Why Fair Chance Hiring Could Give You a Leg Up in the Post-Pandemic Talent Market

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Human resource professionals and recruiters are having a tough time navigating the post-pandemic job market and the Great Resignation. Despite a record-high 10.9 million job openings in the US, 8.4 million Americans are out of work. Why are HR leaders having such a hard time finding and hiring talent?

Part of the problem is the stringent and outdated “ideal candidate” checklists HR professionals often create. Employers severely limit their candidate pools by excluding otherwise qualified workers — especially when they decide to pass on candidates with criminal records. Roughly one-third of working-age Americans have some type of criminal record, many of which are for minor infractions that took place years or decades ago, yet these workers are often shut out of the hiring processes.

Reasons for excluding people with conviction histories vary. Some HR professionals worry these employees would reoffend while working for the company. Others don’t want to make employees uncomfortable by asking them to work alongside someone with a conviction history. However, these excuses aren’t as valid as they seem. A report from SHRM found the majority of Americans (76 percent) would work for an employer known to hire people with criminal records, and 56 percent would have no problem working closely with colleagues who have spent more than five years in prison. It’s clear that US workers are ready to give their colleagues a second chance, and it’s time for employers to get on board.

Fair chance hiring — hiring people with conviction histories — is not necessarily a new concept, but it has taken on new importance in the current hiring landscape. Not only can fair chance hiring help employers create more diverse, equitable workplaces, but it can also give companies access to high-quality workers at a time when talented candidates are in short supply. Research shows that workers with criminal records tend to have longer tenures and are less likely to quit their jobs than peers without criminal records.

The business value of fair chance hiring is clear. Here are four steps HR professionals can take to create effective fair chance hiring programs.

1. Develop an Intentional Hiring Plan and Get Executive Buy-In

Fair chance hiring isn’t just a new approach for HR; it requires a complete mindset shift across the organization. To create a successful fair chance hiring strategy, HR leaders must hold open conversations with the executive team about the overarching goals and opportunities of such a program. It is important to emphasize the return on investment (ROI), both financially and operationally, to truly earn buy-in from the leadership team.

However, the buy-in process doesn’t stop at the C-suite. Once leadership approves a fair chance strategy, it’s time to involve stakeholders from across the company’s core functions. This includes HR and recruiting, of course, but also legal and operations teams. These departmental leads should work together to create a clear, comprehensive, and compliant system for effectively hiring and onboarding fair chance talent.

2. Proactively Reach Fair Chance Talent Through Local Partners

Beyond providing employers with an opportunity to improve workforce diversity, fair chance hiring also grants them a chance to connect with their communities. Companies can partner with local organizations that focus on workforce development and reentry for fair chance talent.

Partnering with these community-based organizations allows employers to strategically tap into local talent networks without conducting manual searches on their own. These organizations can provide a wealth of insight and connections into local talent populations, cutting the time it takes to identify and hire qualified candidates.

3. Adjust Interviews to Focus on Skills

HR teams must ensure they have protocols in place to fairly evaluate candidates during the interview process. Fair chance talent may not have the “right” experience in the traditional sense (i.e., a list of previous roles that show demonstrable skills and expertise in a particular field). They could also have gaps in their job histories, and they may not have traditional educational backgrounds. This is why HR teams must focus on candidates’ skills instead of employment history.

To best evaluate these workers, HR teams must adopt skills-based assessment and interview approaches. Rather than ask about what candidates have learned in previous jobs, interviewers should focus on transferable skills and get a sense of the candidates’ willingness to grow and learn.

4. Fairly but Critically Assess Criminal Charges

In addition to adjusting interview styles, employers must also address how they conduct background checks, particularly when assessing a candidate’s prior charges. While some background-checking providers will include context for conviction histories, it’s also important that HR teams manually review and evaluate these charges through individualized assessments.

To truly understand each candidate’s unique situation, HR teams can use the nature/time/nature approach, which considers:

• The nature of the candidate’s conviction history
• The length of time since the conviction
• The nature of the job the candidate is applying for

Not every conviction is equal, and certain charges are more relevant to certain roles than others. HR teams must take a personalized approach to evaluate fair chance talent.

Fair chance hiring isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. It requires adopting new recruitment protocols, setting broader qualification standards, and getting to know each candidate’s history. It requires consistent focus from HR and the executive team and complete buy-in from the organization.

While many companies continue to struggle with hiring and improving DEI efforts, organizations that practice fair chance hiring are one step ahead of the game. They are positioned to outpace, out-innovate, and outgrow competitors who still exclude fair chance talent.

Arthur Yamamoto is senior vice president of people and talent at Checkr

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By Arthur Yamamoto