Job Seeker Resources

Give us Five! Support Our Job Search Guide


Check out this picture. Those are the last two copies of our job search guide from the first run of the guide. Since first printing the guide last year, we have sent 48 copies of the guide out into the world. Now we need your help to print more, so we can distribute it to more formerly incarcerated people. For every $5 donated, we are able to put one more guide into the hands of a formerly incarcerated person at no cost to them.

We love sharing this guide with the formerly incarcerated people we work with. It is packed with useful information on planning for a job search, where to look for jobs, how to prepare a resume, how to address criminal history during the hiring process, common interview questions and more. We use the guide with the clients we mentor and have also been handing it out to those who attend the monthly workshops we do in partnership with Working Alternatives, a residential program that helps people leaving federal prison transition back into their communities. Because the formerly incarcerated people we work with are unemployed, it is important that we provide the guide for free. That's where your donation helps. The updated version of the guide contains information on California's new fair chance hiring law and the state's ban on asking candidates about salary history.

Please donate today to help us print more copies of our guide. Five dollars goes a long way to set someone on the path to career success, which is a huge part of building a healthy and productive life following release from jail or prison.

Donate here. You have the option to make your donation recur monthly, which means you could provide a guide a month to a job seeker.

If you are an organization that would like to purchase copies of our guide for use with your clients, visit our store. If you are formerly incarcerated person who wants to request a copy of our guide, visit our Become a Client page.

Thank you for supporting Pacific Reentry Career Services and second chances.

Job Search Guide Now Available

We are happy to announce that our job search guide is done and ready for distribution. We developed our job search guide to help support formerly incarcerated job seekers. This comprehensive guide includes a job search checklist, skills & experience assessment, tips on how to draft a conviction statement, sample resume, sample job application, monthly budget worksheet, common interview questions, advice for addressing criminal history in interviews and more.

This guide was developed by Pacific Reentry Career Services co-founders Stephanie Hammerwold and Tim Pershing. Stephanie drew from more than a decade working in human resources to create this guide.

If you are a service provider and would like to order copies of our guide to use with your clients, visit our online store. Guides are $10 each.

All of our job search clients will receive a copy of the guide for free. If you are a formerly incarcerated individual and want to find out more about how to get the guide, get in touch through our Become a Client page.

How to Answer Common Interview Questions

By Stephanie Hammerwold

So, you have sent in your resume, filled out an application and you managed to land an interview with a prospective employer. Now what? It is hard to know exactly what an interviewer will ask, if they will throw challenging questions what questions you should ask them. Even though each employer does things a little differently, there are ways you can practice your responses to common questions in order to better prepare for the interview. Even if the types of answers you have prepared do not come up in the interview, they will still be good practice for talking about yourself and your experience.

Tell Me About Yourself

Many interviews start with some variation of this statement. Prior to an interview, work on a brief overview of your experience and why you would be a good fit for the job. Include any relevant training or education. This is a commercial about you and a chance to make a good first impression. Remember to keep your statement brief, and avoid going into great detail about your life story.

How Did You Hear About Us?

When an employer asks this question, they are not necessarily trying to collect data on how job seekers hear about the company. They want to see if you did your homework prior to the interview. Always make time to read up on a company before you arrive for an interview. This is also a good way to come up with some questions for the interviewer about the job as well as the company.

When you do your research on the company, get a sense of how you might fit into the culture there. This will help you to figure out how to highlight the areas of your experience that show you are a good fit. An employer may also ask you why you want to work for them. Being prepared with background information on the company will help you answer this question.

Why Did You Leave Your Last Job? Tell Me About this Gap in Your Employment.

Both of these questions can trip up a candidate—especially if your reason for leaving a job or being off work for a long time were not positive. While you may be tempted to lie to cover up problems in your past, this may lead to trouble when an employer conducts a background check and finds out the truth. It is better that they hear it from you, so put some time into practicing how you will answer questions about problems in our past.

Put a positive spin on negative experiences. For example, if you were fired from a job for attendance issues, explain what you have done to make changes. Maybe the issue was with not having reliable transportation, but you now have a good car, so this is not a problem anymore. Avoid blaming a past employer or your boss for the problems. Accept responsibility, and show how you have changed from the experience.

The same goes for gaps in employment. While you do not need to go into great detail about the reason for a gap, be honest. It is sufficient to say that you were taking time off to look for a new job, go to school or deal with family issues.

What Type of Pay and Schedule are You Looking for?

Be honest with your answers to these questions. Sometimes candidates are tempted to say what they think the interviewer wants to hear. You want to make sure the job is a good fit in terms of pay and schedule, so it can cause problems at the time of hire if you lie about availability or accept a job that does not meet your financial needs.

