Dear J.T. & Dale: Could you clarify what employers are looking for when they do a background check on someone they want to hire? I’m asking because I have a 21-year-old son who has some drug arrests on his record. — Ashley
J.T.: A basic background check will look for a criminal record. Some companies worried about theft may also look at credit history. Plus, many jobs now require a drug test. The company will ask your son for permission to do these checks. He can certainly say “no”; however, a refusal will leave him disqualified.
DALE: Having worked with a large number of ex-offenders in my volunteer career coaching, I’m pleased to tell you that having an arrest record isn’t the huge obstacle you might assume. There are plenty of companies that have the hiring of felons as a stated policy.
You can find these lists online, as well as at local job centers. While such a corporate policy doesn’t eliminate individual bias, there are plenty of managers who are sympathetic, and I’m sure if your son starts asking around at his 12-step program or at the local job center, he’ll discover a significant “underground” job market, where hiring decisions have a healthy amount of “Hey, we’ll give you a shot and see how you do.”
J.T.: He still will need to be honest when background checks come up, saying something like: “I made some mistakes in my past. These have hurt me, and I now realize how important it is to have a clean background. I really want to work for a firm like yours and begin to prove myself as a valuable employee.” By being proactive, he will demonstrate professionalism and character that can help overcome the negatives in his background.
Dear J.T. & Dale: How difficult do you believe it is to make a living as a fiction writer in today’s market? Any advice? — Connor
DALE: There is an argument among writers as to whether this is the worst time to be a novelist, or the best time. While there are more people reading more books than at any time in history, bookstores have been in a long, sad decline, and the publishing industry is undergoing what’s been called the Great Disruption.
J.T.: But here’s the upside: Never before has it been possible to build a following without a publisher or agent. Thanks to the online world of self-publishing and the power of social media, you can build your reputation. If all goes well, that reputation will get the attention of agents and publishers.
DALE: Yes, you can publish a digital book (like one for the Kindle) for almost nothing. That also happens to be what many digital books sell for: nothing. Or you can get a paperback edition published quite cheaply, doing it yourself or spending a few thousand dollars for help with editing, layout and design. The upshot is that it isn’t the cost side of the equation that’s the concern — it’s the income side. Not only does it take countless hours to write the book, but you have to learn to be a publisher and master self-marketer in order to make a living. One formula is to spend twice as much time promoting as writing.
J.T.: However, if you’re willing to devote yourself to it, and to make the sacrifice of time and money, you have a better shot now than ever before.
DALE: However, if you can’t be without income, you can start by writing fiction as a hobby. That’s what I’ve been doing. I wrote my first novel last year; it’s about an HR director in a lousy company (“The Weary Optimist: Bad Bosses, Bad Jobs, Bad Sex and ‘The 36 Reasons to Be Glad You Don’t Work in Human Resources’”). I’ve had a nice response, but I’m glad I don’t have to live on the income from that book.
J.T.: So that brings us to the classic advice: “Don’t quit your day job.” But tell us, Dale, if you had it to do over, would you write a novel again?
DALE: That question makes me smile. Absolutely.