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August 19, 2014 2:17 AM   Subscribe

What do people put on their resume when they've been in industries like prostitution or drug dealing from an early age until they are 35+, and they want to transition to a mainstream career?

Do they make up a big story and fake references? Do they come completely clean and say they're reformed regardless of whether they think it was wrong? Down the track once they've established some track record, will it ever be ok to employers to have an unexplained gap that large? I see stories about people with age and qualifications on their side struggling to enter the workforce, and stories about people with culturally legitimate reasons for large gaps like illness, but these people I wonder about, I'd like to know what happens...
posted by dimejubes to Work & Money (14 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
No, I dont think people are honest and come clean. I think people in these situations semi-lie and say they 'ran their own businesses' in massage, natural therapies or freelance personal care. Or something like that.

Depending on where you live and who your prospective employers are, having been a former sex worker is potentially less of a big deal but 'drug dealing' (widely understood as illegal drug dealing), will be akin to saying you had a career as a thief or robber - or worse - and that's never gonna work.

Interesting question!

Ive read resumes from people who worked in adult shops (its basically just retail) and as strippers (its just dancing) and as hostesses in "Gentleman's Clubs" (its just bar tending/waitering). Always raised eyebrows from "mainstream" hiring managers. Mainstream hiring managers and the people who recruit for them are typically very conservative (again, depending on where you live and what you mean by 'mainstream').

For references, I would get some "legitimate" "mainstream" friendly referees like parents who you baby-sat-for or at least clients who are sympathetic and willing to speak up for you without giving the game away.

The other thing to remember is if it was more than 10 years ago, it doesn't need to go on your CV or resume...IMO, but that is a very debatable point.
posted by evil_esto at 3:20 AM on August 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

Sometimes we have other parallel businesses - like web design!
posted by Mistress at 3:22 AM on August 19, 2014 [11 favorites]

Sockpuppet account to talk about sex work, which I've done, my partner has done, and a bunch of people I know have done. I'm talking exclusively about people who're doing independent sex work--not working for a(n illegal) brothel and/or pimp. I suspect that much of it's the same, but don't have any experience with either.

This is probably at least partly location dependent.

The people I know who've done sex work in places where it's legal have just listed it as an item on their resume and moved on. I only know two people who've done this, and both now work in fairly liberal-leaning industries (academia and publishing), which may account for some of the ease of transition.

In places where it's illegal, there seem to be two main options. The first is that, as Mistress says, many people have other jobs. When I was doing sex work, I also worked as a temp--my resumes, for obvious reasons, only listed the temp work. (I occasionally said I worked as a consultant on various things, and then got an agreeable friend to lie for me.)

Though I think that the internet has changed this, to some extent, it was markedly difficult to create a steady stream of income with run-of-the-mill sex work--it was dangerous, often low paying, and erratic. Ten years ago, there weren't websites to set up your next job on--I was literally standing in a park and propositioning people. So if it's raining, your take's down. Cold outside? Lower take. Gorgeous night and everyone's out? Lower take. Do you have a cold, or do you look ill? Lower take. Have you been beaten recently? Lower take. (Or, maybe worse, potentially higher take from a very specific, very nasty subset of people.) Having a second job, even a shitty part-time one, meant that you could count on at least some money coming in, and that's not nothing.

So that brings us to option two. In my experience, it's pretty uncommon for people to reach their thirties and have literally no legal work experience. The very few people I know who've done it have either gotten someone to lie for them or they've eased into it--gotten a job at McDonald's, say, and maybe taken a few community college courses. Do that for a year or two, and now you have both a legitimate, recent work reference and a bit of an explainable gap. You say you were working at McDonald's because you were going to school at the same time, or taking care of a sick relative, and that before that, you were working as a whatever for a company that's gone out of business either just before or while you were working at McDonald's. You still have to sort of talk your way into things, but it's not impossible.
posted by ilovesocks at 3:42 AM on August 19, 2014 [9 favorites]

I live in a place where sex work is regulated and I've known a lot sex workers over the years, because I used to work as a receptionist in a brothel. I leave that off my resume, because I can't be bothered dealing with the stigma/assumptions.

Some of the sex workers I've know only worked for a little while, while studying or to save for something in particular, and then get out of the industry. Those kinds of gaps would be easier to explain. The people I know who are in the industry long-term either have some kind of side project going on anyway or they have absolutely no plan or need to find a "straight job" at all (ie. they're set up for life, so even if they had to stop working for some reason, they might not have to worry about finding alternative work). I know one or two people who have made up jobs and asked friends to be their references.
posted by kinddieserzeit at 3:45 AM on August 19, 2014

I spotted something online a while back about a young-ish Black English guy who was an ex dealer whose entrepreneurial streak and skills were basically recognsied and he wound up with a successful business selling eco-cleaning products. Interesting. In some parts of England there are third sector organisations trying to recgnise the skill set from the black market that can be transferable and targetting young people exhibiting these in certain contexts to make the shift to the formal economy, but I don't know a lot more than that. Not quite your question but I thought may be of interest.
posted by tanktop at 5:19 AM on August 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

They do this:

2009 - 2012: "Took care of sick grandmother / mother / father, now passed."

