What to Consider When Hiring Someone With a Conviction

We sat down with Lee, an HR Director at one of the nation’s leading homeless services providers, to talk about his work in the nonprofit sector. He specifically works with hiring employees who have convictions on their records. While this is a group that typically struggles to find employment, Lee doesn’t shy away from investing in these employees and shared with us some of his experience and advice.

Lee has a passion for second chances and has changed lives due to his heart and drive. While a lot of organizations don’t even consider applicants with a felony conviction, Lee looks at each situation individually and uses many different qualifiers to determine if someone will be a good fit, regardless of their past.

“We’ll take a look at the conviction, we’ll use the [individualized assessment of criminal history] on how long it has been and consider what the felony was, what the conviction was, how long since they served time, and what their behavior has been since they came out. You can get a very passionate employee when you give somebody a chance that nobody else is willing to give them.”

He also offers advice for HR representatives looking to follow in his footsteps:

“The very first thing you have to do is take a critical assessment of the job and the job description. Once you’ve made a critical assessment of what the job looks like, what the exposures that they’re going to have are, what crimes probably do not fit with the job, you do your background investigation and take a look at the individual.”

Lee employs a very holistic approach; in addition to looking at if the crime will be a conflict with the potential job, he looks at the time that has elapsed since the conviction and whether several crimes have been committed in the past several years.

“You can get a very passionate employee when you give somebody a chance that nobody else is willing to give them.”

It is important to distinguish if past criminal activity is indicative of a pattern or if it was a one-time thing. He also makes sure to differentiate between a conviction and an arrest:

“What is the conviction? Was it truly a conviction? Or was it just an arrest? If it’s an arrest, you know, lots of people have had false accusations made against them. Look for the conviction. If it was one to three years ago, I probably would say that’s a red flag. If it’s three to seven years ago, then you might want to take a very serious look at it. Ask them to take a look at their environment since the fulfillment of whatever obligation they had. If it’s more than seven to ten years ago, why are we even talking about it? Unless it’s a directly related crime, what you are you being exposed to?”

Lee puts his belief that change is possible for an individual into action, and he has seen firsthand how much of an impact these second chances can have on one’s life. We asked him to leave us with one piece of advice, the best advice he has heard throughout his career, and it seemed to encompass his perspective nicely.

“Just don’t make any rash decisions. Consider all the possible ramifications of whatever decision you’re going to make, and make the best choice. But you can’t do that if you’re going to do it in haste.”

If you know what to look for, giving someone a second chance doesn’t have to be a huge risk. You might even get to change a life.

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