Honest Jobs: A Tech Startup Driving Fair Chance Hiring
JFF’s impact investing arm supports early-stage companies like Honest Jobs, an employment platform for people who have been incarcerated.
This profile is the first in a series of occasional blog posts about companies that JFF Ventures invests in.
The impact investing arm of Jobs for the Future, JFF Ventures supports early-stage companies that are building innovative technologies to drive learning, employment, and economic advancement opportunities to empower workers in low- and middle-wage jobs. JFF Ventures looks for unique opportunities to advance solutions that have the potential to drive impact at scale.
At a Glance
Honest Jobs is an employment platform for people who have been incarcerated. Founded in 2018, the Denver-based company has partnered with more than 1,100 employers and served nearly 40,000 jobseekers to date. Believing that everyone deserves a fair chance to pursue jobs that pay family-supporting wages and offer opportunities for economic advancement, JFF Ventures invested in Honest Jobs in early 2022.
Why We Partnered With Honest Jobs
JFF Ventures invested in Honest Jobs to help the company scale nationally. We are proud of what the Honest Jobs team has accomplished and are eager to help them build an incarceration-to-employment pipeline.
Founder and CEO Harley Blakeman says his mission is to make Honest Jobs “the hub where jobseekers with a criminal record come to build careers and employers come to find great talent.”
He says he came up with the idea to start a company that promoted fair chance hiring for people with criminal records because he wanted to solve a problem that no one else was solving—and he had a deep personal connection to that problem. “I have two felony convictions, spent 427 days in prison, and was rejected nearly 100 times for jobs I was qualified for,” he says.
Blakeman has built a strong team at Honest Jobs by walking the talk. He not only encourages other employers to embrace fair chance hiring, he’s committed to it himself: 61% of the company’s employees have been incarcerated.
At JFF Ventures, we believe that entrepreneurs like Harley who have lived experience confronting the workforce challenges we seek to address are the people who are best equipped to find effective solutions to those challenges.
The Nature of the Problem
In the United States, nearly 70 million people, or 1 in 3 adults, have some type of criminal record. People of color; lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals; and people with histories of abuse or mental illness are disproportionately represented in this population.
Honest Jobs has an ambitious vision: A society where every person with a criminal record has ample opportunity to thrive at work, at home, and in their communities.
Blakeman says Honest Jobs has an ambitious vision: “A society where every person with a criminal record has ample opportunity to thrive at work, at home, and in their communities.” Sadly, that vision is far from the current reality.
When they reenter their communities following incarceration, people with records often find that they face what are known as “collateral consequences” of conviction—legal and regulatory restrictions that limit their access to employment opportunities as well as housing, social services, professional licenses, and more. A study funded by the U.S. Department of Justice and run by the American Bar Association found 44,000 collateral consequences nationwide.
Alejandro, a user of the Honest Jobs platform from Colorado, offers this account of what it’s like to face collateral consequences during a job search: “Everything was good until I hit the background checks on the jobs. I followed through with all the procedures, and then once they saw that it was an assault charge, they kind of got scared, stepped away, and then they didn’t continue with the process. So it was definitely hard.”
However, he was able to overcome those challenges with the help of Honest Jobs after his probation officer referred him. “I got a job quick. So I was really excited,” he says, adding that he loves his work as a forklift driver for L&R Pallet in Aurora and is grateful to have weekends off to spend time with his kids. "The company that I work for is pretty awesome.”
The Honest Jobs Solution
Honest Jobs is building a nationwide ecosystem that connects millions of jobseekers with thousands of employers. In more than 230 correctional facilities across the country, people can use tablets to connect to the company’s platform through ViaPath and Aventiv/Securus networks. People preparing for reentry access it 10,000 times per day.
More than 1,000 employers are on the Honest Jobs platform, with more joining daily. Some have well-established fair chance hiring policies and are using Honest Jobs to scale their efforts. Others are looking for ways to modify or undo internal policies that intentionally or unintentionally have placed limits on the employment opportunities they offer to people with criminal records.
Honest Jobs is also partnering with community organizations, including nonprofits and institutions of higher education, to expand its capacity to help incarcerated people find jobs.
Jobseekers can use the Honest Jobs platform free of charge. They enter their criminal histories when they create accounts, however, Honest Jobs doesn’t share people’s records with employers. Instead, it runs the information through a proprietary system called ConflixAI, which generates color-coded job listings that rate employment opportunities based on the likelihood that a particular user will pass a job’s background check. This approach reduces wasted time and enables users like Alejandro to avoid the frustration of seeing offers rescinded.
Employers can post jobs for free with the option to pay for priority placement in search results. They can also choose the highest tier of service, through which they work with a team of dedicated Honest Jobs recruiters who are all certified in fair chance hiring. The company’s recruiters source and vet candidates on the employer’s behalf and support the candidates throughout the hiring process and their initial periods of employment.
According to Honest Jobs, people with criminal records who use its platform find jobs seven times faster than they would using job boards designed for broader populations of jobseekers, and their wages are an average of 2.5 times higher than the pay they’d receive if they found jobs through other platforms.
People who have found work via Honest Jobs earn an average of $36,440 per year to start, and most of them find full-time jobs with benefits. Nearly 40,000 jobseekers are on the Honest Jobs platform, and more than 1,000 new users join every week.
Employers report that expanding their recruiting efforts by proactively reaching out to people with records increases the volume of applications they receive. It also diversifies their applicant pools, helping them meet diversity, equity, and inclusion goals. And on top of those benefits, they’ve found that offering job opportunities to people who other employers might disregard or overlook increases employee loyalty and staff retention rates. From Fortune 50 companies to nonprofits, municipalities, and small, local businesses, employers across the country and in all sectors of the economy say that hiring via Honest Jobs enables them to address talent challenges.
JFF’s Commitment to Fair Chance Hiring
At JFF, we believe that supporting the millions of people with criminal records who face barriers to education and employment is an essential part of our mission to drive transformation of the U.S. workforce and education systems to achieve equitable economic advancement for all.
JFF's Center for Justice & Economic Advancement is driving reforms to eliminate barriers and create conditions that give people with records a fair chance to pursue careers that match their talents and aspirations. The center works closely with partners to advance efforts to provide critical services to people with records and expand access to education and employment opportunities that enable them to engage in their communities and succeed in their careers.
Lucretia Murphy, Vice President, JFF
People with records should be able to match their talents and aspirations to employment opportunities. Honest Jobs makes this vision a reality for thousands of people impacted by the criminal legal system.
Honest Jobs was built by and for people with criminal records. By connecting jobseekers who have criminal records with employers who believe in fair-chance employers, the company is eliminating barriers for millions of people who have previously been overlooked and providing them with opportunities to advance economically.
“People with records should be able to match their talents and aspirations to employment opportunities,” says JFF Vice President Lucretia Murphy, who leads the justice and economic advancement center. “Honest Jobs makes this vision a reality for thousands of people impacted by the criminal legal system.”
Thanks to Amanda Sendero, vice president of people at Honest Jobs, for her assistance in developing this profile.