2009 - 2012: "Went back to school for x. Couldn't afford to finish program, now back in the workforce."

2009 - 2012: "Looking for a job."

2009 - 2012: "Worked for ABC Roofing Company - went out of business, phone disconnected, owner died."

They also exaggerate their dates of employment at the legit jobs they did have, to try and cover gap years. Typically doesn't work.

Source: 22-year hiring manager
posted by falldownpaul at 5:39 AM on August 19, 2014 [5 favorites]

Having worked with people with criminal records, I would say that none I knew spun their criminal past into "work experience." Instead they were most successful when up front about their record, clear about remorse, and discussed some of the work-like activities they'd done since (e.g volunteer work or writing/training programs, self discipline, etc). But this had to be with employers already open to hiring people with records, so usually very low end work, maintenance, security, stuff like that.
posted by bluedeans at 7:01 AM on August 19, 2014

Along the lines of what bluedeans says, I think it is going to depend upon the person's record in the legal system. If they've managed to stay off the radar, then they could formulate a story like falldownpaul says. If not and the employer does any kind of background check, then they are going to have some 'splaining to do.

And it also depends on the person's goals. Is the person really trying to move forward and start a new life? They are the ones who go through organizations like my employer who are, in part, set up to transition people back into the workforce - both from A&D issues and from criminal activity. And, as bluedeans says, the ones who are successful are the ones who are honest about their history. New people are hired into very entry level positions and many have worked their way up into administrative/management - both with our agency and other social service agencies. And, in fact, their backgrounds actually give them some advantage (perspective and credibility) when dealing with others trying to get into the system and get a better life.
posted by Beti at 8:54 AM on August 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

Child care for a relative. Cleaning houses. Waitressing at a restaurant that's since gone out of business. All of these jobs can be "under the table" and untraceable. Many employers who hire people with murky backgrounds take a "maybe it's true, maybe it ain't" approach to this kind of resume and will hire or not based on the interview alone.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 12:20 PM on August 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

I read a bio of a prostitute. She said she paid her taxes every year and, on the tax form, she listed herself as "an entertainer."

I personally covered a world of (totally legal and health related) "sins" of being unemployable for about 2 decades by listing myself totally truthfully as a "former homemaker."
posted by Michele in California at 2:35 PM on August 19, 2014

Euphemistic employment history works in my experience: 'logistics management and sales' is one I've seen for a drug dealer , then with the actual skills listed to run their very successful, multimillion per year turnover, small business.
posted by goo at 4:04 PM on August 19, 2014 [3 favorites]

It depends on the circumstances tremendously.

If, say, I had dealt weed a bit after high school and into college in order to make rent, I wouldn't mention it because I was also working at a series of square retail jobs at the same time. If, say, a friend of mine had moved weight for a Windsor to Chicago connect, he'd point out that he had an extremely successful lawncare business (grass, geddit? No, it's actually a reasonably successful legit lawncare business). If, say, the dad of someone I used to date had been a grow op for years before it became legal, he'd say he was a Republican elected official and schoolteacher (true fact). If, say, another guy I knew had turned his coke dealing into risky sub-prime mortgages with a sideline in identity theft he'd — well, he won't have to update his CV for about 3-5 years from now, but I'd imagine he'd say he was banking for a firm that was bought by Countrywide who provided loans to low-income first-time homeowners. If it was, say, another guy that I knew, it would be that he ran a record label and recording studio.

Part of this is because drugs turn into cash and you need a place to put cash to make it seem like it's not drug money, and that's especially true for anyone who makes it into their 30s still in the game — to do it that long you've either got to be good at hiding it, or you're an idiot who can't do something more rewarding in the long term. Very few people want to deal drugs compared to the number of people who want the money that comes from dealing drugs (or the drugs that come from dealing drugs) so that they can do something else that they enjoy. So that thing you tell the cops and IRS? That's pretty much what you tell employers.
posted by klangklangston at 5:52 PM on August 19, 2014

Is there someone who will give you a reference, and will state that they are Jane's Family Child Care, relative of the now-deceased person you provided care to, a caterer? All are businesses that have a lot of under-the-table employment. Then get a temp job, and use thta as the door to regular employment.

Unless If you have skills that could be used as a consultant/self-employed, and you can really demonstrate those skills, like computer repair, web design, spreadsheets, typing/word processing, etc., then you can say you were self-employed.
posted by theora55 at 1:57 PM on August 20, 2014

Response by poster: Thanks for the replies everyone. This doesn't apply to me if that was unclear. There are other scenarios such as people who were in cults, or were hermits, that I think would also be relevant to this experience of being off the grid in this particular way for a long time.
posted by dimejubes at 12:47 AM on August 22, 2014

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