Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Career Options for Ex-Felons

How does someone with a felony in his past get a good-paying professional job? That's essentially the question a career counselor asked his online group of fellow career counselors. Following is the thread of email responses from members of the group:

Response from Joseph S. Tobener, JD MS
I am an attorney and college career counselor. Under California law, a person convicted of a felony can have the conviction dismissed if they paid all restitution and successfully completed probation. A dismissal means that the conviction never occurred. Under California Labor Code section 432.7, employers cannot ask about convictions that have been dismissed.

The turn around is fairly quick. In November, I filled out the paperwork for a student, and the felony was removed from his record by January. Most felonies can be removed, excepting sex crimes.

The Superior Court of California has a great self-help website with info on removing felonies.

Question from Susan Ireland
Hello Joseph,
I'm assuming that if one has had his conviction dismissed, you would recommend the job seeker list something vague in his resume's work history section so as to disguise his time in prison. Ideas include listing:
- Occupational Title and The State of California (or another state) as the employer
- Student, Name of Educational Institution (if they took classes while in prison)

In your opinion, are these ideas legal and acceptable? And are they legal and acceptable if one has not had their conviction dismissed?

Response from Joseph S. Tobener, JD MS
Great questions and great ideas. If the resume bullet is arguably true, then I advise my students to go for it. I have listed prison work under job history. I have never listed education, but I think it's a fantastic idea and counselors should be clued in to ask about it.

Things get trickier on applications. That is a whole other set of emails, I suppose.

Response from Kathy Knudson, MFT, NCC, MAC,CADC II, Career & Personal Development Institute, San Francisco
I need to weigh in on this one as I work and have done so for many years with numerous ex-felons. First, I am not an attorney, however with information gleaned from the SF Public Defender's Office Clean Slate program, Alameda County's East Bay Community Law Center, and San Mateo County Public Defender's Office, this is what I have found and tell my clients, especially those with convictions outside the State of California.( I always refer them to the afore mentioned entities for assistance.) Thank you Joseph Tobener for providing the link to the Calif. Courts Self-Help Center. Clients need to know they have two rap sheets, a DOJ, (State of Calif) and an FBI rap sheet. They need to know what is on both.

Expungement is a limited remedy that does not erase a case from your record, but rather results in a notation to your rap (record of arrest, conviction & disposition history) sheet indicating that the conviction has been "dismissed [in] furtherance of justice (DIS, FURTH OF JUST)" IR "dismissed pursuant to PC 1203.4." California law allows the courts and DOJ (Calif. Dept. of Justice) to expunge most convictions of a juvenile following criminal prosecution, most adult misdemeanor convictions, and many felony convictions. Although these records cannot be sealed, expungement allows you to reply "no" on most private employment applications that ask whether you have been convicted; however, you would still have to disclose prior convictions to government employers. A dismissal conviction can also enable you to apply for a Certificate of Rehabilitation and a pardon. Expungement dismissals can also lift bars on licensing or certification for jobs and businesses; you should contact the specific licensing/certification board for information.

Who Can See "Expunged" Cases
Anyone with access to rap sheets can view expunged cases; expungement does not erase the conviction. Under California law, you must disclose these convictions on job applications and in interviews on the following types of applications:

  • Law enforcement
  • Health Care Facilities where the position requires patient contact or access to medication (for certain types of convictions)
  • Financial Institutions
  • Public employment
  • Public office
  • Occupational licenses
The United States Dept. of Homeland Security (formerly Immigration & Naturalization Service) also has access to expunged cases.

There are three types of cases that can be sealed:

  1. Arrests that did not lead to conviction
  2. Juvenile ward of the court orders
  3. Upon successful completion of drug diversion.
Having a case sealed means that criminal history record information is removed from the version of the rap sheet that is sent to employers and others. However, although sealed records are physically destroyed in most circumstances, the records remain in a confidential file in the DOJ database and can be released in limited circumstances.

