Ex-convicts – is a CV a useful alternative?

I have written approximately 4,000 CVs in my career. Only 5 of these are for released criminals (I had to dig deep in my files to find them). So it got me thinking: do ex-convicts not want to work? not need someone like me? have CVs written by the parole and associated agencies? It all made me want to look into it.
I reckon I can be sure that few would argue if I were to posit that there is a preponderance of employers who are wary – at best – of hiring ex-offenders. This is entirely reasonable – trust is what it comes down to. And it would appear this is understandable, based on recidivism rates.

According to the Ministry of Justice, “in October 2013 to September 2014 around 496,000 adult and juvenile offenders were cautioned, received a non-custodial conviction at court or (were) released from custody. Around 128,000 of these offenders committed a proven re-offence within a year. Adult offenders with 11 or more previous offences have a higher reoffending rate than those with no previous offences – 45.6% compared to 7.6%”.

If you owned a cash-driven business, would you recruit an ex-offender? Based on the statistics, probably not.
Which led me to 2 thoughts: (a) what type of businesses which are not cash-driven (or at least the cash is location-remote) may more readily hire criminals? (b) what characteristics might prisoners have learned when locked up or on parole that they can transfer to the world of work?

According to the document “Finding work after prison” by the forum “Business in the Community” set up by HRH The Prince of Wales, research, based on 14 demographic and ethics-based criteria, was carried out in order to establish whether prisoners would or could return to work. This showed that ¾ of respondents had worked before, and 68% said they had some form of qualifications – these included A levels and practical courses.

Prisoners were also asked if they felt it was important to have a job. Answers ranged from “I believe a job keeps you sane and level” to “Everybody’s got to eat and feed their kids”; and, to prevent them reoffending, “I would like to work because it would keep me motivated and also would keep me out of re-offending all the time and I need one to change my life for once…I need a job” and “I would like to work to support myself and my children – it would keep me off the streets”.

The key for me in all of this is that comments across most sources talk about the use of application forms and not CVs. And many of the convicts researched said that they felt application forms didn’t help them since (sic) “the employer can’t interpret me from a tick box”. This would seem like reason enough for having a well written CV and consultation call with a professional, to explain its value.

To this point my thinking is that an ideal – at least start -might be:

  • Employers remove – their own? – tick box default position, and implement processes to give (ex)-criminals the chance to be assessed on the basis of their skills and abilities
  • Employers encourage and enable those with convictions by publicising their (the employers’) willingness to consider candidates with convictions
  • All convict-support services provide adequate training to enable those with convictions to effectively disclose their status to employers, without immediate prejudice

I believe if those ideas became embedded then organisations wouldn’t necessarily assume most prisoners will be recidivists, and would take a more positive outlook; and prisoners would develop the understanding that a CV would give a more rounded, more complete picture of their history. To that end, support services would then target CV companies to advise and help them to in turn help those convicted to maximise their opportunities. When that happens, my phone starts to ring.

My – and I believe every CV agency’s – planned consultation call should therefore be based on the assumption that the client is engaged, eager, and keen to be counselled. Its steer – I can only speak for myself though I believe it’s solid advice – would be to explain to convicts that the CV will not only “open them up” to recruiters but, in conjunction, move them from a tick box situation to a wider approach; and will

  • never conceal their conviction but will also never directly mention the crime / sentence details for fear of immediate bias
  • be written to help the recruiter view the prison term / non-custodial in a different light – maybe by using government or company statistics on success rates (in itself this would be a significant – and, for the CV writer, interesting – departure) and by highlighting – much more than for a non-convict – the skills and proficiencies developed whilst carrying out their sentence – maybe courses in joinery, mechanics, website development, graphics design, other computer courses, and all others
  • involve both me as the writer, and the convict, in researching companies that hire ex-convicts. The research is easy but may be something the convict is unaware of or uncomfortable doing. As I write this, Oct 2016, a Google.co.uk search for “companies hiring ex-convicts” produces multiple results. The 4th down, Disclose Me UK, gives very concrete advice. This action in itself may persuade convicts that an out-of-the-box CV-based approach can reap dividends

A great example which sums it all up is Timpson the shoe repair (primarily) business says on its site “Timpson really are an equal opportunities employer. We consider anyone for our vacancies as long as they are able to do the job. This includes ex-offenders and other marginalised groups. We recruit exclusively on personality and expect all of colleagues to be happy, confident and chatty individuals”.


  • convicts – press your support workers for an all-inclusive CV, not just career coaching, service
  • CV writers – seek out convict / offender support services and openly engage and offer help. In most walks of life, when was cross-pollination of ideas ever a negative? Correct – never.
Nigel Benson (10 Posts)

Nigel Benson is a professional career sector specialist with over 12 years' experience writing executive level CVs and expertise in recruitment, job interviews and training.

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