When an employer asks about pay, they often want to make sure you are in the pay range for the position. It ends up being a waste of time for you and the interviewer if you keep interviewing for a job that is way below the wage you need to pay your expenses.

This advice also works for questions about the type of work environment you are looking for. Remember that you want to make sure the company is a good fit for you, so make sure the business is a place you would be comfortable working.

What Was Your Biggest Accomplishment at Your Last Job?

It is a good idea to come up with a few things you are proud of from your previous work. Remember that you can also draw from volunteer experience and school if your work history is limited. Come up with several different examples as well as things that you learned from in the past. These are stories you can draw from if asked specific questions about things like how you handle difficult customers or a time you worked through a disagreement with a coworker or supervisor.

What are Your Strengths/Weaknesses?

It is usually easy to come up with a couple strengths, but candidates often struggle with how to answer questions about weaknesses. As with blemishes in your work history, turn a negative into a positive. If, for example, public speaking makes you nervous, talk about how you have started attending Toastmasters meetings to work on getting more comfortable speaking in front of a crowd.

Be Prepared to Talk About You

It is a good idea to get a friend to interview you prior to meeting with an employer. This is a chance to practice speaking about yourself and your experience. The more you do so, the more comfortable you will feel during an interview. If an interviewer stumps you with a question, you can ask them to come back to the question later. Just because you cannot come up with an answer on the spot, it does not mean you have automatically disqualified yourself. Many candidates get nervous, and interviewers are often willing to give you a chance to think about your answer.

Are you formerly incarcerated and looking for more help preparing for interviews? Get in touch with us to find out how Pacific Reentry Career Services can help you prepare for your job search.

Job Seeker Advice: How to Conduct a Targeted Job Search

By Stephanie Hammerwold

Looking for a job can be a big undertaking. Major job posting sites are overwhelming and often job seekers find themselves wading through endless ads promising ways to get rich working from home. While some people may have luck with casting a huge net online in their quest for the perfect job, the average job seeker may find that resumes sent in response to ads on major job sites go into some kind of application blackhole. The way around this is to take a targeted approach in your job search.

Search for Companies, not Jobs

The key to a targeted job search is to look for companies that provide the type of work you want. While companies may not pay to post all their openings on a big job search site, they will probably put all their openings on their own website. Check the company’s site regularly for new openings. I worked for one company that was popular in the community. Many applicants were people who had walked into one of our stores asking about job openings or were persistent job seekers who made a habit of regularly checking the company’s website. This meant we rarely had to rely on paying to post our openings on other sites.

Research companies in your area, and do not limit yourself. Last year I spoke to graduate students at my alma mater. Many of them were planning for careers in academia or the nonprofit sector. I reminded those eyeing nonprofit jobs that there are for-profit companies out there who have a socially-minded philosophy that is similar to what can be found at a nonprofit. Before starting my consulting business, I worked at a small grocery chain that had a goal of giving at least 10% back to the community. They also offered a volunteer benefit for employees and other programs that were focused on giving back. In doing your research on companies, look for such opportunities to expand the pool of places you can see yourself working.

Connect with your target companies on social media. Some companies have even set up specific profiles for job seekers. This is a good way to find out about new openings that may not be posted on major job search sites.

Use Your Network

Here’s an inside tip about reaching out to the companies you want to work at: do not call their HR department in the hopes that it will make your application stand out. As an HR person, I can tell you that it’s not that we do not want to talk to every applicant, but HR is often inundated with calls to the point that it is impossible to get back to everyone. For job seekers, it can be discouraging to send in an application or resume and then hear nothing. Even though HR may not be the right place to go to make a personal connection when you first submit an application, there are ways to reach out effectively.

Focus on your network. Do you already know someone at the company? If so, they may be a good resource to put in a good word for you or to introduce you to someone who has power over hiring decisions. LinkedIn can be an excellent tool for seeing who you may already know at a company or if one of your connections may be able to introduce you to someone who works there. As I mentioned earlier, some companies connect with job seekers through social media, so this can be another way to network with people in a way that could bring positive attention to your application.

Finally, get involved in your community. This is an excellent way to connect with people who may turn out to be powerful connections when it comes to finding a job. In my own experience, the best networking happens at events where the main objective is not marketing yourself. This may be volunteering for a beach clean up, working on a political campaign or getting involved with your favorite nonprofit.

