Career Advice for Job Seekers

4 tips for job hunting students, recent grads with criminal records

Steven Rothberg AvatarSteven Rothberg
April 2, 2021

I recently reached out to career experts to learn more about what college and university students and recent graduates who have misdemeanor, felony, and other criminal records should do when searching for a part-time, seasonal, internship, or entry-level job.

I was pleased to hear back from Jeffrey Korzenik, one of the foremost experts on this subject. Jeffrey Korzenik is author of the forthcoming How Second Chance Hiring Works for Your Business and the Community He’s also Chief Investment Strategist for one of the nation’s largest business banks, where he is responsible for the investment strategy and the allocation of over $30 billion in assets.

For more than 30 years, Korzenik has been known in the investment industry for his ability to tackle complex issues with creativity and integrity. A regular guest on CNBC, FOX Business News, and Bloomberg TV, his insights into the economy, markets, manufacturing and the workforce are frequently cited in the financial and business press. In recognition of his work on the interaction of the criminal justice system and the labor markets, Korzenik was elected to membership in the Council of Criminal Justice. His writings on economics and public policy have been published in Barron’s, Forbes, Chicago Tribune and other periodicals.  He has also testified on Capitol Hill as an expert witness on the use of commodity indexes by pensions and other institutional investors.

According to Jeff,

The good news is that employers are more willing to consider a candidate with a record than they have been in decades, but the bad news is that a record is still a formidable barrier to getting hired. 

The overall key is to not let the record define the person.  This is a tough balancing act, combining frank disclosure of the record as required, but not overly dwelling on this facet of a life, unless it can be in the context of significant personal learning or growth.

1. Start with knowing any regulatory barriers where a conviction would be a regulatory disqualification.  There’s no sense in pursuing jobs for which you cannot be hired.  In some very rare cases, a prospective employer might work with a candidate to seek a waiver, but this is extremely rare.

2. Consider crafting a concise written explanation – edit it several times and have someone look it over who will give you honest feedback.  You will likely be asked for this if you get to the point of full consideration, so be ready now – it may also help you verbally articulate this in person if that’s necessary.

3. Be ready to show that you are more than your record, and that you have addressed any problems that might have led to your problems – wrong set of friends, substance abuse, trauma.  

4. Consider partnering with nonprofits that work in this area, either in workforce development or reentry.  Some of these have built relationships with employers who will look to these nonprofits to identify viable candidates.

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