Tips to apply for a job with a criminal record
Last updated: February 6, 2023
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Elyssa Duncan
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Tips to apply for a job with a criminal record
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Looking for work when you have a criminal past can be nerve-wracking. How are you supposed to get an employer to trust you when you have to share the details of your past mistakes?

While trying to find someone willing to hire you might feel like an overwhelming situation, consider this: thousands of companies actively hire felons. Well-known companies.

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Though it may not be your dream job, it can be a start. All you need is one decent job where you can prove that you are reliable, trustworthy, and hard-working. Once you’ve done this, it'll be easier to find jobs better suited to your skills and abilities, but be prepared to start at the bottom and work your way to success. This article will give you tips and strategies to showcase your strengths over past troubles to find work!

Get noticed for your resume, not your record

For many jobs, an employer requires a professional resume as part of your application. Resumes are an extra valuable piece of your application that speaks directly to your skills and strengths. You want to make sure it is honest and accurate, free from any errors, and relevant to the position you are applying for. You don't need to list every job experience or skill you have — only the ones that apply to the available job.

There are different types of resumes, but two common formats include chronological and functional.

  • Chronological resumes are a more traditional resume style that lists work history with the most recent position on top and details about each company.

  • Functional resumes focus on your job-specific skills and relevant work experience over the length of employment. This type of resume is a better choice since it doesn’t highlight excessive gaps or breaks in your employment history.

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Important things to incorporate into your resume

  • Contact information
    This should always be at the top of your resume and include your full name, current address, phone number, and email address. If you don't have a permanent address, use a location where you can confidently receive mail or a rented post office box.

  • Objective and summary
    This is typically 2–3 sentences that demonstrate how your skills and accomplishments make you a good fit for the role. Keep this short and pointed.

  • Work experience and accomplishments
    Describe your key job responsibilities at any previous place of employment. You may use this section to feature any work programs or assignments you may have participated in. Be sure to mention any special recognition or promotions you received.

  • Education
    List the education and training you have completed. Include school or program name, city and state, dates attended, and any diplomas, degrees, licenses, or certifications you have earned.

  • Volunteer work and activities
    Use this section to exhibit any volunteer or community work you have done since your release. This is where you can mention if you are involved in a church group, book club, or other hobbies you enjoy. This section is a nice conclusion that adds a personal touch and humanizes your application to a potential employer.

Additional resume tips

  • Make sure your email address is professional
    No slang, curse words, or double meanings. The standard professional email address includes some sort of: [email protected] format.

  • Emphasize if you are bilingual
    This is an advantage in many industries, and speaking a second language can be hugely beneficial.

  • Always proofread multiple times
    Ask friends, family members, or someone you trust to look over your resume. It’s always better to have a second (or third) set of eyes to look it over.

  • Clean up all social media profiles for your job search
    According to Jails to Jobs, 79% of employers “use social media to screen potential candidates." Make sure all posts, photos, and videos are "work appropriate," and if possible, set your profiles to private.

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Tips for filling out an application

There can be bias and unfair stigma around those with criminal records. Because of this, there are many suggestions on how best to complete an application and answer the question, “Have you ever been arrested or convicted of any crimes beyond a simple traffic ticket?”

Be honest

  • When filling out an application, it's always best to be upfront and transparent about your past at the very beginning. If there is space to explain your conviction, state what the conviction was and how long ago it happened. Be sure to explain that you’ve turned your life around for the better and welcome an opportunity to discuss it in person. Focus on the future rather than the past.

Read the wording carefully

  • Always read the questions carefully. For example, it may ask if you have any felony convictions, but if you only have a misdemeanor, you'd answer "no." You don't want to include any unnecessary information that could hurt your chances of getting offered an interview.

Know your state's laws

  • States have different requirements for declaring your criminal record on job applications. Make sure to check with your individual state’s laws for what is required of you to disclose. In general, minor, non-violent misdemeanors like traffic or speeding tickets don't cause concern or can typically be left off your application. Always make sure to double-check and ask for clarity upfront to avoid any issues.

Companies that hire workers with criminal records

While you aren’t limited to applying to these companies, it’s good to be aware of potential open doors when you’re searching for jobs. Select jobs to apply for that would be less concerned about your specific charges, like retail and hospitality, wouldn’t be the best option if your charges involved theft. Driving positions don’t pair well with drug charges and driving violations.

  • Grocery Stores — You'll find many grocery stores that are willing to hire felons to stock, bag, or work in the deli, bakery, or meat department. Depending on your conviction, you may be able to work as a checker. Stores like Safeway, Publix, Trader Joe’s, and Whole Foods top the list.

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  • Hospitality Industry — Hotels will often hire felons for maintenance work, baggage handling, and cleaning. Some well-known names include Marriott, Wyndham, and Hilton Hotels.

  • Communication Companies (Cable/cellular) — AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, etc.

  • Food Production/Processing — These kinds of companies are found all over the country. While the pay is usually minimal, it can be a great way to get back into the labor force. Tyson, General Mills, Kraft, Pepsi, and Smithfield Foods are just a few.

