I Have a Felony in My Background, What Can I Do To Land Employment in My Field?

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Roger from PCC asks:

“After a rough divorce, I am a felon with a decent work history and a BS degree. I am currently taking Alcohol and Drug certification courses to get a certification for Alcohol and Drug counseling. I am worried I will never work again.  What can I do to land a job in the Drug and Alcohol counseling field?”

Thanks for your question, Roger.  It sounds like you have successfully navigated through a challenging life event and are focused on getting your life and career headed in the right direction.  Great news!

Having a felony in your background can be a significant barrier to overcome.  However, as with any challenge, it can be overcome.  Start by reframing this challenge as an opportunity to get started with the next chapter in your life.  While it can be discouraging to face these challenges, meet each day with a positive, “can do” mindset, and stay focused on putting significant action into your objective to land employment in your field.  This will set the foundation for your eventual success.

Below are several things you can do to move away from your barrier, while moving towards your goal to secure your next job.

Know Your Challenges and Barriers

You’ve got to know what an employer will see in your background should they conduct a background check.  Don’t lie to a prospective employer at any time during the hiring process.  It will result in your disqualification, especially as it relates to the application.  Be honest on the application and include that you’d like to explain or discuss if you are required to disclose your felony on an application.

Start preparing for interview questions about your background and challenges. You will want to conduct significant practice to appropriately prepare for future interviews.  Your preparation will help you feel more confident, while allowing you to focus on highlighting your true value to an employer.  It will result in a better outcome for you.

Visit Your Local Workforce Development Agency

Make sure to take advantage of the job seeker services offered through your local workforce development agency.  These agencies offer a variety of support services including career preparation assistance (resume, interview, social media, job search), job referrals, and more.  Additionally, this organization provides administrative assistance to help you apply for a federal bonding program ($5,000 bond) offered once you secure the job offer.  This program targets individuals whose backgrounds can pose significant barriers to securing or retaining employment including those who have a felony in their background.

Secure Strong References

Finding and securing employment opportunity can be difficult for someone who has an excellent background with minimal or no barriers.  Obviously, it can be incredibly challenging for someone who has a significant barrier like a felony background.  Landing employment opportunity is much better if you have secured strong personal and professional references.  Put together a list of references who will validate your skills, experience, expertise, and more as a part of any hiring process.  Additionally, most references will likely be glad to serve as a resource, while advocating your value to prospective employers.

Engage Your Network Support System

Networking is critical in your job search success, especially if you have a significant barrier in your past like a felony record.

Remember that people hire people, not computers.  We need the help of others to succeed both on the job and in life.  Networking (engaging with people) is, was, and will always produce the best results.  Embrace saying hello to others, while reconnecting with people you already know.  One of the first things you should do is let all of your friends, family members, and connections know exactly what you are looking for and that you’d be grateful for any assistance that they can offer to you.  While many may not be able to help with a job lead, these individuals can offer tips, leads, introductions, referrals, and more that can be a stepping stone to landing the job.

Make sure to grow your circle of influence and network by attending community events.  Join professional associations in your field to connect with others in your field.  Utilize LinkedIn to grow your virtual network, find posted jobs, connect with recruiters, further your value proposition through skills endorsements and recommendations, and join industry related groups.

Target Smaller Employers

Large employers are more likely to have more extensive background checking systems as a part of their hiring process.  Conversely, smaller employers may not have as much red tape that candidates have to cut through to land the position.  As a result, conduct thorough research to identify smaller companies/firms who work in your area.  You may find that smaller companies are more welcoming.

Consider Freelance Work / Project Work

Online freelance work can allow you to earn some income, while you are finishing your drug and alcohol certification courses as your background isn’t relevant and likely not an issue.  It could also help you strengthen your resume and interview story too.  Look into sites like Fiverr, Freelancer, Upwork, and others to tap into this resource to develop a revenue stream.  Also, be sure to strengthen your social media profiles before starting this initiative.  Never pay an upfront fee for a job as it more than likely an indicator that it is a scam.

Don’t Target Jobs with Extensive Background Checks

Jobs that have extensive background checks like school teachers, financial advisors, or anything with a fiduciary responsibility aren’t worth your time.  Simply avoid spinning your wheels wasting valuable time pursuing jobs you aren’t likely to land.  The good news is that you seem to be targeting something in addiction treatment so you may not face extensive background checks.  Additionally, once you land the start in this field, your personal story might be very powerful as you help others who face significant life challenges.  Lastly, there are many organizations that may be given a government tax break to hire ex-felons so target these organizations as you face an easier road to landing a job there.

