Second-Chance Networking: How to Build References for Employment

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Man at a job interview | Cornbread Hustle

How do you come up with job references if you have a criminal record?

If you’re looking for a job and you have a criminal background, you have a big task ahead of you: convincing employers to take a chance on you.

You can make this easier by recruiting trustworthy, credible people to vouch on your behalf, and put in a good word for you!

We call this “networking.” Even if you have a spotless past, networking is absolutely essential to finding a job in the 21st Century. Companies are far more likely to hire an applicant they either know already, or who comes with a recommendation from someone the employer trusts.

Here are some easy ways to build a list of references that can impress and reassure any prospective employer.

1. Former Employers and Managers

If you’ve held a previous job, consider asking your former boss if he or she can be a reference.

Of course, you’ll only want to focus on people with whom you had a good working relationship. If you were fired, quit without notice, or otherwise left on bad terms, then you probably shouldn’t ask former managers if they can be on your reference list.

On that note, it’s very important that you always ask somebody for permission before you put them on your reference list. If you apply for a job, the employer may ask for a reference list, and call or email your references to ask about you.

However, if you listed someone as a reference without their permission, they may be caught off guard – and they may not have positive things to say about you to a prospective employer.

What if you’ve never had a job before, or if you don’t know of any former managers who will give you a good reference? You do have other options. Read on to learn more!

2. Talk to Friends and Mentors

A reference list should never include family members. If you identify a reference as a parent, sibling, aunt, uncle, or cousin, employers may not take you seriously. After all, what mother is going to give an employer an honest, unbiased appraisal of her son or daughter?

Instead, start by reaching out to people who have had a positive impact on your life. If you’re serious about changing your life and staying out of trouble, there are doubtless men and women you look up to and to whom you go for advice and counsel.

Hopefully, there is at least one positive person in your life who isn’t a family member. Ask them if you can use them as a reference!

3. Reach Out to a Judge, P.O., or Attorney

If you’re aiming for a job as part of your personal transformation to a better life, you’ll have a lot of people rooting for you to succeed.

Among the best options you can ever have for a reference are people who have personally witnessed your change from a troubled person in a courtroom, to an eager and willing contributor to society.

That can start with any of the judges with whom you interacted in your previous life. Call, write, or email the judge’s office. Let them know you have completed your sentence, and you want to talk with them about what you can do to get started as a returning citizen.

Most good judges will be delighted to hear you are changing your life, and will do anything they can to help. Even if the judge can’t personally offer a reference, he or she may connect you with someone who can.

Other authority figures who may be able to help with references: your parole / probation officer; a warden at the jail or prison where you served time; or the lawyer or public defender who helped with your criminal case. Don’t hesitate to ask each for a reference!

4. Spiritual and Recovery Leaders

Many people turn to faith when they decide to turn their lives around. If this includes you, there are many religious leaders who will be delighted to help you!

These will include any:

  • Chaplain
  • Deacon
  • Pastor
  • Priest
  • Imam
  • Rabbi

You likely encountered a chaplain or minister when you were incarcerated. If you aren’t active in a church, mosque, synagogue, or other house of worship, reach out to your jail or prison contacts. They may be able to help you find a spiritual home, and provide a reference as well!

If you are not religious, there are plenty of non-affiliated resources available to you. A great way to start is through the American Humanist Association, which has chapters nationwide. You can also find a local group on Meetup.

If you are in recovery from drug and / or alcohol addiction, there are a wealth of organizations who will do everything they can to help you, free of charge. Not only will you gain priceless support for overcoming addiction and staying sober, you will meet people from a variety of backgrounds, many of whom will be happy to serve as your sponsor, mentor, and reference.

It’s never too late to get help. Start by calling the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration hotline, 800-662-HELP (4357) or look to the Recovery Resource Council. You can also find local chapters in all 50 states for Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous.

5. Volunteer

While you continue your job search, volunteering is a great way to build experience and find valuable references!

Once you find an organization for which you’d like to volunteer, get to know the group leaders who run volunteer events. Ask them if they’re available to talk with you about your goals and aspirations. Once you’ve established a relationship, they will likely be happy to help you as a reference!

You can find lots of volunteering opportunities at your nearest public library. You can also find more at VolunteerMatch.

6. Apply With a Staffing Agency

You can accelerate your job search and jump straight into the workforce while you continue to build your reference list.

When you apply for a position with a staffing agency like Cornbread Hustle, you will gain access to dozens of jobs in your area. Staffing agencies work to fill open jobs quickly, so you may not immediately need any references.

As a second-chance staffing agency, Cornbread Hustle places people like you in meaningful jobs. We can do this regardless of criminal background or history of substance use. All our jobs are temp-to-hire, meaning you will be eligible to join the employer full-time, with benefits.

Cornbread Hustle job placement services are 100% free to you, and always will be.

Are you ready to take the next step toward success? We can get you started at a new job as early as tomorrow. Seriously! Head to our jobs page to look at opportunities, and apply for any that appeal to you. If you don’t see something that fits, just register as a CBH Applicant, and one of our caring recruiters will contact you. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain! We can’t wait to help you find your dream job. Apply today!