Have you ever had an extended leave from the workforce—maybe to raise children, care for a loved one or even care for yourself? A gap in your resume can make it challenging to get your foot in the door with a new employer. It can be even more challenging when that gap is due to time in prison.

Returning citizens, or those who have a criminal history, make up one third of all Americans. Although studies have shown returning citizens are no more dangerous in the workplace than candidates without criminal histories, they face greater obstacles to getting a job.

If you or someone you know is returning to the workforce with a criminal history, don’t give up hope. According to Talent 2025 there are over 500 West Michigan employers who hire returning citizens. Here are some tips to help you with your job search.

Build a network: Many people find work through recommendations from friends and family. If you know someone who works somewhere you want to apply, ask them to put in a good word for you. Having an insider recommendation may help get your application noticed and a chance for an interview.

Be transparent: Even if the job application doesn’t have a check box for prior convictions, disclose your history up front. It’s better for that information to come directly from you instead of a background check.

Keep things simple and positive: When asked about your conviction, answer the questions honestly and stay positive. Steer the conversation toward your skills and abilities. Let them know how you will benefit the company.

Make a good impression: When you meet with a potential employer, give a firm handshake and maintain eye contact (without staring). Practice good listening skills, such as nodding to show you are interested in what they are saying.

Practice makes perfect: Do a mock interview with a friend, a roommate or someone else who will give you honest feedback. Practice how you will answer questions, especially the hard ones.

Want more assistance? Michigan Works! offers free workshops that can help you prepare for and ace an interview. Find and register for workshops here.