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Frank and Corey offer a sincere thank you to Danielle for her time to volunteer with the program

Fair Opportunity Employer Toolkit

In February 2020, Breakthrough commissioned robust research to build its capacity to support employers wishing to launch or strengthen their fair opportunity hiring practices. Through interviews with 17 established fair-opportunity employers and analysis of existing research, Breakthrough identified several best practices to help employers hire and retain fair opportunity talent. These are aggregated into the following ten modules in Breakthrough’s Fair Opportunity Employment Toolkit. These ten items aim to elucidate the fair opportunity hiring process and provide resources to walk employers through it. While fair opportunity hiring may be unknown and intimidating, the process is not very different from standard hiring practices. To demystify the process for employers, each module explains a different aspect of the fair opportunity hiring process through a video and short summary. As the toolkit aims to show, hiring fair opportunity talent benefits both your company and community. If your company wants to make a true, profound impact through the routine task of hiring in Colorado, click here to partner with Breakthrough and become a preferred fair opportunity employer.

1. Clearly define the job

One of the keys to success when working with people with criminal histories is to set clear expectations. Likely the role a company makes available to fair opportunity individuals already exists, but it is worth revisiting the job description to ensure it precisely spells out the purpose of the role, the hard and soft skills required, and what supports and benefits the employer provides (including on-site training if available). In keeping with other diversity and inclusion efforts, the job description should be skills-based. In other words, rather than requiring academic degrees or other traditional markers of experience which might exclude qualified candidates with nontraditional backgrounds, the description should emphasize the attributes and skills that are necessary to be successful in the role. In this module’s video, Gabrielle walks through how to ensure that your job descriptions are clear and fair opportunity friendly.

2. Match employee career goals with company programs and resources

Upon release, many justice-involved individuals aim to eventually work in a managerial position or otherwise. They may also know or hope that their first place of employment upon release will not be their ‘forever’ job. Understanding a candidate’s long-term career aspirations allows employers to connect employees with company-wide professional development programs. Companies that offer internal tuition reimbursement or other training programs allow entry-level employees the opportunity to gain the skills necessary to move up in the company. These programs prepare employees for positions with a wider range of responsibilities. It is important for the employer to make these programs known to candidates so they understand how this step contributes to their overall career path. Likewise, it is also beneficial for the employer to understand their employees’ long-term career goals to be able to provide relevant professional development opportunities, which results in happier and more productive employees.

3. Identify recruiting channels

For employers just beginning their fair opportunity hiring process, knowing how to recruit employees with criminal histories can seem daunting. However, many avenues for recruiting are available to employers. One of the best ways to ensure you are sourcing quality candidates is to create partnerships with local organizations that specialize in providing skill-building and professional development opportunities to people coming out of prison, like Breakthrough. These organizations can often vouch for their candidates and ensure you are being matched with the best candidate for the job. By maintaining relationships and open communication with these partners, businesses can ensure they are hiring high-quality fair opportunity talent. Other ways to ensure outreach to fair opportunity candidates is through the use of fair opportunity job boards, such as Honest Jobs, and participation in state-sponsored in-prison job fairs.

4. Standardize interviews, use references

Interviewing people with criminal histories is in many ways no different than hiring someone without a record. As with all other applicants, the focus should be on matching the individual’s aptitude and skills with the job requirements, and should follow best diversity and inclusion hiring practices. To avoid inconsistency,  employers should establish a set of questions directly related to the job and ask them of each applicant. Using standard questions should yield an understanding of a candidate’s aptitude and hard skills. Businesses still always look for the strongest candidates; being formerly incarcerated does not compensate for skills.

Through their “Who: The A Method for Hiring” tool, ghSMART provides tools that help employers fairly and consistently assess candidates through their standard interview templates and scorecard. Dr. Geoff Smart chooses strategic interview questions to provide insight on the most important aspects of a candidate’s competencies, as he explains in his videos. These tools ensure that you get the right candidate for the job, using standardized, proven evaluation metrics, as he explains in his videos.

