How to get a job with a criminal record | Zachary Moore | TEDxSanQuentin (2023)


What is it like to carry the scarlet letter of a prior conviction into a job interview? These strategies for transparency can help job seekers and employers overcome bias in the interview process. Zach Moore is a software engineer at Checkr, a tech company based in San Francisco. Incarcerated at the age of 15, he spent the next 22 years of incarceration attaining an Associates degree and learning to code via The Last Mile program. Upon his release in 2018, he worked as a software developer for TLM before landing an internship at Checkr, and eventually converted to a full-time software engineer. He considers himself an ambassador for those currently and previously incarcerated, and looks for ways to increase opportunity and equity in Tech. This talk was given at a TEDx event using the TED conference format but independently organized by a local community. Learn more at


Transcriber:, Delia, Cohen, Reviewer:, Peter, Van de Ven, (Applause) A, little over three years, ago, I had a problem.

It wasn’t that I was 22 years into a life sentence at San Quentin for a murder I committed.

When I was 15.

My problem was that I had just been found suitable for parole.

A moment that should have been filled with joy and happiness was quickly replaced with terror as I realized I’d soon have to start living life in the streets as an adult for the first time.

And I’d have to get a job with a criminal record, and I’d have to start paying taxes like everyone, else.

Many already heard that one in three Americans have a criminal history.


Those odds coupled with my own lack of work history, my inexperience living life as an adult.

And the severity of my crime.

You can understand why I was so scared.

Early in my job, search, I, quickly realized that many entry-level positions required three years of experience.

How is that even possible, three years of experience for an entry-level position? I didn’t have anywhere near three years of experience.

What I did have was 22 years of experience as a student, a supervisor, an educator.

And a counselor while incarcerated.

And I was confident that those skills would translate into the skills that any employer would value.

My problem was that I couldn’t talk about them unless I talked about my incarceration.

To do otherwise would negate anything I had ever done in my life up to that point that was positive.


What kind of TED Talk would this be without mentioning Dr.

Brené, Brown?, This, quote, captures exactly why we should be transparent.

“Empathy fuels, connection.

Sympathy drives, disconnection.” My friend, Vincent calls my strategy of transparency, “radical transparency,”.

As if it's some sort of guerrilla tactic meant to disarm the interviewer.

And, he’s right.

Throughout, my incarceration and recovery, I learned that when at the mercy of ourselves or others, transparency and vulnerability can build a bridge to empathy.

We're, not trying to build sympathy for our past mistakes.

We want to build empathy-- a true, human connection., By being transparent and empathetic.

We show others what we’re capable of.

And our true selves.

Transparency allows us to take responsibility for our past mistakes.

And to pivot to showcase our strengths and talents and skills through our lived experiences and build trust and self-confidence.


Do you practice? Transparency? There are four main places during the job search where you can do it., All have their own benefits and disadvantages:.

The cover letter, the resume, the interview.

And when getting a conditional offer.

Your cover letter is going to be your first opportunity to be transparent and showcase your growth.

You run the risk of being screened out at this point.

But many people are screened out at this point anyway.

And they don’t even have a criminal record.


Also an opportunity to stand out.

This is the actual cover letter I sent out as part of my job.


I worked on it with several different friends and mentors until I felt it captured not only who I was.

But what I was capable, of., I kept forgetting that my experiences while incarcerated were still experience.

It’s, a matter of framing it in a way that yourself and the employer can understand.

“I’m excited to be applying for an entry-level software engineering opportunity with you.

I believe my personality, work, ethic, unique experience and skill set are a perfect fit for the position.


A child sentenced to adult prison at 15, I thought, my life was over; instead.

It was the start of a liberating journey of empowerment in which I was chosen valedictorian of my college class, completion of the highly selective Last, Mile coding, program, and successfully entered the web development, industry.

My, unique and arduous journey of transformation, embedded me with a deep sense of determination, tenacity and fortitude necessary to overcome any challenges I will face as I begin this next chapter as a software engineer.

As, an alumnus of the Last Mile, a comprehensive computer science and web development program training incarcerated people to become web.

Developers, I quickly learned that learning to code in prison was severely challenging:, no internet, access, limited time on computers-- all within the uncertainty and chaos of prison.


However, my environmental restraints forced me to become hyper, focused, flexible and creative at solving problems.


An employee of The Last Mile, I successfully worked both as part of a team of designers and engineers, as well as independently crafting websites, using HTML, CSS, JavaScript, Node, and WordPress.

