17 Resume and job seeking tips for ex-offenders

For those looking for work with a criminal record, finding work can be difficult. Ex-offenders need to be especially patient and careful with their job applications. However, despite how you may feel after a few rejections, ex-offenders often have suitable skills and experience for inspirational career paths. In this article, I will give you specific tips for preparing to find work as an ex-offender, with a special focus on rewarding fields like education, counseling, and motivational/crime-prevention speaking.

9 Top job seeking tips for ex-offenders

First, I'll provide some helpful tips on searching for a new job as an ex-offender. Following these tips, I'll highlight some of the top career options available for ex-offenders, many of which come with great benefits, salaries, and chances to progress.

Embrace your career break: It is important you do not lie or try to hide your career break on your resume, but that does not mean you need to mention your incarceration. If you are asked about your criminal past then it is best to admit you have a record, but keep the explanation short, simple, and focus on the positives of what you learned and how you are ready for the world of work. 

If you are an ex-offender, then it is likely that you have a wealth of interesting life experiences. A criminal record will hold you back in some professions, but this type of experience can also be advantageous for certain jobs, like those rewarding careers we mentioned earlier about education, counseling and motivational speaking. 

For more information on this check out our article finding a job after a career break

Complete a skills appraisal: Struggling to think of a career that works for you? The first step is to write a list of all the skills, technical and soft, that you can offer a potential employer. Take careful notice of the ones you enjoy and want to develop further, and then start browsing job sites for something within your scope of skills and interests. 

Reach out for help: There are plenty of online resources and organizations in place to help ex-offenders enter the job market. So do some research on Google and find some organizations in your local area. 

Watch out for scams: Unfortunately, there are always people out there looking to take advantage of vulnerable people with limited options. Don’t ever give away bank details or complete online payments. Remember, if it looks too good to be true, it probably is.

Secure references: References are important for all types of job seekers, but having these as ex-offender is even more useful. Get a couple of quality references from previous jobs, or failing that character references from trusted professionals, just be careful to choose those people who are on your side. Try to get three high-quality references from previous jobs. Or, if that fails, get some character references from trusted people in your network with professional job titles.

Expunge your felony: Getting your felony removed from your record is the ideal situation for ex-offender job seekers. So, if you have committed a minor felony at a state level, then look into whether this is possible.

If you are successful, then you will usually be able to answer ‘no’ to inquiries about previous convictions. However, for a job in law enforcement, a professional license, or a job involving children, you will still be legally obliged to disclose your prior convictions. Here is how the process works:

  1. First, you will need to employ the help of a lawyer
  2. A petition needs to be filed in court (which often requires a small fee)
  3. The court will contact those involved in the case to get their opinions
  4. Depending on your crime a judge then may order a hearing and you will have to be prepared to show you are substantially rehabilitated to deserve the expungement. It is now that any new evidence around the crime could be brought to light. 
  5. If your expungement is unsuccessful, you could then go on to file an appeal. 

Be realistic: Your criminal record is going to hold you back and mean you are unsuitable for some types of work. But, don’t worry, there are still plenty of available and well-paying jobs for you. 

Like all job seekers, you need to expect to get plenty of rejections. But, with patience, perseverance, and carefully considering what jobs you are suitable for, you will find a rewarding career path. 

Work hard to prove yourself: Ex-offenders often have to struggle against a bad reputation to find work and progress in their careers. You may need to work harder than others to prove your worth to the business and put up with people's misgivings about you while you do so. Although it can be hard to remain positive, keep in mind that in a good business your devotion will be recognized and you can develop a successful career and rewarding lifestyle.  

Highlight repentance and what you learned: The most important point you need to get across as an ex-offender is that you have learned your lesson since your arrest. You must ensure you present yourself as repentant and motivated to use your new knowledge and experience to help others who may be heading towards a life of crime. Part of this also involves demonstrating that you possess a strong work ethic, good communication skills, and the personality to engage and inspire others.

3 Rewarding career paths for ex-offenders

For rehabilitated ex-offenders who feel the urge to try and help others at risk of breaking the law, there are a few interesting opportunities to consider. 

If you are motivated to help people, have good communication skills and and feel you can make a positive impact on the lives of others by leveraging your experiences overcoming life’s challenges, then you may want to consider a career in education, counseling, and professional crime-prevention speaking.


Work for educational institutions that work with youth who may be at risk of falling into a life of crime like: 

  • Young offenders' institutions
  • Youth centers
  • Juvenile detention centers
  • Charities helping disadvantaged communities.


Many of the best counselors are those who have lived through challenges and changed for the better. After some training, this could be you.

Motivational/Crime Prevention Speaking

This requires some networking and personal brand building. A good place to start is to develop an online presence, create some engaging and useful content, and start engaging with relevant institutions through social media, email, and phone calls. For an inspirational example of this career path, we suggest you check out Tshepo Seakamela, the ex-inmate who wrote a book on inspirational speaking while incarcerated during a 19-year stretch. 

Just keep in mind that not all criminal histories and personality types will successfully lead to a career in these fields. To give you the best chance of landing a rewarding job like those above, here are some top tips. 

