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Episode 11:

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    Recruiting strategies | 4 min read

    Americans with criminal records: A motivated workforce you shouldn't overlook

    In today’s job market, finding hard-working, reliable employees is already challenging for most businesses. Ruling out applicants with criminal records only makes the search more difficult—especially after you realize how many people fall into that category. 

    Recent studies suggest as many as one in three Americans have some type of criminal record.

    Overlooking the criminal justice-affected workforce doesn’t just limit the size of your applicant pool. It means missing out on an underappreciated group of hardworking people—a population that’s eager to find the right opportunity to prove themselves and get their lives back on track.

    When given a second chance, they’re not the only ones who benefit—82% of managers think that employees with criminal records perform as well or better than workers with clean records. 

    The benefits of hiring people with criminal backgrounds 

    Some employers might feel hesitant or concerned about hiring someone with a criminal record. They worry about the safety and well-being of their existing employees and customers, ways it could affect their company’s reputation, or the possibility of a crime committed in the workplace. 

    However, many businesses now routinely hire and actively seek out ex-cons for their workforce. 

    Starbucks, Amazon, Hilton Hotels, Walgreens, Delta Airlines, Dunkin Donuts, and even Google are all known to be felon-friendly employers. This should help demonstrate that hiring ex-cons can offer your organization more advantages than liability issues. Some of these perks include:

    • Participating in the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC) program. This is a federal tax credit incentive program available to employers who hire certain target groups of job seekers like ex-cons. This one-time tax credit for each new hire can be up to $9,600.
    • Enjoying a lower-than-average employee turnover rate. Workers who have a criminal record are often very appreciative of the people who gave them a second chance when no one else would. Which is why their annual turnover rate is 12.2% lower than average. 
    • Gaining access to more job applicants in a tight market. With low unemployment rates and labor shortages in the US, hiring ex-cons gives you options. Like an applicant pool that includes the 600,000+ people released from federal or state prison each year.

    Keep in mind, people with criminal records had lives before incarceration: prior job experience, formal skills training, and college degrees, all things that can prove valuable to your business if you’re open to giving someone a second chance. But there are challenges to be aware of first.

    Barriers to hiring people from the criminal justice system

    Across the US, there are approximately 20,000 statutes and regulations that restrict the hiring of ex-cons. For example, several states won’t grant professional licenses to people with a criminal past. Plus, routine background checks often rule out otherwise qualified non-violent offenders. 

    Case in point: According to the Second Chance Business Coalition, when a criminal record is revealed during a background check, the likelihood of a second interview is reduced by 50%. A stat that weighs more heavily when you realize 90% of employers require a background check.

    Fortunately, companies are working with policymakers to reverse these barriers with efforts such as ban-the-box rules to stop employers from asking candidates about their criminal history on job applications. There are also things you can do to help get past these barriers, too.

    What you can do to overcome hiring barriers at your business

    More than likely, your existing hiring policies weren’t created around the needs of people with a criminal past. However, by making a few adjustments, any business can show that it’s ready, willing, and prepared to consider former felons for its current job openings.

    • If you do have a background policy, be as clear as possible about what you’re looking for. Is it only for felony convictions? Misdemeanor charges? Will you look for dismissed or acquitted charges? Without details, people with criminal backgrounds won’t apply.
    • Reconsider your lookback period for your background check. For example, is it really necessary to look back more than seven years? Five years? Without any incidents for a few years, a nonviolent offender’s past should become less relevant to job consideration.
    • Think about the places where you currently source your talent. Whether it’s a post on a job board, on your company’s website, or on its social media channels, let applicants know that people are fairly assessed and given a chance at employment—even with a record.

    Reach out to community organizations, civic leaders, and your local government for guidance in recruiting individuals with criminal backgrounds. Or partner with Honest Jobs, one of the nation’s leading job marketplaces for people affected by the criminal justice system, to post job openings. 

    You can also tap into the power of Workstream’s text and automation technology to fairly source and screen applicants, schedule your interviews, and onboard deskless employees with ease. 

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    Recruiting strategies


    Workstream is a hiring platform that helps employers get 4x the number of qualified applicants. The world's most trusted brands use Workstream to optimize job board postings, automate screening and interview scheduling, communicate via text message, and streamline the onboarding/training process. See what all the buzz is about by scheduling a demo or email us info@workstream.is!

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