4 Considerations Before Hiring Convicted Felons

Nick Fishman


While reading Orange is the New Black recently, I was struck by a point the author made about the difficulties prisoners face when they’re finally able to leave prison and re-enter society. After living in an institution that supplies them with a job, food, and place to live, many are unprepared to step back into the “real” world.

For example, the book’s author mentions that because of advantages she had before prison (like a college degree) there was a job waiting for her when she finished her sentence—which was not the case for many prisoners. Many of the women around her did not even have a high school diploma let alone a college degree. And not only did they lack education, but experience. Many of the prisoners had never had real jobs. With little practical job training available in prison, job opportunities have become severely limited for the formerly incarcerated.

To Hire Or Not to Hire?

The message I want to share is simply that employers shouldn’t be afraid to hire ex-offenders just because of a conviction. While there are cases when a candidate with a criminal record should be disqualified for the safety of your employees, clients, company, etc., there are instances when you shouldn’t let a conviction stand in the way of your hiring decision.

On the candidate’s side of the argument, it’s fair to say for most—they are looking for jobs. They want jobs. Whether they spent time in prison, or simply made unfortunate mistakes in the past, many want to redeem themselves by finding a stable job. And it’s for individuals like these that employers have the choice to look beyond the results of an employment background check.

Whether you need to be convinced that hiring ex-offenders could be a good idea or you want to learn best practices for doing so, keep reading.

1. Careful Consideration of Ex-Offenders

Let’s be clear—I’m not advocating that you should blindly hire someone just because they were once convicted of a crime. The idea of hiring ex-felons is not right for every company or position. And employers consider hiring ex-offenders for a variety of reasons—one being that there are a number of tax credit opportunities available. However, for companies that are open to hiring ex-offenders—it’s one matter to be careless and not conduct employment background checks and/or ignore appropriate state and federal screening laws; and it’s quite another to be a company that responsibly conducts background checks and then carefully considers hiring ex-felons. This might include understanding the mitigating circumstances such as, severity of the crime, if the person is a repeat offender, amount of time since the crime was committed, etc. Granted, there are websites like this one which list companies that hire felons—and I’m hoping these companies also use a comprehensive background check before making a hiring decision.

2. Focus on Industry & Position

There are many opportunities to look at the skills ex-offenders possess to determine if they would be the right fit for a position. In addition, there are companies with the ability to rehabilitate by training people with the required skills in order to succeed in a particular industry. With the consideration that it is difficult for ex-felons to find a job, they will not only be loyal to the company that hired them, but they will likely be some of the hardest workers you ever hire. Of course, you should also monitor their work and ensure that they continue to be a good fit with your company.

3. Make Smarter Hiring Decisions

One assumption about background checks is that they exist to find candidates with a criminal record and eliminate them from the hiring process. But in reality, background screening companies should strive to provide their clients with all of the necessary information to make smarter hiring decisions. As a background screening company, we would never advise a client to willingly put their workforce at risk by hiring an ex-offender. Our belief is simply that employers should be aware of a criminal history before determining whether or not the candidate is the right fit for a position.

4. Ensure Compliant Background Screening

If a background check reveals that your candidate has a criminal record, you must take the appropriate steps to ensure compliance. This might include the use of a hiring matrix in your screening program, an individualized assessment, and the two-step adverse action notification. Download our complimentary white paper on best practices to learn more. Following the proper steps to compliance is essential when determining whether or not someone with a criminal record would be the right fit for your company.

Why You Still Need to Do a Background Check

So at the end of the day, you might wonder—if they admit they have a record and I want to hire them, why not just skip the background check? While you may or may not be able to ask candidates if they’ve been convicted of a crime before you interview them (due to legislation like ban the box), without question, you should be conducting a background check on all job candidates. Even if they’re honest about a conviction, you’ll still want to verify the details of the conviction before welcoming them with open arms.

What’s your opinion? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

Nick Fishman
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Nick Fishman

Nick Fishman is the co-founder of EmployeeScreenIQ, a leading, global employment background screening provider, and serves as the company’s executive vice president and chief marketing officer. He pioneered the creation of EmployeeScreen University, the #1 educational resource on employment background checks for human resources, security and risk management professionals. A recognized industry expert, Nick is a frequent author, presenter and contributor to the news media. Nick is also a licensed private investigator in the states of Ohio and Texas.
Nick Fishman
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