Networking for the Formerly Incarcerated Job Candidates

Networking for the Formerly Incarcerated Job Candidates

Networking for Formerly Incarcerated Job Candidates

How many times have you heard the phrase “you can’t a judge book by its cover”?

Most have heard a version of this countless times throughout our lives, and have a general understanding of its meaning:

Get to know somebody before you make a decision as to their character.  

So why are you surprised when companies make these kinds of snap judgments based only on information from a resume, job application, or a brief 10-minute interview?

You’ve done everything you’ve been taught in your job search as a returning citizen.

You’ve put “feet on the street” by spending your days hopping from business to business filling out applications, you’ve searched and responded to job board ads with your resume, and you’ve diligently followed-up with prospective employers and patiently waited for their call-back.

All of these job-seeking activities are precisely what you should be doing, yet your felony background continues to be a major barrier to employers. Your history makes up their mind before they make an attempt to truly get to know you.

You are being judged by your cover.

So what can an ex-offender do to increase the chances of employment opportunities, and help overcome the stereotypes that prevent employers from getting to know you better?

The answer is simple (and highly effective): It’s time to start networking.


How Can Networking Help You?

Nearly 20 years into the 21st century, when people hear the word “network”, they immediately associate the word “social” with it thanks to the rise and influence of media sites like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. While these sites can be useful, true networking takes a more personal and emotional approach than simply “connecting” with somebody online.

It’s about making personal connections and building relationships with others that allows you to control the narrative on how you are perceived.

It’s establishing credibility that cannot be truly realized from what your resume or background says about you.

It’s realizing that a network of advocates can help each other accomplish anything, even finding a job with a felony background.

Let’s look at some impactful numbers that highlight the true value of networking.

A recent Manpower Group survey of nearly 60,000 newly hired people produced this interesting, yet unsurprising result:

Nearly half (41%) of these new employees say they found their job through networking. As a comparison, 8% say their employment came as the result of cold-applying directly to the company.

That’s a fairly significant gap in successful paths to employment.

More importantly, studies have shown that a job hunter who is referred (through networking and relationship building) is three to four times more likely to be hired.

As an ex-offender trying to find a job, any opportunity you have to increase the odds of overcoming these challenges to employment needs to be implemented into your search habits.

Where? Who? How Do I Do It?

You’ve been networking (making personal connections) all of your life, without even realizing there was a name for what you were doing. Even while you were in prison.

You are networking every time you get together with someone for lunch or a cup of coffee. Networking happens in church groups, your cousin’s wedding, and at a ballgame or card night with friends.

Networking is all about building and maintaining relationships, and that can happen anywhere you are with other people.

Here are a few examples of who you can network with:

  • Family members
  • Friends from both before and after prison
  • Members of your church
  • Local business associations
  • People you’ve met in any support groups you attend. If you’re not involved, find a group to join.

As you start nurturing these relationships, don’t be afraid to let people know you are looking for a job. These personal connections will strengthen, and you will feel confident that people are getting to know who you are, and how you’ll make the most of a second chance at a productive life.

Here are 3 tips to help you network more effectively whether in a one-on-one coffee meeting or a group event:

1 – Be yourself and be curious.

The best approach for any networking opportunity is to be yourself and talk about your job search in a more casual, non-salesy way. Nobody likes to feel like they are being pressed. In simple terms, share but don’t oversell. Always have a positive attitude, and don’t get caught up in negative talk of others or complaining.

Also, make it a point to be curious about the other person. Asking thoughtful questions is a great way to put others at ease and will demonstrate your listening skills.

The more interested you are in others, the more interesting you become to them.

Which leads to…

2-  Practice equal parts speaking and listening.

As you network it is important that you listen as much as you talk. Pay close attention to what the other person is saying and listen for common ground to build upon.

Always remember, networking is designed to help you, not to be all about you.

Good relationships are built on rapport and strengthened by a sense of both parties feel heard and understood.

3-  Follow up to solidify connections you’ve made

Nothing can turn a casual contact made at a meeting, lunch, or event into a potential long-term relationship better than a follow-up. Send a note, or a quick email to thank them for their time or provide helpful new insights into your conversation topics.

A follow-up is an effective personal touch showing that your connection and conversations meant something to you, and you are interested in staying in touch.

While you should never give up on your current search strategies, adding networking as a priority can vastly improve the chances of employment for a group of job hunters that can use all the help they can get.