Who Can See "Sealed" Cases
Sealed information for arrests that did not lead to conviction or juvenile ward of the court orders remains available in three situations:

  1. Certain employers, such as law enforcement & health care facilities may inquire about sealed information.
  2. The Department of Motor Vehicles has access to sealed juvenile records to determine insurance rates
  3. Other agencies may inquire about sealed juvenile records under the "three strikes" law if you were adjudicated a ward of the juvenile court when you ere sixteen or older for a felony or other serious offense & were later charged with a felony.
Most private employers do not have the right to request your summary criminal history or have direct access to your DOJ records. However, criminal arrests, prosecutions, convictions are public records, private employers sometimes hire private investigation firms to conduct background checks on all applicants and/or employees. These background checks can uncover all public record, including "expunged" and/or dismissed convictions. Therefore, when thinking about how to address this issue with potential employers, consider the following:

The LAW regarding criminal records and private employers: You have the right to not disclose juvenile records, "expunged" records, otherwise dismissed records (i.e., dismissed upon successful completion of diversion program), or records of arrests not leading to convictions. If your conviction has been dismissed/"expunged," you have a right to answer "NO" to the question "Do you have any criminal convictions?" and to not list them on an application form.

The REALITY regarding criminal records and private employers: Employers can access records, even of "expunged"/dismissed convictions, diversion cases, and arrests not resulting in convictions, through background checks (in courts, through background checks, or on the many websites offering background check services). Therefore, only you can decide how to address prior records -- whether to not disclose or whether to disclose and explain (through a prepared letter or speech).

It has been my personal experience that the majority of companies are now doing background checks on potential employees because of the cost of "on-boarding" someone in addition to the risk management factor. There is so much information in the public domain, I now assume that someone will access it. Even though it is illegal to use the above information in the hiring process, we know how easy it is for the interviewer to simply say, "We found a candidate who was a better fit for our requirements."

Everyone is an individual, and each situation should be determined on its own merits. I work with a lot of people with lengthy criminal histories, and have found that they have a tendency to think their record will simply disappear through the expungement process. I spend a good deal of time talking about their particular situation and how they are going to address the issue on the application (which is a legal document) and on their resume. Again, the majority of my clients have more than one conviction. On the application you can check the box YES, list the penal code you were convicted of, and write "See Packet."

What is in the packet? Larry Robin calls it a "Turn Around packet." It has references from former employers, long-time landlord, probation/parole officer, police officer, or a judge. It has evidence of making restitution, proof of involvement in a skill building activity, a clean DMV record, proof of being drug free, doing volunteer work, etc. The concept is how you have turned your life around since your involvement with the criminal justice system.

People with criminal records have a history of being hired in entry-level jobs at some of the following places: Warehouses, Janitorial, Non-profit organizations, Car washes, Fast Food, Lumber Yards, Landscaping, Newspaper delivery, Garbage removal, Religious organizations such as charities, Advertising promotion distribution companies, Salvage yards, Nursery-Trees, Plants, etc., Printers, Construction (there are 26 Labor Unions in San Francisco, most have apprenticeship programs). They need to know these entry-level positions are just that: an opportunity to build credibility for the next job. Most of the ex-felons I work with need to spend more time getting known in the community where they want employment. They need more help with filling out applications, and learning how to talk succinctly about their situation in an interview.

Response from Marty Nemko
My approach with clients who have a felony on their record:
- If he served in county jail, try to get it expunged.
- If it's state jail, it's too much hassle and too-poor-prospects of it working to try to get a "statement of rehabilitation."
- If his or her felony won't be expunged, that's yet one more reason to forgo applying for openly advertised jobs. They'll almost never hire an ex-felon. So, I have my clients make unsolicited walk-ins and calls to target employers. I teach them this approach:
"This is probably one of the weirder calls you've gotten in a while. I'm an ex-felon, just having gotten out of prison. I'm terrified that no one will ever give me a job. I made a terrible mistake, which I will never make again, but I need someone willing to give me a chance--perhaps someone who themselves was given a second chance. Although I have skills in using office software and in basic accounting, I'm willing to start at the bottom--sweep floors, whatever, to prove that I'm a good and honest worker. I so want to prove that to an employer and to myself. If you might need someone or even have some advice as to where you think I might turn, I'd love to hear from you."

Response from Markell R. Steele, Career Counselor, Futures in Motion
I think a closely related issue is "when to disclose." It's been my experience that recruiters don't expect to see disclosure on a resume but do expect to see it in the job application. So, the resume is an opportunity to highlight successes.

