7 Suggestions for Hiring Employees with Challenging Backgrounds

This is the final post in a three-part series about the power of business to transform the lives of the poor. Read the first and second posts here. This series is related to “Creating Good Jobs for Our Community— a business forum this THURSDAY, Sept. 10.

When Veronica* stopped working the streets, she never imagined it would be so hard to start working a regular job. For many of the clients at Street’s Hope, a Denver nonprofit that helps women leave the local sex trade, finding a job represented the final stage in a year-long recovery process.

With the help of Street’s Hope’s residential treatment program, Veronica had rebuilt her life from the ground up — achieving sobriety, earning her GED, connecting to a faith community, and even regaining partial custody of her children. But this life-changing process ground to a halt just as she began transitioning out of the program.

Like many of the program’s clients, Veronica brought remnants of her difficult past into her search for a job. She was motivated and willing to work, but her legal record and lack of employment history eliminated her from many employers’ hiring processes. Until she could find work, her dream of living independently would remain a distant reality.

Getting Down to Business

Across the metro area, hundreds of people face challenges similar to Veronica’s. Life hasn’t been easy, but with concerted effort and the help of supportive relationships, they’re ready to start living new lives. Their primary challenges are finding affordable housing and reliable jobs.

At this Thursday’s job creation forum, we’ll explore ways local business owners offer hope through gainful employment. Join us to be inspired, challenged, and to learn practical ways your business can help people rebuild their lives.

However, before you embark on this rewarding process, it’s important to count to the costs — and benefits — of expanding your workforce. In preparation for Thursday’s event, I offer seven suggestions for hiring employees with difficult backgrounds:

(1) Recognize that the model presented in last week’s post reflects a spectrum of experiences and ability levels. People attempting to overcome barriers to employment have experienced hardship at varying acuity levels, and as a result, need varying levels of support. Be prepared to tailor support systems to each individual’s needs.

(2) Know your risk tolerance. It’s inherently risky to hire employees with difficult pasts, but if you are willing to accept the messiness of their lives (and your own), you will be surprised by the talented, loyal employees who emerge. Ask yourself, “How much support are we able to offer?” and “Are we prepared to introduce an additional level of complexity to our work processes?”

(3) Identify the type of employee that best suits your business model. For example, work that takes an employee into customers’ homes is not recommended for someone with a criminal record. On the other hand, it may be the perfect fit for youth from low-income communities hoping to gain work experience.

(4) Anticipate changes in your work routine. Don’t assume a new employee will step seamlessly into your organizational patterns. Allow extra time for the coaching, conversations, and conflict that will inevitably arise as you learn to work together.

(5) When hiring, look for the factors necessary for success. Does the candidate demonstrate a desire for life change, a willingness to work hard, and a willingness to show up on time? These attributes only scratch the surface of what an employee will need to thrive, but they reflect a potential employee’s level of commitment.

(6) Don’t go it alone! It “takes a village” to keep a job, so take advantage of social services or nonprofit agencies that can support employees entering the workforce. Partnering with a local organization can provide the support employees need to thrive when the workday is done.

(7) Prepare to be changed. Business owners who have taken the risk to hire employees with professional challenges comment that the experience has enriched the lives of everyone involved.

Might God be asking you to offer hope through gainful employment? Join us Thursday to learn how you can change a life through the power of a good job!

*Veronica represents the typical experience of Street’s Hope’s clients.

Featured photo by USAG-Humphreys on Flickr, used under a Creative Commons Attribution license.