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How to Approach the Job Search for Felons

By Last update December 22, 2014

Starting the job search for felons can be an extremely nerve-racking experience. After years or decades away from the job market, it can be intimidating to make the transition back into the workforce. The job search for felons is not easy. Having a record is going to cause many employers to turn you down for employment. However, with proper preparation and the right attitude, you can be successful! Success may not come quickly or easily, but it will come eventually.

How to approach the job search for felons

In our experience of teaching job readiness programs to convicted felons, we have identified a few key behaviors (listed below) that most successful former offenders have during their job search. If you follow these behaviors and work to keep this state of mind, you will be far more successful than your average ex-felon.

Focus on what you can control

How to approach the job search for felons - What you can control

There are many things during the job search process that are outside of your control. Your criminal record is out of your control. Your previous job experience is out of your control. Company hiring policies are out of your control. Many of the roadblocks to finding a jobs for felons are outside of your control.

This can be a very frustrating situation to be in, but it can also be liberating. By choosing to let go of any anger, resentment, or despair associated with things outside of your control, you are freeing yourself. Without the distractions and time lost worrying about what you can’t control, you will have more time and be more effective impacting what you can control.

A lot of people get down and depressed about the barriers involved in the job search for felons before they even begin. They worry about what they can’t control and use those worries as an excuse to give up before they even try. Don’t use this as an excuse! Whether or not you can get a job is primarily dependent on things you can control. Spend your time and energy focusing on what you can control and you will see far better results from your job search.

Don’t get ahead of yourself


Oftentimes when I am working with soon-to-be-released inmates, I hear a lot of big dreams. It is very easy to have an unrealistic idea of the opportunities available to those fresh out of prison.

When I ask what they will be doing for work once they are released, I hear a lot of the following:

  • I’m going to make music
  • I’m going to start a record label
  • I’m going to get a loan and start a business
  • I’m going to be an artist

These are all great goals to work for. Having big dreams is great. However, none of these are likely to be realistic in the short term. For those recently released from prison, your focus needs to be 100% on finding ANY job that you can support yourself with. Once you have secured that first job after prison, it becomes much easier to find the next.

With your immediate financial needs taken care of (food, housing, clothing, etc.), you can begin to work toward your dream job. If you focus too much on getting your dream job first, and not making a living, you are going to quickly find yourself in a bad financial situation. Many former offenders end up in prison because of this exact situation. Don’t make the same mistake of trying to do too much too quickly. Finding that first job will be hard enough without trying to find a “perfect” job right out of prison.

Don’t be too proud


You are not too good for any job. Applying at a fast food restaurant or for work as a janitor may not be the most glamorous job, but they can pay the bills while you work toward something better. You need to think of your first job as the first step toward your goals, not as a job that defines who you are.

You may face criticism or teasing from others because you have to take a job that is not very desirable. You need to learn to ignore these people. They don’t understand the situation you are in and anyone who criticizes someone for trying to lead an honest life is not worth listening to.

Many of the jobs for felons that are available are there because they are hard to fill. Instead of complaining about these jobs, you should be thankful that they are available. If the jobs were easy or desirable, they would have been filled long ago. If they pay is lower than you want, remember that it is still MUCH better than the fifteen cents an hour you were getting for work in prison.

Create a productive routine


Every day you are unemployed, you should spend several hours on your job search. You will be tempted to “start tomorrow” or “start next week” after you are released. If you fall into this trap, you will quickly find yourself with no money, no job, and no legal options.

Even before you get a job, you need to put yourself on a schedule. Get used to waking up at 7 a.m. or 8 a.m. and starting your day. Spend those business hours productively. If you do this, not only will you be much more likely to find a job, but it will be a much easier transition to the life of a working individual. The job search for felons is just the beginning. You want to make sure you are setting yourself up for long-term success in the workforce as well!

Don’t quit!


The job search for felons is going to be tough. Especially your first job after prison. You are going to be tempted to quit and fall back into the behaviors that resulted in your incarceration to begin with. DO NOT GIVE IN!

Many find that prison may have been easier than living outside, especially those who have spent most of their lives in prison. You are going to struggle initially but you have the ability to overcome these struggles if you are willing to work hard. People with criminal records do not end up back in prison because they were working too hard! They end up back in prison because they give up when things get difficult!

You probably won’t get the first 10 or 20 jobs you apply to. You might not even get hired for any of the first 100 you apply to. This is simply the price you unfortunately have to continue to pay for having a felony conviction. You can’t change that fact, so there is no reason to dwell on it. There are companies out there who are willing to give people a chance who want it. You will have to work to find them. It won’t be easy to convince them. But it is 100% worth it if you truly wish to lead a legitimate life.

This approach to the job search for felons has been proven to be successful over and over again. If you dedicate yourself to improving your life, working hard, and not giving up you will be successful!

To find jobs for felons, check out our list of companies that hire felons we have personally contacted found HERE. There you can find specific information on the companies that hire felons and their hiring practices.

Adam Sanders has worked as a reentry advisor, program leader, and teacher at San Quentin State prison in San Quentin California for several years. He co-founded San Quentin's financial literacy program and is passionate about helping former offenders successfully re-enter society and find personal and financial success. Adam also has nearly a decade of experience working in Marketing and Finance for large software companies and an MBA from Northwestern University.