I recently attended a conference session, The Secrets of Corporate Recruiting, in which a recruiter talked about moving from "screening out" to "screening in" candidates. The initial selection stages are designed to screen out candidates, so the emphasis is on objective criteria (job titles, education, work history). For this, the candidate needs a good resume with relevant information.

If no application is completed, recruiters expect disclosure during the screening interview.

Once the candidate progresses to the phone interview with the recruiter, there is a switch to screening in and becoming an advocate of the candidate. It’s at this stage she suggested candidates disclose anything that will come up in a background check. She felt any omissions were “lies” and deliberate attempts to deceive. The omission is seen as worse than whatever it is they were “hiding.”

This is such a tricky issue. In the best of times employers will have reservations. Now, they have an abundance of candidates to choose from who don't have legal issues. Way back when I first started in this profession, I worked for the PIC (now WIB). I worked with my share of this type of candidates. We had to use a really personalized approach to their job search, so that the employer felt comfortable hiring people with felony records. The reality is that some jobs were just not going to be available to them. For those that were, trust had to be established, which is beyond writing a good resume.


Joan Mershon said...

Lots of good ideas! I would add to be aware of the choice of specific words used when disclosing an criminal history. 'Kidnapping' for example - the general public thinks it involves duct tape & the trunk of a car.

While generally I suggest limiting the amount detail used in explanations, there are times when the details can be very helpful: 'Manufacturing of a controlled substance' is generally perceived as a meth lab - so if it was really about growing marijuana, I suggest making the detail clear.

I think my favorite example is a client who was getting zero response to his applications. A quick glance at a sample application revealed he was listing his crime as 'white slavery' - No wonder employers weren't calling him back! Making a minor change to 'violating the Mann Act' gave him a much better response to his application, and often the opportunity to explain the charges directly to the employer.

Eric Mayo said...

I have posted a ton of videos to help ex-offenders and felons get jobs. You can see them here:


Anonymous said...

I am a 33 year old wife and mom who is attending school to get an associate degree to be a medical transcription in Colorado. I have two felony's on my record. One from the age of 18 of check fraud, and two years ago I got a possession charge. My question is, what are the laws on working doing medical transcription and a background? Please I am clean and attended rehab..my life is finally together and now I am paying for it dearly!
Depressed in Colorado

Anonymous said...

California law is great! You can have your convictions expunged and destroyed and everything is groovy.
But what opportunities are there for somebody stuck in a state that doesn't allow you to expunge for a decade? You know the states that make a thriving business out of bringing in those federal funds.
I still have 8.5 years before I can expunge. I will have three masters degrees in that lengthy amount of time.

Anonymous said...

I would have to say that some convictions like violence and theft make it nearly impossible to find stable work due to negligent hiring laws and due diligence.
There really isn't a sales pitch that will win an employer when he knows the rules of the game.
If I only knew then what I know now I would not be in this predicament.

Anonymous said...

I'm going to a job interview tomorrow and I'm nervous only because I'm not sure how I will react if I am turned down due to my background. I have 1 felony possesion and a total of 3 misdemeanors. I completed the first half of a diversion program which will be dismissed in March 2010. I'm finding it difficult to have to bring this up in my job interview. Also I spoke with a public defender and she said that it will show dismissed, but still be on my record/background as a felony thats dismissed (i'm now confused on what 'dismissed' means) and says that I have to file for a 1203.4 or 17B which would reduce the felony to a misdemeanor and show it as dismissed? this is also in California. Well I will just have to see how the interview goes, the job requirement is to PASS a background check, but they do not define what PASS is. I've been trying to find the best resources or a decent job that will hire someone with a drug record, but I really haven't found the best answers.

ameer said...

I would like to know my options in the state of pennsylvania as an ex-felon my conviction is over 13yrs. old.

Anonymous said...

