ll likely need to address your past when applying for jobs, however, because an increasing number of employers are adding background checks as mandatory components of the hiring process. You can often overcome a criminal record, especially if you take responsibility for the past and demonstrate how you’ve changed your life for the better.

Research First

Targeting your job search can increase your odds of securing employment. In some industries, jail time could bar you from entering the field. This is true for civil service positions such as police officer, firefighter and paramedic and for teaching positions and other jobs working with children. Jobs where public safety is a concern are also typically off-limits, especially if you have an alcohol- or drug-related offense. Serving time for a drunk driving incident, for example, could prohibit you from landing transportation-related jobs.

Seek Professional Guidance

Some state agencies, community organizations and corrections facilities operate training and career development programs designed to help former convicts re-enter the workforce. These programs help job-seekers write resumes that highlight their qualifications instead of their jail time. Job coaches with these programs also advise participants on how to prepare for job interviews, including appropriate attire and what to say when asked about their criminal records. In some cases, they can connect you with employers open to hiring people who have criminal records.

Clean Up Your Record

Rap sheets sometimes contain inaccurate information you can have removed by filing a formal request with the appropriate government agency. Obtain a copy of your record by contacting your county court clerk or by requesting your file from the arresting police department. If you faced federal charges, contact the FBI for your national criminal record. In some cases, you can even restore some of your employment rights. For example, job-seekers with only misdemeanors or one felony can obtain a certificate of relief from disabilities, while those with multiple felony convictions can receive a certificate of good conduct. Both allow ex-convicts to obtain various professional licenses and hold civil service jobs.

Ace the Interview

Show employers you’re more than just your rap sheet by making a good impression during the interview. Be honest if they ask about your jail time, but don’t go into too much detail. You want an interviewer to see your work history, qualifications and enthusiasm for the job instead of focusing on your past. Explain what you learned from the experience and how you’ve turned your life around to ensure you stay on the right track. Also, address any factors that contributed to your criminal activities. For example, if you committed robbery to support a drug habit, explain that you’ve completed a 12-step program and have been drug-free for five years.

About the Author

Ellie Williams has been a journalist since 2001. Her work has been recognized by her state's press association and by her local chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Williams graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts in mass communications and humanities, with minors in French and theater.

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