5. Create a space for candidates to feel comfortable sharing their conviction history

Much of the time, employers value a candidate’s openness and honesty when disclosing their conviction history. Employers often prefer to know about the conviction history early, before they learn about it for the first time after running a background check. However, many employers don’t realize the immense stress and pressure that a candidate feels in an interview setting, especially if that candidate has a criminal history. When attempting to disclose this information, candidates with a history may feel uncomfortable or even triggered in an interview setting and, as a result, may conduct the entire interview without disclosing their history. This simple omission may cost the candidate a job offer, as the employer may interpret this omission as a negative reflection of the candidate’s character. However, candidates are more likely to disclose their criminal history in an interview setting if the employer sets the right tone and creates a safe space for the candidate to do so. Some of these things may never occur to an employer as a fair opportunity practice, but they make a huge difference to those sitting across from them in an interview.

6. Conduct Individualized assessment panels

During the hiring process, managers want to ensure that they are choosing the best candidate for the job. To ensure that candidates with conviction histories are fairly assessed, managers should establish the maximum risk tolerance they are willing to accept, including the nature of the crime and the time that has passed since the crime. A best practice when evaluating candidates with criminal histories is to assemble a small, carefully selected panel of managers, executives, and HR personnel to assess the candidate, recognizing there may be extenuating circumstances of qualified candidates that fall outside their maximum risk tolerance. Companies’ assessments typically include a detailed review of the information returned on the background check, police reports, and additional information solicited from the candidate including evidence of rehabilitation (in-facility programming, academic achievements, etc.) and personal references. The panel also conducts a Nature-Time-Nature test, which evaluates the nature of the crime, the time since the conviction, and the nature of the job. This allows the panel to assess whether there is any nexus between the crime and the job. The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) recommends a 6-point risk analysis in their Getting Talent Back to Work Toolkit:

  • Does the conviction pose a job-related risk?
  • How serious is the prior offense? (SHRM recommends going to the charge sheet and asking a professional – parole officer, attorney, applicant – about the specific offenses.)
  • How many prior convictions does the applicant have?
  • How serious is the potential harm?
  • Has the applicant been referred by an established reentry organization?
  • Has the applicant changed or been reformed?

Panelists typically seek to reach an agreement on hiring someone whose conviction falls outside the company’s guidelines at the conclusion of their deliberations.

7. Don’t forget onboarding

While onboarding typically benefits all employees, it is particularly important for people with criminal histories who may have limited to no experience in private companies. A formal onboarding process is important to educate new employees about the company’s culture, the interconnectedness of departments, and how they fit into the larger organization. In this module’s video, Kate from Mile High Workshop helps us understand why people who are leaving correctional facilities face a unique and challenging set of circumstances that employers should consider while bringing them up to speed with their company. Ensuring your onboarding processes are thorough, collaborative, and trauma-informed helps create a culture of community and safety in the workplace. In the video, Kate offers some great onboarding tips and advice for companies that are hiring people with criminal histories.

8. Provide or outsource reentry support

To be successful beyond the onboarding period, it is critical that companies not lose sight of the fact that their fair opportunity employees, especially those who have recently been released from corrections, are simultaneously working to rebuild their lives. Unless the employer strictly hires people who have extensive work experience since release, community partners remain as important as ever in providing reentry support services post-hire. In this module’s video, Belle talks about the perks of hiring Breakthrough graduates and the accompanying support that Breakthrough provides. The importance of reentry support cannot be understated, so it is vital that companies work with community partners or provide internal resources to help their fair opportunity employees access the various resources they require upon release. Depending on the employee, services may include some combination of soft skills, digital literacy, financial literacy, individual coaching, mental health services and/or case management. An employee who lacks stability outside of work is all but certain to struggle with performance on the job.

9. Utilize mentorship

Mentorship is a recognized strategy for increasing inclusivity in the workplace for minority populations. Fair opportunity employers have used it successfully to help retain and advance formerly incarcerated individuals. Mentorship programs can vary in structure, but they are all intended to provide a safe space for new employees to ask questions and help them feel like a part of the team. In this module’s video, Izzy describes how Breakthrough’s mentorship program benefits the employee, the company, and the mentor themselves.

10. Acknowledge hiring is a mix of art & science

Experienced fair opportunity employers believe that hiring people with criminal histories is a mix of art and science. Many recognize that there is a balance between intuition, demonstration of skills, and references from others. Walking this line can be challenging, but ghSMART eases the process through their tool, Who: The A Method of Hiring. This helps companies understand and identify interviewees’ qualitative skills and concrete life experiences to ensure that those hired are the best fit for the company. ghSMART understands the dynamic and diverse nature of teams and, as a result, their resources utilize a unique approach to help companies recruit and hire the most qualified employees for the job, while also creating cohesive and talented teams.