Professional jobs after felony conviction
October 8, 2014 6:02 AM   Subscribe

A family member will soon be finished serving a prison sentence for a felony conviction. Before his arrest and long odyssey in the legal system he was a very experienced professional in an upper management position. What are the chances of him getting back into a professional track?

The crime he was convicted of was in no way related to his profession or his job (not embezzlement, fraud, or any white collar crime). He's not in one of the special fields like law or medicine that automatically exclude convicts. He's extremely qualified and under normal circumstances he would have zero trouble finding a great job.

For what it's worth, the crimes were the outcome of an extreme and unimaginable situation he was placed in, and we consider the convictions to not have been just, but I don't expect this level of nuance to find it's way into a hiring process and at this point he just has to own the situation and move forward.

Every job application I've ever filled out has asked about felony convictions and you hear of companies doing background checks as well. Are companies at all willing to hire people with felony convictions into professional positions? Has anyone seen examples of this happening or are there any HR folks in the room that could offer some perspective? If you found a great candidate with exactly the experience you need but he had a felony on his record would you hire him?
posted by duoshao to Work & Money (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Maybe start out by researching companies or states/cities that have "banned the box"?
posted by Sweetie Darling at 6:11 AM on October 8, 2014

Probably not.

The reason companies ask about felony convictions is because they want to limit liability. If your family member was convicted and did time for assault or manslaughter, it's going to be nigh impossible to find a high-level, executive job.

Your family member now has a new normal. Convicted felon. You don't say if it was an issue of violence, but if it was, it'll be harder because of concerns over workplace violence, shootings, etc.

This person may have to open his own business, or consulting firm or whatever.

Even if the box is not on the form, the background check will uncover the conviction.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:15 AM on October 8, 2014 [4 favorites]

Consulting or own business is the answer.
posted by Dragonness at 6:18 AM on October 8, 2014 [7 favorites]

Unless the person is someone like Martha Stewart (a convicted felon) who has significant star power to be hired (re-hired in her case) for a professional position the odds are unfortunately against the felon.

Never say never of course; there is a convicted bank robber who recently graduated law school.

In fact it may be worth reaching out to this bank robber-turned-law-school-graduate and ask him what resources are available, if any.
posted by dfriedman at 6:18 AM on October 8, 2014

There are organizations / small companies that hire ex-cons. Often they are run by people who want to give others a second chance, either due to religious belief or maybe they got second chance once. So it's not inconceivable that there could be opportunity there, but I have no idea how to find those gigs. I assume he'll get some sort of counseling on the way out? Maybe that is where he can get some pointers to places that might hire him. But corporate America is probably not going to happen.
posted by COD at 6:22 AM on October 8, 2014

Consulting, old business, or business owned by a friend or family member (or someone close to those people). I'd also look into places that work on helping ex-cons, who might be willing to hire one in a more senior role.

It depends somewhat on what the felony was for.
posted by jeather at 6:51 AM on October 8, 2014

How long was he in? Or more specifically, how long has it been since the last time he held a professional job? Because in addition to dealing with the conviction (and there definitely are some places that won't ask--I work in nonprofits, and I've literally never been asked), he'll have to explain the gap in his resume. That'll be easier if it was 6 months vs. 5 years.

Would your family member consider moving into a public service profession? Depending on what kind of job he used to do, there are probably nonprofits, even ones that help people who have spent time ensnared in the criminal justice system, who need the skills he has. And they'll be way less judgmental.

I work in criminal defense, including reentry. Feel free to PM me if you want to discuss. I'm happy to help any way I can, and make referrals if I know anyone who might be able to help.
posted by decathecting at 6:53 AM on October 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

I would think that is the the kind of situation in which networking would be hugely important: he is going to get screened out of every job he applies to cold, but if everyone he knows is working to find him a position, somewhere out there is a friend of a friend of a friend who might be willing to take a gamble on him.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 6:54 AM on October 8, 2014

I'd check out Reddit's subreddit for Ex Cons. Seems to be some solid advice there from folks who have lived through this.
posted by futureisunwritten at 6:55 AM on October 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

This anecdote doesn't invalidate the fact that a felony conviction is a huge impediment, but I was working for a very large company when I hired a convicted felon who was still incarcerated. She started within a week or so of her release. Her crime was neither violent nor work related, and I think it was a bit of a step down from her previous work, although it was also a lateral move. I don't know how significant either of these things were, but there they are.

It was unusual, and there was an internal debate, but I was surprised she'd made it past the initial HR culling, because, like I said, it was a huge company and probably fairly conservative with its hiring practices. Prior to that, I'd assumed that a felony conviction disqualified you entirely.

And actually, she left that job for a better offer within a year, so at least one other company was willing to hire her too.
posted by ernielundquist at 7:05 AM on October 8, 2014

I have a friend who has a felony drug conviction from when he was around age 20 or so. At age 30-something he's very gainfully employed at a university. Other than grad school, I don't know what his path from one to the other involved, but his conviction apparently hasn't soured his job prospects.
posted by MsMolly at 7:17 AM on October 8, 2014

Prison Talk Online has lots of discussions about this issue. One of the founders is a professional person who did time for something violent.
posted by BibiRose at 7:55 AM on October 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

If he doesn't mind working for a non-profit, he could spend some time volunteering (a few months, or maybe more) to establish a reputation as a reliable, competent, and trustworthy individual. Then he could apply for a paying job at the same organization, or at least use his volunteer supervisor as a reference for other job applications.
posted by alex1965 at 8:41 AM on October 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

I wasn't asked about prior felony convictions at my current job (software developer at a small company). In my previous positions (librarian in higher ed) I was always asked. I think it's going to depend on industry and the specific profession and the types of companies.

I know someone who lost their ability to practice their profession as a result of a conviction for a work-related crime; they're now a realtor.
posted by mskyle at 10:02 AM on October 8, 2014

I am an attorney working in the area of relief from criminal records, but I'm not your attorney, not your family member's attorney, and very likely not licensed in the relevant jurisdiction. That means I cannot provide legal advice, but only general information.

Assuming you are asking about the US, state laws vary, but it might be worth his while to consult an attorney about criminal record expungement and other relief. Criminal defense attorneys may have experience in this area, but he might look for an attorney who has specific experience in reentry or the collateral consequences of criminal records.

Expungement could be a possibility, but often requires a waiting period measured in years, and so might not be the best bet for him. In some states, there are laws that would allow him to seek a court order that provides evidence of rehabilitation. Depending on the state, this might cut off the liability of a prospective employer for negligent hiring. That could solve some problems. A competent attorney licensed in his jurisdiction should be able to help him assess all his options.
posted by Handstand Devil at 3:38 PM on October 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

I am an HR person and have run a LOT of background checks in my time. Felony is going to be really difficult, like really really difficult.

First, is it a violent offense? Because if it is at all violent you are going to have a really hard time in almost any office.

Second, some people will tell you not to mark it down but every company I work at will never let you try to explain after lying about it. Lying is an automatic rejection. If you try to explain first then you might get somewhere.

A lot of large companies don't ask you to fill out a job application until much later in the process anyway so you may get lucky. They do usually run background checks though, that is almost universal at larger companies. But maybe you impress everyone on the phone interviews, fill out the application before you go in for an in-person interview, there is a reasonable chance no one will actually look at it until they go to run your background check anyway. By then maybe you've convinced enough people you are amazing to be able to get around it.
posted by magnetsphere at 8:31 PM on October 8, 2014

« Older What are the best resources to learn how to use...   |   My work cup filleth over with self-doubt. How... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.