Seeking a Shawshank Redemption

will-s-0209Dealing with a criminal record while job seeking.

Finding a job these days is tough for everyone, but having a criminal offense on your record makes it an even more daunting task.  In this “employer’s market” they have a certain leverage and opportunity to be extremely selective in hiring. With an abundance of job seekers employers must determine if hiring a candidate with an imperfect background is worth the risk of a law suit or perhaps exorbitant hikes in insurance premiums.

Background Checks

There are no federal laws regulating criminal records and hiring, therefore the process for background checks may vary from state to state.  In Texas stipulations are in place protecting both the employer and the applicant. The following are some of these provisions as outlined in the Texas Employment Handbook which is updated yearly.

  • Employers have the right to conduct background checks or contract a service to do one, provided they notify the candidate. Therefore, applicants should sign a waiver and release of liability form clearly authorizing past and potential employers to exchange  requested information.
  • If the information leads to the job seeker not being chosen, employers should notify the candidate providing the name and address of the service used.
  • Texas law (Texas Labor Code, Chapter 10) gives employers protection against defamation lawsuits based upon job references, as long as the employer does not knowingly report false information.
  • Any company can ask about convictions and pleas of guilty or no contest. The employer should be prepared to show how the criminal record is relative to the position in case an EEOC claim is filed.

Surviving the Setbacks

A criminal record does not have to be a professional death sentence. The key is to stay positive and be prepared to work much harder than those with a clean background. The following are some important keys to help in your search.

  • Utilize all resources at your disposal. Your state Department of Labor may have employment programs. Certain non-profit organizations can assist with many aspects of the job search. Tap into your probation officer, if you have one, for suggestions.
  • Be open to pursue jobs that may be less than “perfect” in pay or shift. Taking such a job can be a building block in restoring your work history and a foot in the door with that company.
  • If your credit or criminal history is asked about on the application or in the interview, be truthful but short in your answer. No employer likes to be “surprised” at any point in your employment process. A discovery of such information after hiring could lead to immediate termination and yet another black mark on your record.

Second Chances

NFL star Michael Vick was recently released from federal prison after serving almost two years. At the time of sentencing he was one of the highest paid starting quarterbacks in the league. Upon release he took a third string position and a substantially large pay cut with a new team. He clearly understands that a positive attitude and good behavior are paramount in helping him return to his former status.

The bottom line is to be willing to demonstrate to employers that you are willing to pay your dues and become an exemplary employee. Always remember to keep your head in the game and good luck on your job search.

Wil Smith is a Business Consultant for Workforce Solutions in the Houston metropolitan area. Wil has collected over 20 years of expertise in the areas of Corporate Training & Development, Recruitment and Operational Management; with the majority of that time working with a Fortune 500 Corporation. He has also worked in the Sports/ News industry as a Reporter and Broadcaster.

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