I haven’t had a real job in nearly ten years. There are a number of factors that have conributed to my unemployment. The economy when I entered the workforce in 2008 was one of the worst economies since the Great Depression. Gaps in employment history are nearly impossible to sell to employers regardless of the reasons behind them. Companies simply don’t want to hire convicted felons. Some personalities are seen as not conucive to jobs in corporate America. What you say is more important than whether or not it’s true.
When I started looking for employment straight out of a two-year college I hadn’t held down a job in over two years. Employers feel that any gap in your employment history is a red flag. This highlights a larger problem that exists in corporate America and that is that there is little allowance in the corporate world for events outside of work. That is the corporate idea of a worker is one where a worker divorces their home life from their work life. In essence, employers don’t want you dragging what they would call “baggage” from your personal life” into the workplace. Not only is this an incredibly unrealistic deand on the modern worker it also points to a larger problem with our corporate overlords; mainly that your employer expects that – for better or for worse – your performance will be unimpeded by outside events. I call this “working in a vacuum” because in their view there shouldn’t be any overlap between your personal and business life. Besides being totally unrealistic this is also emotionally draining on a workforce that already believes – rightly so in many instances – that their employers do not care about their general well-being outside of work.
Your Past Determines Your Future
In 2007, I was convicted of two felonies that I committed in 2004. Since then I’ve graduated from college – twice – earning an Associate’s Degree in Hotel and Restaurant Management and a Bachelor’s Degree in English and History. Getting a double major done in four years or less is an accomplishment in it’s own right, graduating Magna Cum Laude is another and doing all this after incurring the trauma of our criminal justice system should put this all in perspective for you. The reaction I get from employers however is pretty universal. They don’t want a convicted felon working for them regardless of what they’ve achieved. Now, believe it or not I understand this in some instances. The crimes I was convicted of were basically fraud and unless you’re looking for a new Commander-in-Chief this is frowned upon.
Were I still out there committing crimes discrimination for past offenses would make total sense to me, but the reality is that I’m not. I was twenty years old when I committed those crimes. If you can’t rehabilitate yourself in our society from something you did when you were young then we should seriously rethink the morality and ethics behind suicide. I’m not kidding here and I don’t think this is an issue that should be brought up lightly. I would like you to think through the ramnifications however of being unable to support yourself as an adult because of a mistake you made before you were legally allowed to drink. It’s incredibly demoralizing to be unable to support yourself when you’re in your thirties. It impacts everyone around you. If there really is no rehabilitation that is enough for the modern business world then don’t we, the convicted felons of the world, simply become a burden on the societies in which we live? I’m not looking to enrage people with these questions rather I’m hoping that by asking what discrimination based on anything accomplishes we can try and come up with meaningful solutions for those of us at the heart of a discriminatory system.
In life, circumstances dictate reality, but in business, image does
I had an interview with a guy who told me that it was great and all that I “got good grades and stuff,” but that the time I spent studying could have been better spent on making valuable connections in my industry. That’s a terrible bit of advice to give to students. I do believe, however that his advice is probably – for better or for worse – true at least insofar as business is concerned. This does not change my belief that the correct thing to do when in school is to work hard and learn as much as you can. It does make me wonder whether businesses value what we learn in college or if they’re simply looking for differntiating factors in hiring. I know education has real world value. Whether it has any value in the business world aside from giving employers another box to check remains unclear to me. Now, take this mans’ advice and put it up against a classmate of mine who was a perennial C-student, but had worked all through college. He was employed within three months of graduation. How this guy managed to graduate is still a mystery to me. The guy rarely attended class and when he did he was rarely, if ever, sober. This is the kind of guy that businesses want to hire though. He’s an extrovert. He values going to the bar after work with his co-workers. I am neither of these things. The image of that guy out there working a room bodes better for a company than me spending a night in. That’s unfortuate I think, but it re-inforces the image that your company is at least out there doing things, which seems to matter more than whether your company is out there doing things that are good or worthwhile.
What you say is more important than whether or not it’s true
It’s difficult to get in the door if you’re telling someone something they don’t want to hear. “I’m a convicted felon with huge gaps in my employment history” is not something companies want to hear. Saying that you don’t like being around people isn’t likely to win you any points in a culture that believes extreme amounts of extroversion are necessary for anyone to succeed at anything worthwhile in business. The answer to this madness isn’t suicide or any of the other ludicrous ideas I’ve put forward thus far. In fact, that’s the furthest thing from a solution to this problem. My hope is that we, as a society, examine the efficacy of disqualifying people from employment based on things like gaps in employment history and criminal records. There are measures that have been put forth to combat these things like the ‘ban the box’ movement which is something I’m a huge supporter of and when it comes to matters of injustice in our criminal justice system and our system of hiring I think President Obama has done a lot to help people who are suffering under the lack of a fair playing field. These solutions will never be enough however to right the wrongs of a system of hiring that does all it can to keep the masses out so the privileged few can enter nor will we be able to even the plane of justice so that fairness wins out over the fear and prejudice of exclusion and the branding of those who have made mistakes as failures doomed to damnation by their society and culture. We need to be smart about how we deal with crime and punishment in our society because how we treat those who have wronged us should reflect our compassion and a willingness to right wrongs with rights not a will to right wrongs with further wrongs.