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How to Write a Resume With a Felony

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Editors Note:  The following blog post is a summarized excerpt from our free guide.  If you’re in the midst of a job search with a felony on your record or know someone who is, we highly recommend that you search here for jobs. The guide is also available for download right now and has 50 pages of detailed information to help you with your job search.


How to Write a Resume

Ahhh yes, the resume.  An essential requirement if you are trying to get a new job at an employer, but also one of the most difficult things that you’ll have to deal with if you’re a felon because of your situation.

Conventional wisdom for resumes is to list all of your employers chronologically, and this would be fine, but obviously, you have a large gap in your resume due to the time that you spent in prison.

But that’s okay, there’s still a way to present this information appropriately.

The following blog post will cover:

  • Understanding the goal of a resume
  • The type of resume that someone with a felony should create
  • 5 Pieces of advice while writing your resume with a felony

Understanding the goal of a resume

Realize that your resume has one goal and that is to get you in for an interview.

It isn’t a place to confess your checkered past or to admit your wrongdoings, the goal is to get you in front of a person at the company so that you can have that conversation there if needed.  With that being said, we aren’t saying you should lie on your resume, but you need to realize that you don’t need to say everything upfront.  Getting a job with a felony (especially a drug conviction) is hard enough, don’t make it more difficult by making this mistake.

Oftentimes this is a struggle for ex-felons because once they leave prison they want to “turn over a new leaf” and be Honest about Everything in the past. While we understand the thought process there and appreciate your willingness to admit the past and move forward, unfortunately, there are to be many employers that will disqualify you from employment based on this fact alone.

The type of resume that someone with a felony should create

First things first, when creating a resume for yourself or having someone else create a resume for you, it makes the most sense to make a functional resume.

This type of resume emphasizes skills, education, and professional contributions. It focuses less on the actual employers that you’ve worked for and the dates associated with your employment.  This is perfect for someone that has a large gap in employment history.

These resumes are typically for job seekers that are changing industries, just getting out of college, or leaving a single job, but it is the perfect resume type for someone who has been incarcerated as well.

The key to these resumes is that the top portion of the resume is filled with skills and qualifications and doesn’t focus on specifically on the employers or employment dates of the candidate.

There are many different functional resume examples that you can find by doing a simple Google search, but here is a great example that I was able to get from Monster.com.

567 Rosewood Lane
Colorado Springs, CO 81207
(960) 555-5555
[email protected]

Executive assistant position allowing for parlay of demonstrated organization, customer service, communication and project management skills proven by 13 years of successful, profitable self-employment.

Motivated, personable business professional with multiple college degrees and a successful 13-year track record of profitable small business ownership. Talent for quickly mastering technology — recently completed Microsoft Office Suite certificate course. Diplomatic and tactful with professionals and nonprofessionals at all levels. Accustomed to handling sensitive, confidential records. Demonstrated history of producing accurate, timely reports meeting stringent HMO and insurance guidelines.


Project Management

Report Preparation

Written Correspondence

General Office Skills

Computer Savvy

Customer Service


Marketing & Sales

Insurance Billing


Front-Office Operations

Professional Presentations


Communication: Reports/Presentations/Technology

Prepare complex reports for managed-care organizations and insurance companies, ensuring full compliance with agency requirements and tight deadlines.

  • Author professional correspondence to customers and vendors.
  • Design and deliver series of classes for local businesses and associations, providing ergonomic counseling and educating employees on proper lifting techniques to avoid injury.
  • Conduct small-group sessions on meditation/relaxation techniques.
  • Communicate medical concepts to patients using layman’s terms to facilitate understanding.
  • Rapidly learn and master varied computer programs; recently completed Microsoft Office Suite certificate course.

Customer Service/Marketing/Problem Solving

  • Oversee front-office operations and provide impeccable customer service:
    –Built a clientele supported by 60% referral business.
  • Develop and implement strategic marketing plan for business:
    — Launched a thriving private practice, building revenue from $0 to over $72K in first three years with minimal overhead.
    — Create special promotions, write/design print and outdoor advertising and coordinate all media buying.
  • Won over a highly skeptical medical community as the first chiropractor to target MDs for informative in-service demonstrations, classes and booths:
    — Presentations resulted in standing-room-only crowds of 50+.
    — Four MDs subsequently became patients and referred family members as well.
    — Increased client base by one-third resulting from MD referrals.

Detail Mastery & Organization

  • Manage all aspects of day-to-day operations as multisite owner and practitioner of Attwater Chiropractic:
    — Facility rental/maintenance.
    — Patient scheduling for busy office averaging 52 appointments weekly.
    — Finances: accounts payable/receivable, invoicing, insurance billing, budgeting.
    — Supervision of a total of eight medical receptionist interns.
    — Compliance with all healthcare facility, HMO and insurance requirements.


