Fair Chance: What a Candidate With a Criminal Record Taught Me About Hiring

The first time I hired someone, a very unusual thing happened. I was interviewing a promising-sounding candidate who was working for a big-box retailer and looking for his next career move, when he began telling me about his criminal record.

Knowing a background check would reveal that he had been incarcerated more than once, the candidate decided to be upfront about his past offences and struggles with addiction. With that context in place, we moved on to those regular interview topics of skills and experience.

Our conversation backed up the promise of his résumé, and I decided to hire him. He quickly became one of my best-performing employees and stayed with my business for more than 12 years.

This experience opened my eyes to fair chance hiring, which is the idea that everyone, regardless of background, has the right to be fairly assessed for a role they are qualified for. Fair chance hiring not only benefits candidates with criminal records but also the businesses that take a chance on them.

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How your business can benefit from fair chance hiring

Tapping into the one in three working age Americans with some form of record is a great way for your business to expand its talent pool, especially for roles with a relatively high turnover. Studies show that people with backgrounds are loyal to employers who give them a chance and have a high retention rate.

With recent research suggesting that “the diverse talent pool is the most effective talent pool,” fair chance hiring is also a way to boost your diversity, while employing people with criminal records will help your business have a sustainable impact on the wider community.

If you’re interested in experiencing the benefits of fair chance hiring at your business, here are three ways to making it a success.

1. Rethink your job descriptions. Typical job descriptions rule out people with atypical employment histories. Instead of emphasizing only education and experience, focus your job descriptions on the skills you need. Talented people can translate their skills across different jobs. For example, tradespeople who are used to dealing with customers might be good for client-facing roles.

Encourage people with backgrounds to apply by not asking about criminal records in the application. You can even state in the job description that you will consider candidates with records and that college degrees are not required.

2. Change how you screen. Rethink what offences matter to your business and the specific job you’re looking to fill. Minor drug offenses are usually irrelevant for most roles so ask your background check provider to not flag them. As most repeat offenses happen within two years of release, you could also put a time limit on how far back you look for other minor offenses.

Move slowly if you’re nervous. Start with a minor category of offense and expand to others as you get more comfortable with the process.

3. Set them up for success. When you’re onboarding your fair chance hires, it’s important to support any additional needs they may have. If it’s your new hire’s first job in a while, a refresher on the basics, like benefits or office etiquette, may be useful. Find out if they lack specific skills that are easy to acquire with a little training, whether that’s using email, digital calendars, or specific software.

Give everyone at your business a fair chance

These fair chance hiring best practices also work for everyone else at your business. Your job descriptions should encourage more diverse applicants whether they have a criminal record or not. Finally, you should ensure that all of your company’s employees have the practical and emotional support they need to do a great job.

My very first hire took a different path to my office door than the other people I interviewed. But by giving him a fair chance, he proved he was just as valuable as my other employees.

Kristen Faris

Kristen Faris
Kristen faris is VP of industry strategy at Checkr

Kristen Faris

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