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Questions around past legal trouble has come up multiple times recently, so it’s worth addressing. A reader writes, “I’m a job seeker with a felony record, and a college degree. I can’t expunge the record, and I’m not sure what to do. Where should I begin?”

First, I’m sorry to hear that this is a common issue being faced in the work world. It can be difficult both from the employee and employer perspective. One common scenario is someone who made a mistake at a young age who has learned from the experience, has grown up, and has moved on. Unfortunately, their past legal record has not.

In the competitive job market we’re in, even if those past issues should be in the past, they may still impact your ability to land gainful employment. People hire people, and people have biases. Given this challenging reality, here are a few tips if you find yourself in this situation.

First, check to be sure there’s no possible way to clear up your record. Then, begin to work on your job search strategy.  Much like someone just starting their career, you will need to prove yourself to a future employer. And, one very good way to do that is through relationship building.

Start out with a list of potential employers. Consider targeting employers that are relatively small, so you may be able to connect with the owner, executives, or hiring managers more easily. Look for opportunities to network within these companies, and within your target industries. You want to get to know decision makers.

Consider volunteering your time in the community. Work on projects that demonstrate leadership, and personal growth. Include these accomplishments on your resume. They will help to build a positive brand, and show the person you are now.

The overall goal is this: Rather than be another number who applies online, you want to be someone the company already knows and trusts. If they know you, when they have a job available, they may even call you before the job is posted. You want to be someone they know can get the job done.

And, when asked about your past, be honest, but brief. Share as much information as the company needs, and if they ask more questions, answer them honestly. Then, explain how you have learned, grown, and moved on. The most important thing is that your future employer trusts you, and by being open and honest, you are more likely to build that trust.

This situation is a difficult one, but it’s not impossible. Remember that every job seeker has something in their past that worries them about getting a new job. It may be their age, their lack of a college degree, or something else. Rarely does anyone have a perfect background. I realize that this is more difficult than the other examples, but relationship building with decision makers can make it much easier. It make take more time and more effort, but it’s worth it in the end.

Angela Copeland is CEO and founder of Copeland Coaching and can be reached at or on Twitter at @CopelandCoach.

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