Investigate Clearing Your Record

You might be able to get your record sealed or expunged depending upon the state, type of crime, and period of time since the record.  Start by investigating if your state offers expungement or sealed records as an option.  Gather all appropriate records and fill out any paperwork if expungement is an option.  Additionally, consider consulting an attorney for a free consultation to see if this is an option for you.  Obviously, eliminating the barrier is always the best option so it won’t impact your pursuit of your next job.

Target Decision Makers

Jobs will not always be found through online job boards.  As a result, I suggest that you target employers, rather than waiting for an internship or job to be posted.  Develop a list of 25-50 prospective employers in your area that may have employment opportunity in line with your skills, experience, education, and interests.  Do some additional research and determine a decision maker to whom you will address your letter and resume.  Next, be proactive and send off your marketing letter and resume to the decision maker.  This is a great way to get your value proposition into the hands of the person with the power to start a dialogue and ultimately hire you.  Recognize that companies are always hiring.  The downside is that they may not always be hiring on your timeline.  Introduce yourself to the employer before everyone else.

Utilizing this strategy allows you to be proactive, rather than passively waiting for internships to be posted.  It can make all the difference in the world to landing an interview.  Remember, you only need one job.

Target marketing as described above can be very powerful.  Consider adding other job search methods including:

  • Use Double-Hit Method for Job Leads Via Job Boards – After applying online, most go into hope and pray mode as they hope and pray an employer calls them in for an interview. Be proactive with employers by following up on all your applications.  Additionally, target market your value proposition to the hiring manager as well.  Research to determine who the decision maker is and craft a strong message to this individual highlighting how you can help them.  This is a great way to get your resume into the hands of the person who is making the hiring decision.  The first step is to apply through HR, then target the decision maker / hiring manager – the double-hit.  Utilizing this strategy allows you to be proactive, rather than passively waiting for a response.  It can make all the difference in the world to landing an interview.
  • Utilize Ex-Felon Resources – Check out various online ex-felon resources, including xamire. You’ll likely tap into some excellent resources along with a good support system.

Contact Your Career Center

Most colleges and universities offer career preparation services to recent graduates for at least a year after graduation at no cost.  Simply put, students should leverage their career center as it is a free student resource.  College career centers are staffed with knowledgeable, skilled, and credentialed professionals who can provide assistance in a variety of areas including resume review, interview skills training, job search strategy, and more.  Furthermore, they likely have a job site exclusively for current students and recent alums featuring jobs posted with the institution.  Lastly, these professionals may be able to refer you to other affiliated resources to help with your specific challenges.  Set up an appointment soon.

Putting It All Together

It can be challenging to land a job, especially with a significant barrier like a felony on your record.  However, continue to stay focused on your job search success by fueling your search with significant effort each day.  Investigate and take advantage of various resources including workforce development agencies, federal bonding program, career center, and more.  Additionally, get your references secured quickly as you’ll likely tap in to a supportive group who can be your advocate.  Finally, focus your effort on jobs posted with smaller employers likely to have less red tape for you to cut through on your way to landing the job.  Good luck and best wishes!

Here’s to your success,

Bob Nealon


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About the Author

Robert Nealon

For almost 10 years, Bob Nealon has been a South Florida-based career coach, focused on training and coaching college students and professional-level clients to achieve success in their employment search campaign and careers. He has trained over 5,000 clients with strategies on how to best compete in today’s ultra-competitive market to land the job and advance their career. Currently, he is a career coach at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Sports Management from Indiana University, a master’s degree in Sports Administration from Indiana State University and is a multi-credentialed career coach holding industry certifications as a Certified Professional Career Coach, Certified Professional Résumé Writer, Certified Employment Interview Professional, Certified Empowerment and Motivational Coach, Global Career Development Facilitator, and Florida Certified Workforce Professional. He is an active member of Professional Association of Resume Writers and Career Coaches, Center for Credentialing and Education, Florida Association of Colleges and Employers, National Association of Colleges and Employers, and National Career Development Association. Connect with Bob via LinkedIn and Twitter.

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