  • Food service — Fast-food and restaurant jobs are some of the easiest for those with past convictions. Think McDonald’s, KFC, Taco Bell, Olive Garden, and Buffalo Wild Wings. The pay isn’t great, but there are many opportunities for advancement.

  • Manufacturing — Apple, General Motors, Boeing, GE, Exxon, and Microsoft are just a few.

  • Retail — Walmart, Target, PetSmart, Family Dollar, and Best Buy are some well-known options.

  • Delivery — Amazon Flex, FedEx, UPS, food delivery services (DoorDash, GrubHub).

  • Airlines — United Airlines, American Airlines, and Delta.

  • RideShare — Lyft and Uber.

  • Automotive — AutoZone, Avis, and Jiffy Lube.

  • Trucking — Here's a list of trucking companies that hire felons.

  • Oil and gas — Halliburton, Exxon, and Southwestern Energy are a few.

  • Warehouse — Amazon, DM Fulfillment, and RIM Logistics.

  • Temp agencies, freelance work, and seasonal work (landscaping, snow plow).

You can browse through listings at Jobcase to find jobs with many of these companies.

Top tips for getting hired with a criminal record

The above companies have a lot of job opportunities available if you have a record. You can also try the following tips.

Cultivate good references and referrals

Do an inventory of the people you know in your community, church, activities, or past coworkers and employers. Choose friends and acquaintances with whom you have a warm relationship, but aim for someone with authority or someone at a higher level than yourself or a peer.

Let them know that you are looking for work and ask if they’d be willing to speak to a potential employer or write a referral on your behalf. Never assume that someone will be willing to vouch for you just because you get along with them. Always ask first!

If someone made themselves available to you as a reference in the past, make sure you ask them again. They may have been willing to speak for you long ago, but if the relationship has gone cool, you must warm it up again before asking for that same favor.

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Use your existing network to find work

Rather than starting from scratch, you can also use your existing friends, family, and contacts to learn about job openings. Nurture those relationships so your friends will be open to introducing you to opportunities.

If you know someone who already works for a company you’re interested in, ask to get together to discuss helping you get your foot in the door, using them as your introduction and, if possible, your referral to the job.

Don’t ask over the phone or via email. Part of cultivating strong relationships is through in-person communication. Continue to keep the relationship active and offer to return the favor whenever they’re in need.

While the Internet has changed the way people find and apply for jobs, 80% of new jobs are still found outside of the Internet. An amazing 70% of jobs aren't even listed online, making it even more important than ever to network within your community and friends.

Start your own business or continue your education

If you have had no luck finding work, or if you just want to explore other opportunities, you have a few options.

Skip the job application process and consider starting a small business. Here are some programs available for business loans for felons:

If you lack the skills needed to go into a particular field, consider continuing your education, either with college or trade schools. Beef up your skill set so you can find better-paying work.

There are many programs available for people who’ve been to prison and now want to improve their job prospects. By applying for grants and scholarships to pay for education, there are no loans to pay back or get turned down for.

Have you heard of 'Ban the Box'?

There's legislation in some states called Ban The Box. Started in 2004 by a national civil rights union composed of formerly incarcerated individuals and their family members, this campaign “challenges the stereotypes of people with conviction histories by asking employers to choose their best candidates based on job skills and qualifications, not past convictions.”

It urges employers to give those with a criminal record and fair chance and to be free from discrimination. Over 45 cities, including New York, San Francisco, Atlanta, Boston, Philadelphia, and others, have removed the question regarding past convictions from their hiring applications. For the most current participants of Ban The Box, you can get more information here.

Don’t let a criminal record keep you from moving forward

Just because you’ve found yourself on the bad end of a decision doesn’t mean you’ll never find success again. Even if you’ve been turned down for a few jobs, there are still plenty of opportunities available if you learn the basics of showing you’re more than your record.

Start with a professional-looking resume. Pay close attention to wording and requirements when filling out applications.

Look for openings with companies with a history of hiring people with records. There are literally thousands of companies willing to work with you and your past.

Always work on cultivating your network to help find work and find people who will recommend you as a great choice. Past coworkers, supervisors, church members, and teammates are good places to look for references and referrals.

You may have to start at a lower wage than you’d hoped for, but just remember, it’s only a start, a foot in the door. Once you show that you’re a hard worker and a reliable employee, you’ll find better pay and more opportunities.

If you think you need more training and skills, take advantage of educational grants for felons.

Look to Jobcase when you’re ready to search for new jobs or need help building your resume.



Amy Kramer
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Independent Cdac Provider at Iowa Total Care

I'm having a really hard time getting a job!! 😭

James Ben
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You can DM if you need help

James Ben
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Valerie Logan
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Customer Service at Walgreens

I need to find me a really good job

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Mohd Sameer
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Hi mam I'm mohd sameer you will sajust me how is best jobs

Tuan Dang
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there's no comment yet. Cause I'm just newbie