ATTWATER CHIROPRACTIC — Colorado Springs, CO; Pueblo, CO; Cheyenne, WY
Owner/Operator, 1997 to Present

Waitress, 1994 to 1997


Associate’s Degree in Pre-chiropractic, 1993

  • GPA: 4.0/4.0

High School Diploma, 1989


Microsoft Word

Microsoft Excel

Microsoft PowerPoint


Microsoft Access

Medisoft (Insurance Billing Software)

Available for relocation

567 Rosewood Lane | Colorado Springs, CO 81207 | (960) 555-5555| [email protected]

As you can see in this resume example, the employment history is noted after the objective, profiles, skills, and a summary of an individual’s professional experience. When a company receives this type of resume, the focal points are going to be what skills you have and the experience you’ve had at previous employers which have contributed to those skills.

The places in which you’ve worked are secondary, the primary focus is about your positions and the skills that you have to be successful in them.

By doing this, it’s very easy for a employer to potentially overlook the gaps in your resume as long as you have a brief explanation of what went on during that time. They’ll look at your overall experience as opposed to your chronological work history and this is something that will work in your favor.

Here are some additional functional resume examples for you to check out:

Susan Ireland’s Resume Site



Obviously there are many more available, and I suggest that you do a search on Google to find them if you’re interested.

5 pieces of advice while writing your resume with a felony

Although we’ve already discussed how to write your resume if you have a felony above, we think it makes sense to specifically break down some key pieces of advice to follow while you do this.

1)  Whenever possible, use percentages and statistics to showcase accomplishments

You need to understand that at all companies, numbers rule.

Personal thoughts and ideas are almost always ignored if data shows otherwise.  This is because most companies (and the managerial staff) look at data to determine what the best course of action is in most situations.  Use this to your advantage.

From your employment in the past, try to think of data that you can present which showcases a positive work accomplishment.

Stay away from using actual numbers, and instead focus on percentage increases and decreases as it is more representative of what you actually did.  If you don’t have exact numbers, make an educated guess as closely as you can to what your percentage increases and decreases were at your position.

For example, if you worked as a sales representative previously you may want to mention that you are able to increase sales year-over-year by 40% for your region.  Or, if you worked at a warehouse you may want to highlight how you were able to increase the fulfillment of products by 10% through suggestions to increase workflow efficiencies.

You need to think high-level here and not about the day-to-day operations. What is it that you did to increase efficiencies, increase sales, or somehow make the company more money? If you can highlight that, potential employers will appreciate it.

2)  Don’t mention your criminal background

There is going to be nothing gained by mentioning in your resume that you served time in prison.  In fact, the only thing that’s going to happen is that many potential employers will see that one line and toss your resume to the side for the next candidate.  Instead, make the resume focus on your job skills, education, associations, and accomplishments.

3) If you worked in prison, it’s okay to highlight that as an employer (Sometimes)

While in prison, it’s likely that you were assigned some type of job that you worked on a regular basis.  If this is the case, in some areas of the country it’s okay to include that position on your resume just like you would at any other employer.

The recommended way to do this is:

State of New Mexico, Commissary clerk.

Truth is, from a potential employer’s perspective, they may just assume that you worked for the state, not that you were serving time in prison.  While this is bending the truth a little bit, this will allow you to sit in front of someone and look them in the eyes while telling your story.

Remember, that’s the point of your resume. All you want to do is get a chance to speak with someone over the phone or sit with someone to explain your situation and how you’ve changed since you’ve been released.

Be aware that this can also backfire if they do a reference check on you and look at that employer specifically.

We hate to be vague on this recommendation, but it’s really up to your discretion on what you want to do here.  It’s most likely that they’ll know of your background based on a background check they’ll run, so being upfront about the position and what you did is usually our recommendation.

4) If you didn’t work while in prison, the gap in your resume will be asked about

Know this ahead of time and have an answer prepared.  This is a good place to be honest about your time served and discuss what happened.

Here’s a good way to approach this question;

“I’m glad you asked about that as I want to be very clear about my past.  From X to X I had to serve time in STATE FEDERAL PENETENTIARY.  I served this time because when I was younger I made some bad decisions and hung out with the wrong crowd, and I ended up getting in trouble for it. 

After serving time for a non-violent and non-drug-related offense (This is a good time to mention that your crime wasn’t drug or violence related if it applies), I’ve changed drastically and have no intention of going down that path again.  I’ve been out of prison for (LENGTH OF TIME) and am trying really hard to get my life on track and bring my skills and great work ethic to an employer to make their business better.

When I’ve spoken with others, this particular mistake has had them question my integrity but I assure you that I’m a great employee and I just want a chance to show you and this company the excellent work that I’m capable of doing.  In addition, I just want to mention that if you are willing to give me a chance and let me prove that I can really help your company, there is a Work Opportunity Tax Credit available to the company for giving me a shot.”  The last line only applies if you meet this criteria

5)  If you can’t do it, hire someone who can

If you don’t feel comfortable writing your resume, you may want to hire a specialist to write it for you.

That’s it, folks.  There are a lot of different ways to write your resume if you have a felony, but there are our tips for you.  Make sure that you always understand the goal of your resume, the type of resume you should create, and the five pieces of advice and you’ll have a better resume in no time.

Once you’re finished with your resume, it’s a good idea to create a complimentary cover letter.  While most treat this as an afterthought, it’s a little more involved in that.

Question: Have you tried to write your own resume?  What problems have you had?

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