I am 34 years old and have been doing medical transcription for 10+ years. It was my life and the perfect career for me. Unfortunately, I basically took the rap for a boyfriend and ended up with a class B felony for possession with intent to distribute. My job gave me the option to resign, but their request was based solely on the fact that after I was convicted, my background check stated that I was banned BY THE STATE (Alaska) from being a service provider in the medical field for the duration of 10 YEARS. The healthcare field and medical transcription has been MY LIFE for the past decade and now I am finding it next to impossible to get any kind of decent job because of my felony conviction and because the majority of my employment history has been solely in the medical field. I have been turned down recently for jobs for the simple fact that I am "overqualified" but it seems as though the menial jobs are the only ones who will even consider hiring felons. I have not only lost a job that I loved, but it seems I have lost my entire career. In answer to the medical transcriptionist who posted, I would imagine it would depend on your state, but when they run my background check here in Alaska, the state has banned me from being a service provider for the next 10 years. If only life has a rewind button.

Anonymous said...

Okay, Okay, I admit to not having read every single thread here.
I will do so after I write this.

I want to ask though, since this is a tread on "Career Options for Ex-Felons", what "career options" are out there for an ex-felon like me in California?

99% of my felons are drug possessions or sales of drugs.
I recently relapsed on meth and was placed on probation which I am still currently on.

I would like to hear from someone who could show me a list of "career options" for someone like me.

I do understand the concept of entry level jobs. Yet, I am looking for a career. I do not mind entry level work, I expect it.
But, I do want there do be opportunity for career growth...
Thank You.

Anonymous said...

I am a convicted felon in the state of GA. I served 4 years and am doing the renaming part of my 10 year sentence on parole in the state of CA. I am recently unemployed. Do I need to disclose this conviction on a job application and must I state what type of felony it was?
Job seeker,in CA

Anonymous said...

Question - Successfully completed drug diversion 20 yrs ago & am now applying for a healthcare license. State of CA not a problem, but federal board exam application asks if "ever been charged or convicted of a violation of any federal or state drug law or rule whether or not sentence was imposed or suspended." Do I have to answer yes? Even though diversion dismissed? (PC 1000?)

Anonymous said...

A job application asks if you have had a felony conviction in the past seven years, so if it's been over seven years, it doesn't matter if you have a conviction or not, because even if they do the background check, it won't be available. I found out because I requested my copy of the report from a company that I applied for. I think it's a bunch of bull that companies get to disqualify ex-felons, yeah we messed up, but society as a whole aint doing nothing but making the problem worse, when I was in prison I met people that were working towards their bachelors and masters degrees, of course they wont be able to use them because the only options they will have for work will be minimum wage. Society believes they are punishing us for our past actions by not giving us privilige of obtaining a regular job, but society is only punishing itself because they still can't find out why crime is on the rise and why there is a 70-80 percent recevidism rate for people who recently paroled from a state prison. Simply put, there has to be people in prison, and there has to be a degree of crime, that's the only way society will function, we got the short end of the stick. live with it.

Ex felon wanting to WORK said...

My name is Denise Hysaw and I am a ex felon. I have been looking for a stable job since Nov. 10, 2010 and because of my background it is hard for me to find something.
Denise Hysaw

3612 Willow St Unit B
Sacramento, CA 95838
(916) 595-3331 ● denisehysaw@yahoo.com

A results-driven, dedicated professional with solid experience in Business Administration


• Answer phone calls and direct calls to appropriate parties or take messages
• Perform general office duties, such as ordering supplies, maintaining records management database systems, and performing basic bookkeeping work.
• File and retrieve corporate documents, records, and reports
• Operate office machines, such as photocopiers and scanners, facsimile machines, voice mail systems, and personal computers
• Communicate with customers, employees, and other individuals to answer questions
• Type, format, proofread, and edit correspondence and other documents, from notes or using computers or typewriters
• Review files, records, and other documents to obtain information to respond to requests.

San Diego Urban League Administrative Asst. San Diego CA

• Answer phone calls and direct calls to appropriate parties or take messages
• Perform general office duties
• Operate office machines, such as photocopiers and scanners, facsimile machines, voice mail systems, and personal computers
• Type, format, proofread, and edit correspondence and other documents, from notes or using computers or typewriters

Salvation Army Administrative Asst. San Diego CA

• Communicate with customers, employees, and other individuals to answer questions
• Type, format, proofread, and edit correspondence and other documents, from notes or using computers or typewriters
• Review files, records, and other documents to obtain information to respond to requests.

Central Union High School Academic Studies Diploma

Anonymous said...

I'm curious as to what types of positions may be an option for me in the state of West Virginia as a felon, convicted of one count of Aggravated Robbery fourteen years ago.