Welcome to Heads Up Strategies: Part II

Post by Susan Mwarabu

Julie and James have been running the Heads Up Strategies course at Amicus for the last few months. Heads Up Strategies provides a curriculum designed to prepare clients for the job market.  The course prepares clients with skills such as resume writing, interviewing, how-to-guides on preparing for background questions and job retention skills.  In Part II  of Heads Up Strategies, Julie and James discuss tips to keep in mind for that most anticipated aspect of  job preparation, the Interview.  They then focus in on the point in the interview when an ex-offender deals with questions about  his or her past felony.

The Interview

Though it generally only lasts about an hour, the actual interview is a step for which one must meticulously prepare. Being blasé about your preparation can lead to the loss of an opportunity you may have spent months working toward. When asked what a client could do on that special day of the interview and during the interview, Julie and James instantly furnished the following tips for prior, during and post interview preparation:

  1. “Groom not Doom”– Don’t doom the long coveted interview by donning a disheveled appearance.  Julie and James say to dress up for the interview. In other words, dress to impress the people you will be meeting. Look in the mirror before leaving for your interview and make sure you appear clean, neat and appropriately dressed for the job you are targeting.
  2. “Shake not break”- Handshakes indicate the beginning or ending of a significant event. Beware of handshakes that can ruin an interview such as the “bone crusher” and the “dead fish”—the names are self explanatory.   Remember to acknowledge the potential employer by name as well. It is a sure fire way to make a memorable first impression. James says, “the handshake expresses the optimum level of professionalism.”
  3. “Prepare not Repair”- Prepare for the interview by finding out everything you can about the job for which you will be interviewing.  Julie and James recommend visiting the company website or getting inside information from others regarding what their experiences have been with the company. During the interview, ask questions about the job or company. It shows you care about what they do.

Julie and James reiterated the importance of taking the preparation for the actual interview seriously and keeping in mind that what people see is what you put out.  A well-prepared candidate stands to make a lasting impression.

The Felony Question

most difficult part of an interview for an ex-offender by preparing clients for the criminal background questions they will likely have to answer. Julie and James stated that this is a key focus of the job preparation course and is addressed extensively in the sessions.  They know that this one question is on every ex-offender’s mind from the moment they begin the job hunt up until the moment they are hired.  Some of the tips Julie and James shared regarding dealing with questions about criminal background included:

    1. DO know your entire criminal background – Pull your own criminal history and see what your potential employer will see when they perform a background check.  Even if you think you know everything on your record, it’s best to check before you find yourself answering questions about a long-forgotten incident. Julie and James teach clients how to obtain their own criminal background during the Heads Up Strategies sessions.
      Do highlight your strengths- When the question of your criminal background comes up, addressing it and then reminding your interviewers that, despite your background, you do have the skills necessary to perform the job is important. Make a point of going back to highlight the skills you possess that will be of value to your potential employer.
      Do talk about your criminal record. Without getting into the actual details of the events, acknowledge the fact that you do have a criminal background.

Julie and James shared a mnemonic they use during the Heads Up Strategies course that serves as a guide to answering the criminal history question:

Acknowledge:  Own the crime you did and the fact that you spent time in prison. Again details of the crime are unnecessary but it is important to acknowledge that the crime happened and that you were incarcerated.

Remorse:  Indicate the remorse you feel because of the crime and the feelings you have about it, such as embarrassment and regret.

Move on: Highlight the ways in which you continue to work to move past the crime and talk up the strengths and skills that you are eager to put to use in order to be a productive member of the community.

It is impossible to fully contain the breadth of information that is covered in the Heads Up Strategies programs in a few blog entries. These are just snap shots of what is covered in the sessions. Julie and James are constantly reevaluating and find the best possible material for their clients. The ultimate goal is to bring each of the clients in Heads Up Strategies to their full potential as they enter the job market.