Past choices are…well, in the past.
Choices I have made in the past don’t define the type of person I am today, or will be tomorrow. (And that includes the choices that turned out to be good ones; good choices in the past only mean so much with regard to choices now or in the future.)
In my daytime job at the North Shore Career Center, last week saw the graduation of a cohort of reentrants from a series of custom-tailored workshops. In case you are not familiar with the designation “reentrants,” it denotes people also known as “court-involved individuals” or “persons with criminal records.” Until recently, common designations have also included “ex-cons” and “ex-felons.”
Those would be people who, like me, have made some choices in their lives that they now second-guess. On top of that, however, they have had the added misfortune of breaking the law somewhere along the line. The consequences of that misfortune include public exposure (in court, and oftentimes also in the media) and a public record that is going to stay with them.
So what if your past affects the quality of your brand?
What applies to me applies to reentrants just the same: Choices they have made in the past don’t define the type of person they are today, or will be tomorrow. Not-so-good choices in the past only mean so much with regard to choices now or in the future.
That’s where specially designed workshops come in.
Understandably, reentrants often feel labeled—dare we say: “branded”?—by their criminal record and incarceration. When they come to the Career Center, it often is with a feeling of a sticky note on their foreheads saying something like “ex-offender.”
But that’s not even what cuts to the quick at times. Over the years, several participants have confided in us that our series of workshops for reentrants was the first thing they had ever “completed” in their lives. One participant went a step further and said she “found hope again.” That stuck with me; she had already lost hope—that which supposedly dies last.
We address these participants as the professionals they are. We probe—with the help of appropriate assessment tools, and through individual counseling—where strengths and inclinations may lie, and what positions or career paths seem like good ones to explore further. (That includes info about your record on application forms, and employers open to candidates with a record.)
We collaboratively design a job-search campaign emphasizing relevant assets.
A central, recurring theme in our workshops for reentrants is resilience. It involves acknowledging what happened in the past, and devising a strategy to move on.
Once a line of work to zero in on is identified, I am one of the main contributors in creating a fresh, new résumé. That new résumé is going to emphasize qualities that present the individual as a capable, reliable professional. And when I look at the résumé once it’s done, it strikes me time and time again how the criminal record in a person’s past is completely absent from the presentation of his or her qualifications for a future job.
Things don’t end at the résumé, of course. Plenty of practice time is given to discussing your record in the interview conversation, where the subject might come up following the interviewer’s mention of how the company routinely does background checks. At that point, it is important for the candidate to be able to tell his or her story and sound natural, so as to convince the interviewer that was an episode in the past that has been dealt with and moved on from.
And it takes a big person to open up about those darker facets of one’s past. Remember I alluded to choices of mine that I now second-guess? I have the option to remain comfortable in choosing not to discuss details. People with a criminal record must step outside their comfort zone, and address unpleasant details. If that doesn’t say something about their readiness for new challenges, then I don’t know what does.