by Mark Schultz

Finding work can be a challenge if you have a criminal background. It’s important to know the common barriers to employment you might face and how to respond to employer attitudes. One common misconception about people with criminal records is they lack the skills to be productive employees. The reality might be that you have skills employers want and just don’t know it.


Translating Experience

Many ex-offenders don’t realize that a job inside prison is still work experience, and the skills obtained doing these jobs are important. Because most employers like to see an applicant with a steady work history, this work experience can be used on a resume to decrease, or even eliminate, gaps in employment caused by incarceration.


Take this example. If you worked as a janitor while incarcerated, your resume should include that work experience. Summarize your job duties on your resume, just as you would with any job.


Here’s what you might include on your resume:

Sample Resume Entry


If you need help thinking about your duties on the job, try O*NET, an online resource that lists the typical occupational tasks for over 800 different jobs.  (For example, here is the list of the tasks, tools and technology for janitors.)


Now Think About Skills

The tasks listed on your resume also demonstrate job skills. Using the example above, it you had a set amount of time to clean a certain area, you most likely used time management skills. If a floor buffer stopped working, you may have determined the cause of the malfunction and did some trouble-shooting to determine the problem and fix it. Consider how you can relate your experience to common workplace skills.


And don’t forget about soft skills. Job seekers, including those with criminal records, may be turned down for a job because they lack soft skills. While some of these skills are taught in school, most are learned in everyday life. Showcase your soft skills by adding them to your resume or talking about them in a job interview.  In the example above, the time management and trouble-shooting are examples of soft skills and often go along with job skills. 


Need More Help?

If you are a job seeker with felony convictions or other criminal changes, you can get help exploring your work options and skills with the new STEP AHEAD website. Many Minnesota Workforce Centers offer a New Leaf workshop to assist job seekers with a criminal record with overcoming obstacles to finding employment. Search for this workshops and register online.


Mark Schultz is an Offender Workforce Development Specialist at the Winona WorkForce Center.


2 thoughts on “Showcasing Skills for Ex-Offender Job Seekers

  1. This article represents a population of individuals that I’m passionate about working with…support for ex-offender populations is extremely necessary and under publicized. The advice provided here is concise and pragmatic-great for resume building! I would also love more information about how to respond to questions in a job interview, how to work through constructive criticism, how to practice assertive vs. aggressive communicate, etc.


  2. Many of the clients I work with have records that can be viewed negatively. Besides the point of employers not realizing the job skills that may have been acquired through working while incarcerated, I think another common issue is that they may not believe in change. However, having a job in that situation is something a person can take pride in and may be one of the most positive aspects of being incarcerated. With this being said, I think it is helpful to know that any work experience can be listed.


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