Most recruiters and companies would laugh if you told them that criminals make the best candidates. It sounds ridiculous, but it’s true – and I should know.
I used to be the infamous “Gunman from Molde”, having delivered weapons that went on to be used in Norway’s notorious Orderud triple homicide case. I arrived at the prison gates after years of poor life choices and dangerous, destructive habits. After multiple imprisonments and contemplating suicide, I turned my life around.
I worked as a debt counsellor for the national authority for 15 years and now I use my experience to help others. Through my own experiences, I show employers and leaders how ex-criminals and former drug addicts really do have something to offer. I also support ex-criminals as they try to integrate back into society, teaching them how to excel in interviews, the workplace, and daily life.
Employing an ex-criminal is a big step to take but with the right outlook and understanding, you could be making your best business decision yet. Before you can act, you need to know:
- How to identify which ex-criminals will help your business
- What kind of skills leaders should look for
- How to build a culture that helps people to overcome challenges and create win-win results
Using my extreme experiences and first-hand knowledge, I help ex-criminals to turn their past mistakes into skills for the future. Here are the common attributes of former criminals that could make a real difference to your business:
1. Driven by goals
When slipping up leads to time in prison, failure simply isn’t an option. Criminals decide on their goals and follow the potential rewards until they have completed a task. Even when they leave crime behind, they maintain a clear focus to achieve their objectives. While the penalties for underperforming are less severe in the workplace, the drive for success remains.
Offenders often develop strong processes to achieve their goals. With no money or safety net, their work ethic is all they have. It’s ingrained in their minds that they must work hard and fast to survive. In their world, there are no first or second warnings – only consequences.
When transitioning into a real workplace, ex-criminals can thrive. They find creative solutions, think outside the box, and consistently give it their all.
2. Planning and Adapting
It is a common misconception that criminals don’t know the difference between right and wrong, or that they simply don’t care about the risks.
In fact, they think about risks all the time. An ex-criminal can quickly and clearly explain risks as they have already put their life and freedom on the line. They work two steps ahead of the game, and constantly assess possible outcomes to assess which actions they should take.
There are countless risks in the criminal world. Some activities are extremely dangerous and require careful consideration of the hazards along with meticulous planning. This makes ex-criminals excellent at strategizing and conducting risk assessments. They are experienced at adapting plans to mitigate risk and secure the best possible results.
The coronavirus has forced bosses to adapt to change, but this is nothing new for ex-offenders. Uncertainty reigns supreme in the criminal world, and individuals are often able to adapt quickly and effectively to changing working conditions.
3. Loyalty and Teamwork
Ex-criminals are not used to people believing in them. When they are suddenly trusted with a job, they will often return the favour with extreme gratitude and loyalty.
I remember being given a chance when I never expected it. Despite my past, they put their faith in me and so I was incredibly motivated to succeed. The same is true for many others and beneath the veil of a criminal is often someone who desperately wants to turn their life around. When someone offers them the opportunity to escape their past, they are likely to remain loyal.
Criminals also work well in teams. While there may be no written job description, they have absolute clarity in the role they must play and what they must do. Offenders are clear communicators and often have experience of reaching an agreement with someone difficult. They work well with others to achieve common goals and are highly protective of their peers.
4. Fresh Perspective
Beyond the multitude of specific skills ex-criminals can bring to your workforce, they can also have other more indirect benefits for your business.
Chances are that your existing workforce is made up of very similar people. They had a healthy upbringing, a good education, and a standard career path. Hiring an ex-criminal could broaden your horizons and help you to think differently. You’ll be able to draw on their knowledge and problem-solving skills to tackle challenges in new and novel ways, while developing your current employees and adding new perspectives.
It can also have a positive impact on your reputation as an employer—one that gives people a chance despite their chequered pasts. It may also lead to attracting more investors, as more and more people become interested in funding companies with strong environmental, social and governance (ESG) credentials.
Helping others helps your business
There are many other advantages to hiring former criminals, but above all it’s important to remember this: helping other people helps your business.
While it’s easy to dismiss hiring an ex-criminal as a harmful idea, try thinking about why and how these people found themselves on the wrong path in the first place. Maybe nobody believed in them, included them in normal life, or gave them the chance to build a better way of life. Perhaps they fell into criminal behaviour during a vulnerable period of their life – something that could happen to any of us.
Maybe, given the chance, they could become your star employee. All they need is the right guidance and the opportunity to show what they can contribute to our society.
The next time you come across a CV that has lots of gaps, consider the whole picture before you dismiss it. Remember, many ex-criminals have the potential to become excellent employees—and maybe even outstanding leaders. I was so grateful for the chance I was given and I never looked back. Your next hire could be the same.
The most important thing is to remember that we aren’t defined by the challenges we face or the mistakes we make. Instead, what matters is how we learn and grow from them. When I was desperate for a new start in 2007, my employer asked me this: What have you learned from those years of gaps in your CV, and how can that be of value to us? Those two simple yet powerful questions can change the narrative around ex-criminals and could be game-changing for your business, too.