Job Skills Learned in Prison

Job Skills Learned in Prison

You’ve Got Skills They Desire. Don’t Be Afraid To Tell Them You Learned Them in Prison.

This is where the rubber meets the road.

You’ve done your time, paid your debt to society, and you’re now searching for that second chance opportunity at a new life as an employed, productive member of your community.

Applications have been filled out and submitted. Job fairs have been canvassed. You’ve networked effectively and developed connections with others who can help you in your search.

And now your diligence and persistence have paid off:

You have an interview scheduled with a company you would love to work for.

As the interview date approaches, you take a mental inventory of what you’ve been taught about interviewing as an ex-offender. You’re prepared to truthfully answer the difficult questions surrounding your troubled past.

You’re ready to discuss gaps in employment, your felony conviction, and any past drug or alcohol issues.

However…there remains an opportunity that many ex-offenders fail to use to their advantage in an interview.

During your time in prison, you acquired and developed many of the skills employers are looking for in their employees.

Can you persuade hiring managers that these prison-learned skills will translate directly to success in their employment opportunity?

Let’s be clear: it’s perfectly normal to be nervous for a job interview. Everyone gets a case of the butterflies when being asked to promote themselves to a stranger.

When the qualifying skills and strengths that make you ideal for the position have been learned in prison, that general nervousness can turn to fear. How will the interviewer react if I mention that I am best qualified for the job not despite of my incarceration, but because of the education and job skills I gained from it?

Consider the fundamental job of a hiring manager. They are there to determine the best-qualified candidate from the pool of applicants and bring them aboard.

You took advantage of every educational opportunity available to you while incarcerated. Maybe you got your GED, or advanced your education with college courses. You took vocational training and mastered a trade. You participated in programming that focused on changing the ways of thinking that led to your incarceration. All personal and professional development criteria from which you should have an opportunity to be evaluated with the rest of the candidates.

Even more importantly, you have shown that you’ve overcome great adversity in your life and that is an attribute most hiring managers view as a key ingredient of successful employees and leaders.

So the question becomes not whether you should talk about skills you’ve learned in prison, but rather how you talk about skills you’ve learned in prison.

The answer lies in mastering a few of the basic interviewing skills you’ve seen many times..with a bit of a twist thrown in for your unique situation.

Your body language is very important in influencing how others perceive you and nonverbal negative cues can betray any positive message in what you are saying. You need to be convincing that your education and skills qualify you for the position, and sending mixed messages is something you can ill-afford when discussing your time in prison. You need to be acutely aware of how you are carrying yourself in the conversation.

Don’t slouch in your chair, always make good eye contact, and never frown. Allow your facial expressions to project interest in the interviewer and their words through smiling and affirmative nods of the head. Show them you have the ability to listen intently without distraction.  

As you talk about the skills you learned while incarcerated, don’t downplay your achievements with a timid tone of voice because of where they occurred, but speak in confident, relaxed tones. Convey a feeling of pride in how you overcame adversity and how your skills and abilities make you the best candidate for the job. Be self-assured, but never cross the line into arrogance or boasting. Leave the swagger in the parking lot.

Finally, don’t hesitate to discuss what it would mean to you to being given a second chance at a meaningful and productive life. The full measure of dedication you will bring to their company. A loyalty that comes from a place of gratitude, knowing the difficulties and challenges ex-offenders have finding good jobs, is a powerful trait that many employers would love to see a lot more of.

If you follow these guidelines during your interviews, you’ll find that many hiring managers will be open to your skill development successes, regardless of where they originated. They will learn that no matter how difficult your past was, you’ve demonstrated resilience and the ability to overcome great challenges through personal and professional growth.