Between the First Step Act bill being passed and SHRM's efforts towards Getting talent back to work, There are a lot of discussions opening up around second chance hiring. Before, it was pretty standard to assume that if you checked that box of "have you been convicted of a felony," you weren't going to get the job.
Today, our unemployment rate is the lowest it's ever been - forcing companies to explore untapped talent pools and unlikely candidates. As the Founder of a staffing agency for second chances, this makes me very excited. But it also frightens me.
I have worked with inmates, felons, and people in recovery over the past five years by helping them find their passion and meaningful employment. It is not as simple as making a decision to hire people with a criminal background. With this being such a hot topic, I thought I'd give a few tips for those considering hiring people with a criminal background.
1. Non-violent drug charges aren't always the safest bet.
I hear it all the time. And usually from people who have never been arrested or spent time in prison. They talk about just hiring people who have non-violent drug charges. In my personal experience, those are usually some of my more difficult cases. A lot of people with non-violent drug charges have one of two addictions: 1. making fast money OR 2. doing drugs. Relapse for either of these are more likely if an individual isn't seeking proper treatment or counseling. A job opportunity alone isn't always enough to keep someone on the right path. I have noticed that my best employees are the most unlikely and most overlooked: Those who lost the most. AKA: People who spent time in prison for harsher charges, such as assault, robbery or murder.
2. People who spent time in prison are great manipulators.
Manipulation is a skill best learned in prison. Inmates are very resourceful and know how to get what they want. This is why the formerly incarcerated individuals who are reformed make amazing sales people, debt collectors or call center representatives. But we won't always have a reformed person with a change of heart sitting across from us as we are interviewing for a position. Even your greatest "people-reading" employee can be tricked into making the wrong hire if they are not educated on what to look for and what to ask in the interviewing process. Making the right second chance hire can grow your business tremendously--but only if you make strategic hires and give the right second chances to the right people. Not everyone wants to change and we have to accept that as a possibility for responsible hiring.
3. Second chance hiring isn't charity.
When people talk about giving a second chance, it always sounds very charity or philanthropy-like. While I'm glad these discussions are happening, I'm disappointed people speak about second chance hiring like it's a favor to someone. It's actually a favor to your company to bring in a hungry, hard-working, loyal employee that will be grateful you gave them a chance. Growing a team of second chance employees can literally grow your business faster. Your second chance hires will go the extra mile, stay late and come in early. Not for a raise or recognition, but to help grow the company that helped grow them. An organic tea company came to us to make their first official second chance hire a year ago. Today, they've hired 70 people who have a criminal background.
When I first started my company, a for-profit staffing agency for second chances, people thought I was crazy. (I am, proudly.) But it seemed like a far-fetched goal to bank on the success of felons. I knew how effective second chance hiring would be, so instead of starting a non-profit and spending my time raising money, I wanted to raise men and women through meaningful job placements. I have seen first-hand the successes and failures when it comes to helping people coming out of prison find employment. My biggest fear is that we are going to successfully create an awareness for second chance hiring and see poor results because of lack of education or tools. This could hurt the reputation of what we are trying to do and hurt the reputation of people who really do deserve real opportunities and have transformed their lives.
Please join us at 3:00 p.m. ET on April 10 for #Nextchat: What Employers Need to Know About Successful Second Chance Hiring with special guest Cheri Garcia -- @Luminous_Cheri. Stay tuned to the SHRM blog for the preview.
This post is the first in a series for Second Chance Month, which highlights the need to improve re-entry for citizens returning to society and reduce recidivism. One of the primary ways to do this is by providing an opportunity for gainful employment. To sign the pledge and access the toolkit with information on how to create second chances at your company, visit GettingTalentBacktoWork.org.