Thursday, December 07, 2006

Job hunting: Dealing with a prison record

As I just mentioned, I only set up my Squidoo page on job hunting a few days ago, but the emails are already coming in from other members of that website.

An American reader posted an interesting question:

What I would request of you is to prepare a presentation for men and women coming out of prison, given that they have no education nor marketable skills. It's a tough assignment to be sure. But its what 600,000 people a year face when they come out of prison.

Wow, that's a toughie. And I have to admit that I've never coached anyone who has had a prison record.

However, I think that there are some guidelines that someone who has served out their sentence could follow to maximise their chances of finding a job:
  1. Realise that it's going to take a while to get the right kind of job. Sometimes you may need to get any job to begin with and work your way back into the system before you can start to pursue the kind of jobs you really want.
  2. Communicate your humility and integrity with your body language as well as words. Interviewers may be worried about your honesty and integrity - they're probably going to question your motives. And research shows that only a small proportion of your impact is determined by your words; your tone of voice, body language, and eye contact often are much more influential. So try to communicate your humility not only in what you say but also how you say it. Use very open body language. Keep your hands open and move them only slowly - try to avoid balling them up into fists as this could be read subconsciously as a sign of aggression.
  3. Convey your regret for the mistakes you've made. Interviewers are much more likely to consider you if you can convince them that you have reflected upon the reasons and choices you made that led to you ending up in prison.
  4. Boost your credibility in the eyes of interviewers by getting testimonials written about you. It will likely take a number of months to find a good job. So in those months don't waste your time by sitting by the telephone waiting for it to ring or just watching TV. Offer your services for free to local residents - even if it's just doing some gardening or picking up groceries for an elderly neighbour. Once you have done some good deeds, ask them to write you a testimonial. Even better, ask if you can use their name and telephone number to provide a post-prison character reference for you.
Good luck!