People with a Criminal Background

Ex-offenders can face unfair stigma for years. However, ultimately a criminal record is a small part of your qualification for a job. There are many other areas that you can master to not just survive — but thrive!


Under the “Skills Identification/Development” and “Get a Job” pages on this site, we have even more resources — but these are targeted specifically at people with a criminal background.

Take Control

It can be easy to feel like a victim of the system. But let’s remember that some of the most important aspects of an employee are within your control.

  • Need some work skills or experience? Our Get Skills and Get Jobs pages will give you a foundation in that. We can assist you every step of the way.
  • Need a resume and cover letter? Easy. We have training for that at our WorkForce Centers (see our Calender page for the next workshop date).
  • Need interview skills? We also have training for the interview at our WorkForce Centers (see our Calender page for the next workshop date).
  • Need a good impression? You can make yourself looking presentable, clean, and smelling nice.
  • Need to keep a job? You can exercise and get yourself into the physical shape needed to perform and be high energy on the job.

There is a lot that you have control over. It may take a little work, but it won’t be anything you can’t handle.

Please visit your nearest WorkForce Center for personalized career help.

Know the Systems

The Law

Minnesota was one of the first states to “Ban the Box” for government jobs — that is, the box on a job application that asks about your criminal record. In other words, it is illegal for a state employer in Minnesota to ask about a criminal record before the second job interview. Be prepared to talk about it eventually, but know your rights in the initial application and first interview.

Tax Breaks

The WOTC tax credit allows employers to reduce their federal tax liability by up to $9,000 per new hire by hiring from certain categories of traditionally hard-to-place job seekers, such ex-offenders.

Any size for-profit employer may apply, there is no limit to the number of new hires or claims, and temporary, seasonal, part-time, and full-time work qualifies.

For more information call 888-234-5521, e-mail, or visit the WOTC web page.

Federal Bonding

The Minnesota Federal Bonding Service provides insurance guaranteeing honesty or credibility for certain categories of traditionally hard-to-place job seekers, such as ex-offenders.

There are no forms to fill our or sign. The bond is good as soon as the Minnesota Federal Bonding coordinator certifies the bond.

For more information call 800-345-2537 or visit Minnesota’s bonding web page.

Know Your Record

Understand what employers are seeing, and make sure that the public version of your record is accurate.

  • State Record: A basic list of convictions and confinement information can be found for free online through the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA). For a full report, including both public and private information (recommended), you must write the BCA. Cost is $8.00 per request. Visit the FAQ page for more info.
  • For a Federal criminal history report, call the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) at 304-625-3878.

After you know what your criminal record is, you can look into having your record expunged, or sealed. It won’t remove your record, but your report will not longer be public for employers to see. This is not always possible, but it’s worth looking in to.

  • Justice 4 MN is a site that helps you find free or cheap legal help with civil matters.

Alternately, you can pursue a pardon. This is not always possible, but it’s worth looking in to.

  • The Governor of Minnesota offers pardons for state offenses. Call the Board of Pardons at 651-642-0284 to request more information. 
  • The President of the United States grants pardons for federal cases.

Know How to Present

The above steps should put you in a good place for a job hunt. However, even in the best case scenario with an expunged or pardoned criminal record, there could still be a gap in your employment history that you will have to explain. In the worst case scenario, your full criminal record will be known to the employer. This is not insurmountable.

Remember: in Minnesota, the employer will not know about your criminal record until the final interview. By that point, make sure you have made a strong, positive impression on the employer, so that they will not want to turn you down.

How do you do that?

At the end of the day, most people are not bad people. Employers want to do the right thing. They are just sensitive people who get a little jittery. Reassure them.

Because, in the end, employers just want to hire someone who:

  1. Is enjoyable to be around
  2. Can do the work
  3. Is smart

We call those the Three Keys and they can get you into almost any job. If you can prove these three things, you are well on your way to the job — whether you’re an ex-offender or not. We have full training on them in our “Get a Job” workshop, but here are some specific thoughts for ex-offenders.

1) Is enjoyable to be around

  • Charming is disarming. Smile. Sit up straight. Look them in the eye. Listen carefully. Use humor where appropriate. Break the stereotype of the hardened criminal (an unfortunate, but prevalent stereotype).
  • Take responsibility. If or when your criminal record comes up, take responsibility for it. The blame game won’t win you any admiration. Explain that you learned from your mistake. Acknowledge that your situation doesn’t look good but that you would like a chance to make a new life. Sincerity is important.
  • Don’t push. Nobody likes to feel backed into a corner, and employers may already be nervous interviewing an ex-offender. So, don’t pressure them for the job. Don’t come off desperate.
  • Focus on them. In the interview, we of course want to get the job — but remember that it’s not about you. It’s not about what you deserve or what the employer can do for you. It’s about what you can do for the employer. When you talk about yourself, talk about how you can add to the company — not what you need.

2) Can do the work

  • Don’t be a victim. Remember, when you are hired, it becomes a sort of partnership. The employer will need you almost as much as you need him. Your criminal record does not make you a lesser person. Speak confidently about your strengths. Be proud of who you are. Employees want someone who will take pride in their work.

3) Is smart

  • Be articulate. Talk specifically. Describe how you’ve changed. Describe what you’ve learned. Reassure the prospective employer that you fully understand the implications of what happened. Ignoring problems the employer might have won’t make them go away. Bring them out into the open and discuss them calmly, sincerely, and intelligently. Practice your responses with a friend, and get their feedback.
  • Strategize. If your employer seems open but hesitant, mention the tax benefits and suggest a trial period.

It may take lots of hard work, but we at the WorkForce Center are here to help you and to let you know there are lots of resources out there. There is hope!