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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.

Common Myths about Hiring the Formerly Incarcerated

By Stephanie Hammerwold

In HR, we often talk about looking for red flags when screening applications and resumes. Red flags can be anything from unexplained gaps in employment, being terminated from previous jobs for questionable reasons or criminal convictions. While automatically ruling candidates out based on so-called red flags can speed up the process of going through a huge stack of applications, it often means that perfectly good candidates get tossed in the reject pile.

For those with criminal convictions in their past, this can be especially challenging. Often a job and a steady paycheck can be a gateway to securing good housing and rebuilding a life following release from jail or prison. Despite having already served time, many continue being punished for criminal convictions following release from jail or prison in the way that they are barred from certain housing, employment and other services. For this reason, it is important that we break down the myths around hiring the formerly incarcerated and give serious consideration to hiring those in the reentry population—many of whom would be excellent hires.

Myth #1: Once a Criminal, Always a Criminal

Some employers do not want to hire someone with a criminal record because they fear that there is a risk that the person will steal, act out violently or commit some other major policy violation because of their criminal past.

A recent study out of Harvard and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst looked at what happened when the military allowed those with felony records to enlist. Not only did the study find that those with a felony record were no more likely to face termination for negative reasons, but it also found that those with a record were often promoted faster than those without a record. The researchers pointed out that those accepted into the military were screened on a number of factors, and those who were more likely to get into trouble were often weeded out; however, the study does point to the fact that a criminal background is not an automatic red flag.

This study is a good reminder that a criminal background does not fully define a candidate. Instead, employers should look at the whole person—job experience, education, skills and other factors that contribute to making someone a good employee. In my HR career, I hired hundreds of people. Some of them had criminal records, and many of them turned out to be excellent employees.

Myth #2: Those with a Criminal Past are Lazy, Unreliable and Lack Discipline

This idea is in line with the above myth. Once again we can look to the military study to disprove this. The military has a high level of discipline and is no place for lazy people. In fact, many people want to do what it takes to keep a job after they have been released from jail or prison.

PastForward, an organization that helps connect formerly incarcerated job seekers with employers in Maryland, found that, “Ex-offenders are often more motivated to work and more grateful for the chance to prove themselves. Some companies find that ex-offenders tend to be committed workers whose success rate is comparable to that of the company’s overall workforce.” A steady paycheck can be the key to securing good housing and getting a life back on track. What better motivation is there for working hard?

Myth #3: They Can Get Experience Elsewhere Before Applying Here

One of my motivations for founding Pacific Reentry Career Services was to break down the myths that get in the way of the formerly incarcerated finding jobs. Early in my HR career, I had a boss tell me to automatically rule out candidates who checked yes to the question about criminal convictions. Her reasoning was, “They can get their experience elsewhere and then come back and apply when they get their life back on track.” It was hard to understand that logic when we were employing entry-level warehouse workers who were paid minimum wage. Where was this mythical elsewhere that people were going to get experience?

According to the Brennan Center for Justice, nearly one-third of the adult population in the U.S. has a criminal record. Not considering these candidates eliminates a big part of the labor pool. Those with criminal records deserve a second chance. It is not enough to assume that another employer will be the one to take the chance. Once again, it is important to look beyond the criminal record and to see the whole candidate. Failure to do so means that employers are missing out on a big segment of the population that could be really good employees.

Bonus Tip: Tax Credits for Hiring the Formerly Incarcerated

Employers who hire the formerly incarcerated may qualify for the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC) and may also be eligible to participate in the Federal Bonding Program. Some states also offer tax credits as well. Taking advantage of these benefits is good for business and good for job seekers.

For more on the military study mentioned in this post, listen to Planet Money’s recent episode on the topic.

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.

Terminations

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.