Fair Chance Hiring: A Guide for Mission-Driven Organizations


As many as 1 in 3 Americans have a criminal record, ranging from minor offenses to extensive conviction histories. These people often find it difficult to secure work and volunteer opportunities, which can lead to a cycle of recidivism. When someone has a conviction history, their applications are met with greater scrutiny and bias. Lacking opportunities, they can be pushed to commit or recommit offenses out of necessity or stress.

As a hiring manager, HR leader, or nonprofit professional, this is where you can make a difference. In this guide, you’ll learn how to adopt fair chance hiring practices and create safer, more equitable communities.

Source: Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, “Enforcement Guidance on the Consideration of Arrest and Conviction Records in Employment Decisions under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act

chapter 1

What is fair chance hiring?

Fair chance hiring is built on the idea that everyone, regardless of their background, has the right to be fairly considered for a job. In recent years, it has been implemented into federal, state, and local law to help Americans with criminal records receive equal access to employment opportunities.

Perhaps most notably, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, mandates that employers take a person’s criminal history into account only after the candidate has been interviewed and is considered qualified for the role.

This mandate extends to nonprofits, churches, and other charitable organizations as well. As you search for prospective volunteers and staff, it’s important to ensure your hiring practices are fair. Although the mission-driven sector has significant work ahead to bring about real change, your organization is in a unique position to upend unfair systems and give people with criminal records a second chance.

chapter 2

Why is fair chance hiring important?

Increased internal diversity

Fair-chance hiring creates stronger, more diverse organizations. When you recruit volunteers and staff from various backgrounds, you introduce your organization to new perspectives and experiences that empower your mission.

Diverse workforces generally have higher morale and performance. In fact, research has shown that diversifying your team can boost productivity by 35%. That’s because employees and volunteers who are hired based on the quality of their skills, rather than their background, have talent to bring to the table.

Improved retention rates

Increased retention and reduced employee turnover are seen in workplaces that prioritize fair chance hiring. After being incarcerated or receiving a criminal record, people often prioritize consistency and stability in life. As a result, fair-chance hires are less likely to leave their current jobs, meaning you could have a reliable group of supporters committed to seeing your cause flourish.

Greater impact on the community

Fair chance hiring gives your mission-driven organization a chance to give back. Incarcerated individuals often experience high rates of poverty and recidivism immediately following their release. Providing employment and volunteer opportunities to individuals during this time helps them break out of the incarceration cycle and lead better lives.

chapter 3

5 steps to implement fair chance hiring

1. Create a fair chance hiring taskforce

If you want your fair chance hiring program to thrive, create a taskforce to intentionally seek out diverse talent pools. This process should ideally be led by paid staff members to ensure that it’s a consistent priority and won’t fall by the wayside. In organizations with the capacity, the team could be composed of dedicated hiring managers and program directors. However, for smaller organizations, any staff member who handles programming and outreach could step into the role and take on a new standardized responsibility.

Have your leadership team’s first assignments be:

  • Setting clear goals for fair chance hiring. Set clear, measurable goals, such as increasing retention among fair chance hires by 15%. Then, regularly check in on the progress of your initiatives to ensure your organization is meeting its objectives.
  • Reviewing compliance standards. Review federal, state, and local law to determine if your organization meets the legal
    requirements for fair chance hiring. If not, develop an action plan for amending your current practices and adopting more equitable hiring policies.
  • Creating a diversity and inclusion handbook. Start with an honest internal dialogue about the current state of your organization and brainstorm ways to promote diversity. Then, create a written policy that articulates your commitment to maintaining an impartial hiring process and an inclusive work environment.
  • Training other team members in fair chance hiring practices. Lead fair chance hiring training sessions and provide educational materials about diversity and inclusion to your other staff members. This will encourage your entire organization to break down their preconceived biases and adopt behaviors that reflect consideration for others.

Making fair chance hiring a pillar of your organization’s mission and values allows you to offer opportunities for financial stability, career advancement, and a sense of purpose to all people, regardless of their background.

2. Reach a wider range of candidates

Recruiting from the same homogenous group of people can cause your mission-driven organization to miss out on valuable talent. For instance, if a nonprofit only recruits volunteers from an affluent neighborhood where residents have similar life experiences, a qualified applicant from a less affluent background might not feel comfortable signing up to lend their skills.

A major part of fair chance hiring is making sure your organization reflects the diversity found within your community. To reach a larger, more diverse group of candidates, you should:

  • Partner with a Community Based Organization (CBO). Chances are there are CBOs in your area that focus on workforce development for re-entry and fair chance talent. Partner with their team to access top talent with conviction histories without having to do a manual search yourself.
  • Recruit people who rely on your services. Your beneficiaries understand the importance of your work better than anyone. If you serve a community fighting food insecurity, invite them to volunteer at your next canned food drive. Their passion for your cause will help boost morale and productivity.
  • Promote skills-based opportunities. Offer skills-based opportunities such as clerical and administrative tasks so that accepted applicants can gain valuable working experience that they may have missed out on while incarcerated.

