Turning weakness into a strength

October 9, 2006


Q: I have a felony conviction from 1989 in California. Six years ago, I moved to the Midwest, and ever since I've had difficulty returning to my career in health care (clinical laboratory). It seems the system would rather keep me on welfare than let me honestly pay my bills. Open to suggestions. - Paul

A: Dale: I've been keeping score, Paul, and there's good news. As part of volunteer career counseling, I've gotten to observe many ex-cons go about job searches. Some of them lie about their felonies; others don't.

Turns out that the odds of getting a job are about the same either way. Meanwhile, the odds of getting found out, and fired, are of course much higher for the stonewallers. You see the good news there - your past might not be as problematic as you're assuming.

Kate: Still, there are types of organizations where discrimination is going to be nearly total, and that might be where you've devoted your efforts. I suggest going for a job with the government, nonprofits or small companies. Such organizations will be more open than, say, major corporations.

Most county and state career centers have programs for people they categorize as "special populations," or some similar term. These are organizations that are committed to hiring those thwarted by the typical job market. I just looked at the Internet listing for your county's career center and found several groups that might have labs that need someone like you.

Dale: Not to add to your woes, Paul, but you also have to face being seen as out of touch with the field, just like those who've taken time off for their families or health. You'll want to find ways to refresh your knowledge - with classes, professional associations and volunteer work. Meanwhile, consider ways to turn your past to your favor. Ask yourself where your personal experience intersects with clinical careers. The obvious place is prisons, but also seek out organizations that use prisoners in research, or those that deal with welfare clients. In other words, there are places where your background is an asset and where your unique network of contacts can be turned to your advantage. Every strength is also a weakness, and vice versa.

Kate: That's very Zen, and very true.


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