The Problem with Job Sites

What you have heard about job posting sites is true: companies do not post all their jobs in such places. Posting on some of the bigger sites can run several hundred dollars each. For many businesses, this means they may be choosy about which jobs they pay to post. When I used to work on hiring, I would only post harder to fill jobs on the big sites. Job sites can also take a lot of time to wade through. Even when employing filters and narrowing search criteria, it can be a challenge to find jobs that are a good fit. This is especially true if you live in a major metropolitan area, where the list of open jobs may be really long.

While it is good to keep an eye on the major sites and give them a weekly scan, a better strategy is to figure out what kind of job you want and to then find the places offering positions that are a good match.

This post originally appeared on HR Hammer.

Job Seeker Advice: What HR Wants to See in a Resume

By Stephanie Hammerwold

One of the most common HR-related requests I get from friends is to review their resume. Even in the age of LinkedIn and online portfolios, there are still countless articles about how a great resume can be your ticket to success. There are no magic tricks that can guarantee your resume will land you your dream job, but there are things you can do to keep your resume from automatically being tossed in the reject pile. After years of reviewing thousands of resumes, here are my tips for creating a clean, easy-to-read resume that showcases your experience and qualifications.

What (Not) to Include

I am once and for all taking the HR Hammer to the objective section. If you have an objective section lingering at the top of your resume, I’ll give you a moment to go delete it right now. Most resume objectives are the same, and it is some variation on “To find a job that challenges me and where I can be a positive member of a dynamic team.” A company already knows you are trying to find a good job, so there is no reason to waste valuable resume real estate space with an objective. You want to showcase your skills and experience rather than write a generic statement that is similar to what many other job seekers have at the top of their resume.

Now that we have the objective out of the way, let’s tackle the question of length. It used to be that one page was the generally accepted length of the resume. This was in the days before online applications and emailing in a resume. These days, it is not very common to mail in a resume. Length becomes less important when a recruiter or hiring manager is scrolling through resumes on a screen rather than flipping pages. This does not mean you should send pages and pages to a prospective employer, but it is perfectly acceptable to fill two pages. Unless you are applying for an academic job or a highly specialized position, I would not recommend going much longer than that.

It is important that your resume is easy to read because your resume usually only gets a minute or so to make a strong enough impression to warrant a closer read by a recruiter or hiring manager. Have clearly labeled sections (e.g. work experience, education) and create bullet points rather than lengthy paragraphs.

The star of your resume should be your work experience. I prefer to see work experience listed chronologically by job rather than sectioned out by skill. If you want to showcase some skills relevant to the job, include a short section at the top with a few sentences summarizing your experience. For those who are new to the workforce, include any volunteer experience or school activities as part of your work experience if you have not worked before or have only had one job.

Do not forget to include education and any relevant training at the bottom. Avoid listing every single training you have attended, but instead focus on including things relevant to the job.

Show, Don’t Tell

Some job seekers fall into the trap of simply listing skills without showing that they have used those skills on the job. For example, take this statement:

Experienced in using Microsoft Excel

Consider rewriting this statement to show that you know how to use Excel:

Used Microsoft Excel to manage the budget and expenses for the annual company picnic

When I see this on a resume, I know that a job seeker has experience using the software.

Focus on ways that you used a skill in a previous job that is relevant to how the skill will be used in the job you are applying for. This is especially useful if you are jumping careers and want to show how your skills from other jobs will be applicable to a new career.

Good Writing Matters

Write your resume in clear language that is easy to understand. Do not get bogged down in buzzwords and inflated language. Say exactly what you did. A prospective employer does not need to read phrases like this:

Collaborated with team members to build capacity in an impactful manner that increased optics, learnings and upward velocity.

Instead, be clear in what you did and accomplished:

Managed recruitment and training of 100 new employees for a new store location; implemented new hire training programs that reduced turnover by 10% from the previous store opening.

Do not send out your resume without having at least one other person proofread it. I have been in situations where I was deciding between two high-level candidates with similar experience. There have been times where it has come down to spelling and grammar mistakes. If a candidate does not make the effort to make sure they are sending me a clean resume, why should I hire them to be a manager?

Remember that your resume is often the first impression you make with a potential employer. Be honest about your experience. Take the time to put your best effort forward. Write cleanly and clearly, demonstrate your skills and qualifications through your experience, and make sure it is free from errors.

This post originally appeared on HR Hammer.

