Achilles Heel For Candidate and Employer

Achilles Heel For Candidate and Employer

By Yasmin Jimenez

I recently came across an opinion piece on the Wall Street Journal, Don’t Lock Ex-Prisoners Out of Jobs and it brought up some really good points about prison labor. During my stint in the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation, I saw some of the work that prisoners can do. There’s so much opportunity for them to gain transferable and usable skills that, in theory, will make them more marketable when they are released. But working in the corporate world has given me another point of view on the two sides of this coin.

“Do You Have Any Prior Criminal History?” 

It’s a question on most job applications that seems like nothing when your answer is ‘No’, but it’s everything when the answer is “Yes”. So, you’re at a crossroads. Do you tell them about your record? If so, when? How? How much do you tell? It seems like there is no right answer to any of those questions – no way to guarantee your success in snagging an interview, and eventually, the position. But there just might be. In the book ‘GRIT: How to Get a Job and Build a Career with a Criminal Record’, light shines on the best way to approach this sticky situation.

As an HR professional, I struggle daily with how society should approach hiring folks with felony convictions. I also don’t believe that having a felony means “the end” when it comes to employment. All people deserve a chance at creating a better life for themselves.  Past behavior is not necessarily indicative of future success. Is your criminal record important for future employers to know about? 100%. Sure, it may feel like you’re sharing the worst parts of you. You’re also sharing your triumph over your mistakes and your resilience in facing adversity. Your experience exhibits strength, ownership, and perseverance. True as this is, there will always be a question of trust. How will companies know for sure that your past won’t rear its head now and be a liability for them down the road?

I question a lot of the widely-used HR practices. As a candidate, you can have all the work experience required and be qualified for the position–whether it be from your jobs pre-offense or maybe even the work you did while doing time–and the company just won’t pull the trigger. The reality is — there is a voice in the back of every employer’s mind that wonders if hiring someone with a criminal record is a good decision because of the potential risk involved. Think:

  • Turnover costs if the candidate were to re-offend;
  • Potential risk to current employees
  • Worry over company image

The bottom line is, companies don’t like risk. If they feel secure in the way they hire currently, they feel no need to change their practices. In that mindset, sure they are mitigating risk, but they are also potentially losing well-qualified, hard working Americans. With nearly 20 million American citizens with felony convictions, it’s not a question of if, it’s when. So we want to ask the hard questions to these companies:

  • When was the last time you examined your policy? Have you ever?
  • Why do you enforce these policies when recruiting?

Ex-felons can be an asset to any company. They have drive and mental fortitude. Through programs like the Comeback Collective, they can prove themselves to be successful and reliable candidates and employees. Companies just need to be open to the demographic they’re missing out on.

To all those struggling to find a job with a criminal record, I want you to know that not all companies are out to get you. They don’t necessarily want you to fail. Just as you are looking out for yourself, they are too. So don’t give up. You may go to interview after interview and feel like nothing is working. I challenge you to keep going. Someone out there will see the worth in you and give you that chance. You just need to find them.


Yasmin Jimenez works with recruiting in the private sector and has an interest in and advocates for the rights of ex-convicts and their ability to grow a stable future.