Over the past few weeks, we've received questions from job seekers who've spent time in prison, been convicted for driving under the influence, or been fired because of a wrongful behavior on the job. "How," each wondered, "can I overcome the bad deeds of my past and convince an employer to hire me?"
The harsh truth is: It probably won't be easy. Most employers today already have a surplus of good candidates for each job opening, so the odds are not in your favor. But if you're willing to do what needs to be done, here are some tips to give yourself a better chance of success:
1) Own your mistakes.
Whatever the issue was, accept that your own actions caused it. Don't try to convince employers that it was someone else's fault. No one wants to hire a whiner or a blamer. They might, however, take a chance on an honest person who screwed up but sincerely wants to get back on track.
2) Be willing to pay your dues…again.
No matter how much experience you have, you're a less desirable job candidate (on paper) than someone with similar credentials whose record is clean. If you're willing to step back down the ladder, it might give the employer an incentive to take a chance on you. Offer to take a pay cut, accept the worst shifts, or do whatever it takes to earn back your reputation as a good worker. The employer gets an experienced worker at a bargain price, and you get a foot in the door.
3) Lean on people who know and trust you.
People who already know you, especially those who've worked with you, are your best bet for employment. They're the ones who know that the good things about you outweigh the bad. According to an Urban Institute study on ex-offenders who found employment after prison:
"Most respondents who found work did so by speaking with friends and family; however, the most successful strategy for long-term employment was returning to a previous employer."
4) Ask employers directly (but not for a job).
If you don't have any family or friends who can help you find work, informational interviews can be very helpful. Blogger J.T. O'Donnell of JT & Dale Talk Jobs had a question from a man who'd recently been fired for disobeying a company policy. J.T.'s advice was to contact the HR department of a company in his field:
"Share what happened to you and your regrets about it, then explain that you are now looking for the best way to prove to an employer that you would be a good hire. You'll learn to discuss what occurred in a way that will leave employers sympathetic to your situation."
I think it's a brilliant idea to ask actual employers what would make them willing to take a chance on you. They might give you some great insights to use when you land an interview.
The bottom line is that you need to get employers to see you as a real person who (as we all do sometimes) made a bad mistake, but who nonetheless has the experience and desire to do a great job and be a valuable employee now. It may require a series of small steps, but once you're back in the workforce, each positive action and accomplishment will make your past digressions less and less important.
Networking's Best-Kept Secret: Informational Interviews
Job Searching with an Imperfect Past or Criminal Record
Good Job Seeker, Bad Credit. Are You Screwed?
Ready To Jump Start Your Job Search?