5 Common career options for ex-offenders

There are jobs available for all types of ex-offenders and this list is useful for anyone looking for a new career after prison. However, your eligibility for all these jobs does depend on the crime you committed, your level of education, and the specific rules and regulations in the area you are searching for work. So, before you pick your next career, please do a little research to see if you are a good fit.  

Become an entrepreneur

Starting your own business is not as difficult as you may think, but it usually requires an investment of time and cash to get things going. Not every new business is destined to succeed. However, if you have an idea that you feel could be a money-spinner, why not look into starting your own business. Despite some hardships, starting your own business comes with some unique advantages. 

  • You only have to answer to yourself, you are the boss
  • Work to your own schedule
  • Follow through with an idea you are passionate
  • No interviews or rejections.

Thanks to the internet, it is now quicker than ever to establish a brand and start gaining customers with only a little investment and a great idea. So do your research and you could be supporting yourself while enjoying your work. 

Manual labor

Become a boat cleaner: If you like boats, the sea, and life by the coast cleaning boats is an easy job to pick up in any marina. 

Become a landscaper: Enjoy more time outside and exercise on the job by becoming a laborer. This is easy work to pick up and if you put the effort in you could find yourself a specialism, complete some training and start making an impressive wage. 

Become a gardener: Get down with nature and help improve public and private gardens. Every garden needs hard work to get it looking great, so although this is seasonal work you can make good money in the summertime and offer additional services such as snow plowing in the winter months.

Window/gutter cleaning: If you have a head for heights, you should be able to excel as a window or gutter cleaner. This work is available in most types of neighborhoods, so either advertise locally or find a business to join, you even could see yourself cleaning windows on the fiftieth floor of a skyscraper.

Work in removals: The world is always going to need movers and this physical job requires no experience or qualifications.

Work in an oil field: To secure work as a rig operator you only need to pass a physical exam and be over 18 years old, but those with a trade skill will be given preferences. On average, you will earn around $50,000 a year working on an oil field or rig. The work is demanding though and can mean multiple weeks of work in a row, nights, and with no weekends off. 

Leveraging technical skills and training

Become an electrician: If you have a high school diploma, you can develop a life-long skill and earn around $55,000

Become a carpenter: Enjoy a mix of outdoor and indoor work, and plenty of exercise, as you learn valuable skills that will see you take home around $45,000 a year with room to grow.

Become a welder: Welders’ salaries can range from $25,000 a year to $60,000, with an average of $40,000. Although this one requires some formal training the work is plentiful, especially at the coast, and companies often have some on-the-job training schemes to offer. 

Work in construction: For those with a high school diploma, construction can be a fun and rewarding career operating heavy machinery, building new buildings, and destroying old ones. After a little on-the-job training, you will be making between $15 and $33 per hour.

Work in HVAC: HVAC technicians are in high demand and the starting salary is usually around $47,000. Training can be as quick as six months and you only need a GED to get accepted.

Work in repairs: If you have some knowledge of how electronics, bicycles, and other everyday tools work, you could find work repairing appliances.

Teach music lessons: If you know how to play a musical instrument, and feel you have the passion, patience, and charisma to teach, then this could be the career for you. A creative job can be easy to find, rewarding, and enjoyable.  

Requires little previous experience

Become an entertainer: The dream job for many, if you can make people laugh, play music or have another impressive talent you could make a seriously good living in entertainment.

Nowadays, with the internet, social media, and particularly YouTube, it is easier than ever for anyone to become a famous entertainer. Perhaps with your criminal past, you have what it takes to help others looking to rehabilitate and make money while you are doing it. 

Party planner: Have you noticed your neighbors throw ridiculous parties for kids and adults? Well, there could be an opportunity there for you to build a career helping them plan and coordinate these events. Your average family in America will spend $500 on a birthday, so if you can sell yourself and the right attitude you could make a lucrative career in this field. 

Become a dog walker: What could be easier than walking a dog? If you are into animals and live in a big city, walking other people's dogs could be a great chance to start making some money immediately. You can expect to make $15-$20 for a 20-minute walk and $30 for a 30-minute walk. But you can also start walking several dogs at the same time as your client base expands, which can make this field surprisingly lucrative. 

Become a personal trainer: If you are physically fit, motivating, have a decent knowledge of health and fitness, and enjoy the camaraderie of the gym then working as a PT could be the perfect option. With a little studying up on diet and exercise, you can quickly set yourself up as a personal trainer and begin the rewarding work of helping others change their lives for the better.  

Consider the military

Luckily for many people seeking an institution to learn new skills and rehabilitate, a career in the military is still available for many ex-offenders. This is not for everyone or every type of criminal past, but the military is often the ideal way for ex-offenders to change opinions on them and start making a positive impact on the world. The first step is to speak to your local recruiters, make a good impression and see what options they have available for you. 

To conclude

Whilst it is true that many employers avoid ex-offenders, this does not mean you are doomed to work in the worst jobs or fall back into crime to start earning a reasonable income. As you can see, there are numerous career options available for ex-offenders, many of which come with great benefits, salaries, and chances to progress. With the right mindset, you have a good chance to succeed.


Vicky Blom

As a professional recruiter, I have over 10 years of experience helping candidates find work with businesses that match their skills, personalities and goals. Here on Resume Supply, I share some of the key things I have learned over my career to help job seekers with resumes, applications and interviews.