Would you welcome a convicted murder into your marketing agency? Would you entrust your coffee shop cash till to a proven thief? These are questions being answered by employers the world over – and not all are saying the same thing.

Ex-cons have historically had great trouble finding work. While a select few companies make it their business to open their doors to convicted criminals, the vast majority would rather err on the side of caution, screening former offenders via the dreaded ‘criminal record’ declaration.

But is it fair to judge a job candidate on mistakes made in the past? And isn’t the rejection of promising candidates just narrowing an already small talent pool?

The big issue

It’s obvious why ex-cons are considered ‘best avoided’ by employers. As well as the obvious concerns with theft, immoral behavior and legal issues, many recruiters remain frightened of those who run afoul of the law. Why should you expose your business to a person with a history of criminal behavior when there are plenty of non-offenders out there ready to accept the job?

In fact, giving former offenders a second chance can have marked benefits – both for employer and employee. Virgin head honcho Richard Branson is an avid supporter and employer of ex-cons. “It’s about awareness,” he commented to the British Guardian in 2016. “They [the government] have to make employers aware of the positives of taking on people who have been in prison.”

What positives are these? Well, ex-cons in employment are not only not necessarily going to reoffend, but are actually less likely to than their unemployed peers. According to the same Guardian article, Australian transport company Toll has employed 460 ex-convicts over the past decades, none of whom have returned to prison.

Furthermore, ex-cons could well make for superior employees in their own right; their history makes them more likely to tow the line, more conscientious and even, argue some, more entrepreneurial in nature.

Banning the box

Currently, on job applications for many UK and US companies, candidates are required to declare whether they possess a criminal record. The box they are required to tick or cross has been vilified for years.

One particular campaign begun back in the 90s, ‘Ban The Box’, has gained increasing traction over the past decade. By 2015, 24 states and the District of Columbia had ‘banned the box’, requiring employers to leave off criminal record checks for job candidates.

Unfortunately, the results are not as many hoped. While the lack of declaration helped get ex-cons more interviews, many were still grilled about their criminal history in interviews.

But that’s not the worst part. The most unwelcome side effect of ‘banning the box’ was a marked increase in racial discrimination. Unable as they were to access an applicant’s criminal history, businesses resorted to the next best thing: blanket-rejecting racial minority youths who were deemed ‘most likely’ to have a criminal history.

So if banning the box isn’t the answer, what can the government do to improve the chances of former criminals in the workplace? The most likely solution is implementation of incentives: rewards for businesses who open their doors to ex-cons, financial and otherwise. Whether such measures will ever materialize is yet to be seen.

Fighting the system

There are things you can do, as a former offender, to lessen the impact of your history. Firstly, there are numerous companies from Google to Starbucks who are making conscious efforts to expand their ex-con workforce. Do your research before application and try to aim for businesses who will take less umbrage at any ‘unsavory’ history.

In interviews, research shows that it’s wise to tackle your past history head-on. A 2017 study has showed that job applicant who acknowledge and either apologize for or justify past criminal activity are more likely to come off well at interview. The writers conclude: “These findings suggest applicants may benefit from using impression management tactics that communicate remorse when discussing events or associations that violate integrity expectations.”

Finally, whether you’ve minimal work behind you or can boast significant pre-prison experience, almost all ex-cons can benefit from a spot of volunteer work. Volunteering is not only a great way to obtain a recent reference and learn new skills, but demonstrates an eagerness to self-improve that will alleviate the miasma of past misdeeds. Volunteering work on a CV encourages employers to look beyond previous convictions and view you as a potential employee.

For those who have fallen afoul of the law, the job market can be a difficult environment to navigate. Though many employers remain averse to hiring ex-criminals, things are changing.