Fair Chance Policies and Career Development for Ex-Offenders

By Janice D. Rubin

There’s a strong movement towards Fair Chance policies currently. Fair Chance policies prohibit employers from excluding individuals with a criminal record from consideration before determining they are qualified for employment. Fair Chance policies delay a criminal background check until an applicant meets the basic criteria for a job. Since 2017 there are 150 cities and counties and twenty-nine states which have embraced Fair Chance policies, putting limits on questions employers can ask job applicants. The new rules are written to give job candidates with criminal histories a fair chance at employment. Because a job candidate’s qualifications are considered first, candidates are not rejected outright because of a former conviction.

Society and Ex-Offenders

For an ex-offender coming out of prison, securing gainful employment is an important step toward becoming a contributing member of the community. People with criminal records who are not employed have a greater chance of ending up in a revolving door of joblessness and incarceration. Finding employment improves the financial circumstance of an ex-offender, contributes to that individuals’ stability and helps avoid recidivism. Employment of ex-offenders is a good idea both for the candidate as well as for the community and society at large.

Once an individual has paid their debt to society should they continue to be punished by being denied a job? Working and having a job is an important part of life and an important part of the rehabilitation process. “Work is a central part of real life, a primary factor in the overall well being of individuals, and a key to understanding human behavior” (Quick & Tetrick, 2003). Having a paid job not only benefits an individual but creates stability, helping him or her to become a part of the community. “Considerable research has documented the benefits that working affords in helping people to feel more engaged with their communities.” (Blustein, 2006). According to a study from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) and the Charles Koch Institute (CKI), "U.S. employers are willing to hire someone with a record if that applicant is the best person for the job" (Gurchiek, 2018, para. 1). There are at least two concerns employers may have about hiring candidates who were former offenders: first, the stigma associated with a criminal record and second, the possible risk to their business and reputation (Goodstein, 2018).

Effectively Working with Ex-Offenders and Fair Chance Policies

How can a vocational counselor or a career counselor help an ex-offender be prepared for a job search and employment so the job candidate can take advantage of Fair Chance policies? What can a counselor do to neutralize the stigma that ex-offender faces and what can a counselor do to reassure business owners who are considering hiring an ex-offender?

  • Assist the ex-offender in obtaining volunteer experience. Career counseling has shown the importance of recent work experience, it contributes to a work history and also can demonstrate an excellent work ethic. Volunteering at a community agency provides credible recent on the job experience and provides an opportunity to work in a variety of career areas. Many non-profit agencies are happy to accept volunteers who contribute to their organization. Volunteering for three to six months or longer is a way for a candidate with a criminal record to re-activate his resume.
  • Design a resume which reflects recent experience. A resume which reflects the relevant points of an individual’s work history is important. The resume should emphasize the recent volunteer experience. Volunteer experience on a resume shows the ability to learn new skills and to re-establish or demonstrate old skills.
  • Discuss with the client the need for credible references. Three solid work references are an important record of change. Work references attest to the character of the candidate. Two references can draw from the recent volunteer experience and one can be from a mentor or a past successful job. It’s important to create a recent work record and excellent references which contradict the criminal background and establish a fresh start.
  • Practice answering interview questions. It’s essential the candidate practice interview skills and can convincingly respond to questions. More important, the candidate must be able to answer the interviewer’s questions about character, how amends were made and what changes have taken place. How does the candidate see the world differently than before? It’s important to explain the time of incarceration in terms which communicate the positive change of character of the former offender.
  • Help the candidate dress the part for the desired employment position. An interview outfit coveys the seriousness of the applicant. Setting this up ahead of time, before any offers of an interview, should be a priority.

Second Chance to Show Qualifications

Training and education should be emphasized especially in an interview, particularly on-the-job training derived from the volunteer experience or other learning opportunities. Education and skills are important to securing employment and overcoming the prejudice of employers. “A crucial aspect of aiding clients in their search for meaningful and gainful employment in the twenty first century is the need to help them assess and build on their employable skills.” (Blustein, 2006). It’s important the ex-offender be given a second chance. If a career counselor assists an ex-offender in accomplishing the previously listed steps the client can advance and grow and truly embrace the opportunities provided by Fair Chance Policies.


Blustein, D.L. (2006). The Psychology of Working: A New Perspective for Career Development, Counseling and Public Policy. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

Goodstein, J. (2018). Job Candidates with Records Deserve a Second Chance. The Eugene Register Guard, 11/2018

Gurchiek, K. (2018). Research: Employers Willing to Overlook a Criminal Record to Hire the Right Person. SHRM. Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/behavioral-competencies/global-and-cultural-effectiveness/pages/research-employers-willing-to-overlook-criminal-record-to-hire-right-person.aspx

Quick, J. C., & Tetrick, L. E. (2003). Handbook of Occupational Health Psychology. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.


Janice RubinJanice D. Rubin, M.S., CRC, is a Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor and Educator. She has worked over twenty years as a Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor. A large part of her work is with the Oregon State Offices of Vocational Rehabilitation. She lives and works in Eugene, Oregon and may be contacted at rubin.jan.d@gmail.com

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Philomena Nowak, MS. CRC, LCPC   on Tuesday 10/01/2019 at 07:14 PM

Nice job.

Ron Jones   on Wednesday 10/02/2019 at 09:04 AM

I think this is a good article but from previous experience working with ex-offenders, they do not have time for volunteer work; many do not have the family support and therefore are forced to live on the streets again or in homeless shelters. Many don't have transportation. They get caught up in the maze of confusion and frustration with all the demands placed on them such as reporting to their parole officers, looking for work, trying to find food to eat, and of course where am I going to sleep at night; And of course child support wants their money as well. So volunteering is a good thing as long as all the support systems are already in place. Unfortunately, many don't have that luxury of being able to volunteer- they need a job ASAP

Larry Robbin   on Wednesday 10/02/2019 at 02:08 PM

There are a lot of best practices out there for reentry employment. You will find a lot of them on my Reentry and Employment Resource List that you can access in the Resource section of my website at www.LarryRobbin.com

Susan Helton   on Wednesday 10/09/2019 at 11:06 AM

I enjoyed reading your article. Thank you.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in the comments shown above are those of the individual comment authors and do not reflect the views or opinions of this organization.