By expanding your recruitment strategies, you can have more skills and experiences to draw upon to better your mission.

3. Remove bias from role descriptions

As you begin recruiting for open roles at your organization, put yourself in a skills-based mindset to find talent that has transferable qualifications from non-traditional backgrounds. Use these strategies to create role descriptions that inspire new and diverse support:

  • Avoid “preferred qualifications” such as level of education or years of experience, as these tend to be biased and can cause people who might otherwise make excellent applicants feel excluded.
  • Focus your job description on the hard skills that a candidate needs to excel in the role.
  • Stick with inclusive language such as “entry-level position” or “we’ll teach you,” so candidates with gaps in their employment history feel confident applying.
  • Remain transparent about any certifications, training, or background checks that are required to fill the role.
  • Add an equal employment opportunity statement to your role descriptions, so talent with conviction histories know you are a fair chance employer.
  • Register your business on Glassdoor and LinkedIn as a fair chance employer.

Once you know what you’re looking for, your leadership team will need to assess applications and conduct interviews with qualified candidates. Applications that come from people with conviction histories are met with greater bias. To remain impartial, throw away the “golden resume” and consider candidates who have a willingness to learn new skills and a motivation to push your team forward.

4. Complete individualized background checks

Background checks are generally used to identify individuals who aren’t the right fit or may be harmful to an organization. However, in an effort to promote fair chance hiring, you should invest in a background check solution that reveals the full context surrounding an applicant’s conviction story.

If a charge comes through that you want to evaluate in more detail, conduct an individualized assessment that takes the following considerations into account:

  • The nature of the charge, how much time has passed since the charge, and how it might affect their ability to perform in the role.
  • Evidence of rehabilitation in the form of completed courses, counseling, or personal references.
  • Context around the circumstances leading up to the conviction.
  • Changes in legislation relevant to the charge.

Conducting this research provides applicants who have paid their debts to society with the opportunity to join your mission-driven organization and gain valuable working or volunteering experience. Plus, it unlocks a larger pool of candidates who would have otherwise been excluded from the hiring process through a traditional background check.

For more information on implementing effective and fair background checks, download our free beginner’s guide.

5. Focus on retaining fair chance hires

The work to create a more inclusive, mission-driven organization doesn’t stop after recruitment. Once you’ve hired fair chance talent, focus on training and helping them succeed in their new role. In most cases, individuals who have been incarcerated have limited access to technology and job training, and as a result, they may need more support as they become familiar with your organization.

Find a balance between treating them as you would any other new employee, while also providing them with a safe space to ask for additional support. Consider creating a mentorship program in which fair chance hires are paired with a more seasoned team member to help ease them through the transition. But remember to keep their conviction histories confidential, unless they feel comfortable openly discussing them. Doing so will help you retain fair chance hires who have the potential to positively influence your organization.

chapter 4

Fair chance hiring checklist

To ensure your mission-driven organization remains compliant and on track to achieving your fair chance hiring goals, use this checklist:

  • Eliminate policies that disqualify candidates with certain criminal convictions.
  • Train hiring managers and HR officials about Title VII.
  • Avoid questions about criminal records on the job application. If you choose to ask later in the process, only consider crimes that are relevant to the job and could impact job performance or pose a risk to the organization.
  • Develop individualized screening procedures for candidates with criminal convictions.
  • Tell the candidate that their application has been flagged due to a criminal conviction and give them the opportunity to respond.
  • Keep criminal convictions confidential.

Depending on the state and city of your organization, you may need to follow additional fair chance hiring regulations. For example, those in New York City can’t ask about criminal records or run a background check until a conditional job offer has been made, and they must allow the candidate to respond to the finding. Check your state and local Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) requirements before beginning the fair chance hiring process.

Wrapping up

Creating a more equitable, mission-driven organization takes time. Set clear goals for fair chance hiring, and frequently check in on your progress. If your objectives aren’t being met, work with your entire team to determine another course of action for enacting real, measurable change.

Some next steps

Here are a few actionable next steps that your mission-driven organization can take to begin the fair chance hiring process:

  • Host fair chance hiring training sessions.
  • Create inclusive job descriptions.
  • Conduct impartial interviews with candidates.
  • Run compliant background checks.

As you embrace fair chance hiring, consider how else you might break down the barriers that exist within your community. Doing so will promote a more inclusive society and drive more meaningful support to your cause.

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About Checkr

Checkr’s mission is to build a fairer future by improving understanding of the past. Our platform makes it easy for thousands of customers to hire millions of people every year at the speed of the gig economy. Using Checkr’s advanced background check technology, companies of all sizes can better understand the dynamics of the changing workforce, bring transparency and fairness to their hiring, and ultimately build a better future for workers.