Although I have the ability to lead when necessary, I find a supportive work environment with a team-first mentality best suits me as a person with strong, social skills, a positive attitude.

And the ability to think on my feet.

I believe everyone has something to teach someone else, tech related or otherwise.

And having an opportunity to learn from someone with different experiences is invaluable.

If I was fortunate enough to be chosen for a position by Checkr, I would bring the same grit, tenacity, and unique perspective, I developed during my journey to your team.

I look forward to meeting your amazing team of engineers, developing cutting-edge world-class technologies, helping to build a great product that serve.

So many people.” Face it, everyone likes a car accident and to look.

My life up to that point was a 30-car pileup in a two-lane highway in icy, conditions.

And, I counted on that to get me in the room.

I wasn’t wrong., Every employer, I submitted that resume to.

My cover letter to, gave me a call back.

They all reached out;.

They were curious and excited to meet me.

Some of them told me at the beginning of the interview.

They wouldn’t consider me for a job, because of my record.

But, they still wanted to meet me.

Now when it comes to your resume.

It may not even be looked at., Might have years missing, which could hint to a potential employer about you being in prison.

It’s hard to be transparent and impactful in a resume anyway.


What happens when you get your foot in the door? Do? You talk about it in the beginning, the middle, the end of the interview? Do.

You wait for an offer even? Having gone through my parole hearing.

The most important interview of my life less than a year before my job search began, I realized that the strategies I used to prepare for that hearing translated well to the job search.

Being up-front from the beginning allowed me to control the dialogue, take ownership of my past, and pivot the conversation to my growth.

And what value I could add to the team.

Waiting until the middle of the interview I felt was risky, can make it awkward.

And with only half an interview left, it would be hard to recover.

Waiting until the end of the interview, I felt was riskiest of all.

It’s like telling your fiancee on your wedding day about not having children-- only instead.

It is “Oh.

Wait, I was in prison.” It allows them to take control of your dialogue in an area and start to tell the story and fill in the blanks in their mind.

Offer to submit evidence of rehabilitation.

Evidence of rehabilitation is things you did during or after your incarceration to improve yourself professionally and personally.

I took a three-ring binder of every class I took while incarcerated, like anger, management, substance abuse, classes, letters of support and recommendation.


Same packet I submitted to my parole board is the same packet I submitted to my employers.

Evidence of rehabilitation provides two things.


It’s evidence of what you’ve accomplished.

It could be a “wow” moment to the interviewer.


It’s evidence.

They can take back to their employer or to their hiring committee and possibly advocate for you.

Now at the end of the interview, I hope that you felt like you did yourself justice and showed the best version of yourself.


If you didn't, don't worry about it., Plenty of people go through interviews every day and don't get the job.


What you’ve learned from this interview and hone your narrative.

Do, all the normal things:.

Send a follow-up email, a.

Thank you note.


You haven’t already, send out evidence of rehabilitation.


It’s also important to understand what could show on your background check.


This is the last thing employers see.


If you haven’t shown them a different version of yourself, this allows them to start to take control of your narrative again and fill in the blanks, which could lead to a quick no.

This is how mine showed up.

No context, just a static charge, a static moment of my life, that’ll, never change.

Is that really what you want to leave them.

With?, Now, employers.

You have responsibilities, too., If.

One, third of people have a criminal history.

That means one third of your potential workforce has a criminal history.

I challenge you to embrace diversity, not just in name.

But in practice.

Consider, the nature-time-nature test when considering fair chance, talent.

Because, that’s what we are:.

We’re talent, just like everyone, else.

Consider, the nature of the crime, the time since it happened, and the nature of the job or the work to be done.

Then, ask yourself, “Does, it even matter?” More than likely.

It doesn’t.

Second, lower the barrier and not the bar.

Consider, a person for who they are and what they're capable of, not necessarily what they've done.

You can look at people with a record as if they’re people changing careers.

They may not have experience in the role, but they do have experience.

They're just trying to lead a new and better life.

Five months after I, walked out of San Quentin, I started my internship at Checkr as a software engineer.

Three years, later, I'm, still, here., Last, year, I, celebrated.

Another milestone in my life.

I got my first promotion in my life.


None of this would’ve even been possible--.

Not just if Checkr didn’t give me a chance.

But if the people around me, my co-workers, didn’t believe in me and give me the chance to work with them.

All I, ask is that you give others a chance like they gave me.

Thank, you.


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