How to Address Blemishes in Your Work History

By Stephanie Hammerwold

Most of us have some kind of blemish in our work history. Maybe you were let go from a job, you have a long gap in employment or you check yes to the question about having a criminal conviction. Those things can be stressful when filling out job applications. If you are called for an interview, it can be an added challenge to figure out how to explain them while still making yourself look like the ideal candidate. In these situations, it is important to remember that things like criminal convictions, gaps and terminations are not the full story of your experience and qualifications. By preparing in advance and thinking through standard responses to these questions, you can turn a blemish into a positive and use it as a way to show you are the best candidate for the job.

Be Honest

It may be tempting to lie about areas of concern in your work history, but be careful. Potential employers may do reference and background checks, and lying could be grounds for automatic rejection. If you are hired based on false information, and an employer later finds out, they could terminate your employment for falsifying the application.

Instead of coming up with an elaborate excuse or outright lying, use the interview as an opportunity to take control of the story of your blemishes and put a positive spin on what happened by showing how you have learned from the experience, grown or changed your life for the better.

Criminal Convictions

As an HR professional who has interviewed countless applicants in the course of my career, I have received this question many times: how do I address my past criminal convictions in a job interview? This is one of the biggest hurdles for anyone with a conviction looking for a job.

Addressing convictions starts with the job application. If this question comes up on the application, keep your answer brief. State the year of the conviction and a few words to describe it with a note that you will discuss it in more detail during an interview. You can also learn about various tax credits and federal bonding available to an employer when they hire an ex-offender. Programs include the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC) and the Federal Bonding Program. The National HIRE Network has a list of programs offered at the state level. Sharing information on these programs can help encourage an employer to give you a chance, and it also shows you did your research prior to applying for jobs.

When it comes to the interview, keep your explanation brief. Once again, remember to be honest and take responsibility. Use the interview as an opportunity to show how you have improved and made changes in your life.

For example, if you have a drug conviction, explain that you made some bad choices in the past and have since gone through treatment and have successfully maintained your sobriety. This helps show an interviewer that you are able to move past blemishes in your past. If you participated in any education or vocational training while incarcerated, mention those things during the interview. This will help turn your conviction into an inspiring story about how you overcame a major challenge in your life rather than just being about the conviction.

Gaps in Employment

When the recession hit in 2008, many employees were laid off from jobs and had a hard time finding work. As a result, it is not uncommon to see gaps in employment on resumes and applications. Even if you have gaps in employment for reasons other than being laid off, it does not mean you have a strike against you in the job search. Just as with any other blemish in your work history, use the gap to show something positive.

For example, many parents take a few years off when raising young children. When reentering the workforce after a long gap used to care for children, do not hesitate to mention the other ways you used your time. Volunteering in your child’s school, organizing a fundraiser or managing carpool are all activities that use skills relevant to a job. And let’s not forget that the effort to manage children’s schedule is a job in and of itself. The same is true for any gap involving caring for a family member.

Gaps in employment may also be caused by searching for work in a bad economy, and most interviewers will see this as a viable reason for for an employment gap. Even time off to travel or to focus on an activity can be a plus in an interview and give you an interesting story to tell.

If your gap in employment was for health reasons, remember that you do not need to disclose details about your diagnosis or treatment. Simply stating that you took time off for health reasons is sufficient.


Another tricky thing in an interview is addressing a termination. Just as with the other blemishes we spoke of, take the opportunity to show how you have learned and grown from the experience. Explain what you are doing differently now so that you can ensure an employer that whatever the reason is for termination was before will not be an issue in a new job. For example, if you were fired for attendance issues, explain how you have addressed what was causing the problem. You might say, “I had a hard time getting to that job because my car broke down regularly, which interfered with my ability to arrive on time. I have since bought a new car, so I no longer have issues with reliable transportation.”

Avoid using this question as a chance to badmouth a former employer or a horrible boss. Doing so in an interview may leave the interviewer wondering if the issue was really with the employer or if it was with you. While it is true your boss may have been a horrible person, it is not necessary to go into that in an interview.

This is another area where honesty is important. It would be better to take control of how the story of your termination is told rather than lying and having a potential employer find out by checking references.

Focus on Your Accomplishments

Remember that the story you tell about your work experience should focus on your accomplishments. Convictions, gaps and terminations are only a small piece of the story. Be confident in drawing an interviewer's attention to the good things on your application because that will ultimately be the impression you leave them with. Your accomplishments can include a variety of things like work achievements, school, volunteering and anything that demonstrates your readiness for the job.

Finally, remember to make a good impression. This includes dressing for the job you want and not just throwing on jeans and a T-shirt. Even if you are interviewing for a retail or warehouse job, dress up and look professional. Speak professionally and confidentially, and do not be distracted by your cell phone. All of these things help counter any negative impression the blemishes in your work history might make.

This post originally appeared on HR Hammer.